In Quietly Hostile, Samantha Irby Spins the Anti Coming-of-Age Tale

The author discusses her new book of essays, being a “poop evangelist,” and what it’s really like in the And Just Like That... writers room.

by Naomi Elias

Collage by Ashley Peña

You may not know comedy writer Samantha Irby by name, but you likely know her voice. She has a growing oeuvre of best-selling books of comedic essays—2017’s We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, and 2020’s Wow, No Thank You.—wrote the widely acclaimed fat-positive “Pool” episode of Shrill, and joined the writers’ room for HBO Max’s Sex and the City reboot, And Just Like That.... Her latest book, Quietly Hostile, is a collection of essays covering an array of lifestyle and health topics: probiotics, porn, party etiquette. There’s genuine advice about why you should stop apologizing for liking things alongside musings on niche personal obsessions, like her passion for Dave Matthews’s falsetto and her preferred brand of toilet paper (“those shitting Charmin bears are very good salesmen”). Now comfortably in her forties, she writes with the confessional abandon of someone proudly in her cropped-palazzo-pants-and-smooth-jazz era. Quietly Hostile is less an evolution for the author than a final brick that cements her distinct voice—honed to irreverent perfection on her blog-turned-newsletter Bitches Gotta Eat—as a pop-culture gem.

I caught up with the author while she was busy signing copies of her new book in the basement of Bookbug bookstore in Kalamazoo, where she lives with her wife.

Let’s start with the book’s dedication. It’s dedicated to Zoloft. What are you thankful to Zoloft for?

I was diagnosed with OCD, which looks like a lot of other things until a psychiatrist talks to you and is like, “No, you have OCD.” Taking the Zoloft hasn’t fixed everything, but it’s taken the edge off, from what I can tell. I’m not the expert—I might have to have my psychiatrist weigh in and be like, “Actually she’s still a mess.” But I feel pretty good.

I think of your books as anti coming-of-age stories. There’s nothing tropey, and if anything, you seem to be less comfortable in the world as you age, which feels consoling.

That’s maybe the best way anyone has described my work, ever. You know that thing they’re always telling women, like, “At 30, you’ll feel so much better in your skin.” Didn’t happen in all of my 30s; I’m 43 and it hasn’t happened yet. I don’t know that that’s ever going to happen for me, which is good, because that’s the engine fueling these jokes.

I find myself being really resentful of people who are like, “I figured it out.” Because you know what? First of all, bitch, no you didn’t. But second, I don’t want to relate to people in a way that’s like, “I’m coming down from the mountain to tell you what to do.” I prefer to relate to people by being like, “Doesn’t this suck? Isn’t this scary? Do you know what you’re doing? I don’t.”

One of my favorite things you say in the book is that you like following a nutritionist on Instagram because if you hired a real one, they’d hold you accountable.

She’s this celebrity nutritionist, and looking at her Instagram, I’m like, “Damn, she looks so healthy and happy and glowy. Wouldn’t it be great if I could achieve that?” And no, I will never achieve it, so I just watch her do it. She’s like, “Drink three liters of water in the morning.” And I’m like, “I’ll watch you do it, but I got to have a Coke.”

For someone who doesn’t self-describe as “organized,” you spend a lot of time making lists; in this book alone, you’ve got the best Sex and the City boyfriends and Dave Matthews Band’s most romantic songs. Your list made me listen to all of them!

Oh, my god, this is my crowning achievement—getting you to add these to your Spotify. I’m like a proud mother: “Oh, my little sweetie, growing up, putting adult contemporary flute music on her playlists.”

How many active lists do you have right now and why do you think lists make for such a great joke format?

Right now, I have at least three—one is “Potential Outfits to Wear on Tour.” Another one is—you know when you’re putting out a book, you have to write little blurbs, like, “My Favorite Six Books,” and they’ll put it on BuzzFeed or wherever? I have a list of those. And I’m sure I have a chore list at home.

I can be a little long-winded and a list is a good way to get a bunch of beats out without having to write the connective tissue. But also, I love to read a list, like, “this is what so-and-so keeps in her purse.” That is catnip for me.

One of my favorite anecdotes from the book is about how, in your interview to join the writers’ room for the SATC reboot, you asked, “Can I give Carrie diarrhea?” You’ve written about your chronic health issues like Crohn’s disease in your personal writing, but why do you think we should be talking about GI issues more in pop culture?

I am a poop evangelist. Here’s the thing I try to do in my work because I feel like it wasn’t done for me: If we just talk about stuff more, people will feel less bad. If you walk into a room and you had diarrhea earlier and you knew that seven other people had it and it’s natural, you would feel better. We all feel a little more relaxed when we know someone else has the same fucked up problem that we have.

We do not talk about it enough on TV and we do not get to see characters we love taking a big poop. [Michael Patrick King] wouldn’t let me do poop. We talked about it in the room, we had a scene for it and everything. And then they were like, “No, idiot.” We did get Carrie peeing on a toilet, which is...you know what, I’ll take it. I mean, we’re getting close. If we get another season, maybe I’ll bring it back up and see what they say.

But it truly is the best room because I’m pretty quick with a joke and so is everybody else—so we just scream-laughed the whole time. Honestly, I saw the trailer for season 2 the other day and I was like, “I don’t even know how this got written because it felt like we were just fucking around all the time.” No matter how outrageous a thing I suggested, they did always laugh and act like they were considering it before they were like, “No.” Like, “Can we get some Aidan full-frontal?,” and they’re like, “Ha, ha, ha. No.”