If Samantha Irby didn’t exist we’d have to invent her. Ms. Irby is a Chicago-based writer and performer who writes a blog called “Bitches Gotta Eat.” She’s hosted Chicago’s “Sunday Night Sex Show” and performed at various shows throughout the Windy City. She also opened up for comedian Baratunde Thurston on his “How to Be Black” tour and wrote an advice blog with her writing partner Ian Belknap. Oh, and with all of that on her plate, Irby also works regular job.
Irby is funny, profane, opinionated and brutally honest about herself and life in general. And now she’s sharing more of her wit and wisdom in collection of essays in her debut book Meaty.
Meaty is a hodge-podge of opinions, advice, rants, observations, recipes and personal memoir. Irby writes of bad dates and ever worse sex, white people she likes, her love of tacos, her struggles with body image, and her epic battle with Crohn’s disease.
She’s also not shy about talking about her less than ideal childhood where she grew up poor and black in an upper middle class mostly white Chicago suburb with two parents who died when she was very young.
In the opening essay “At 30” Irby takes assessment of herself at this milestone birthday and like a lot of people, finds herself lacking. She doesn’t have a career; she has a job. She’s sans husband and kids. She doesn’t own a house, is behind on her electric bill, owns a busted laptop and her fridge shows off her lack of grocery shopping skills. She claims she needs to work out and work on her unfinished novel. She’s in need of a therapist and nutritionist. She also desires some half-naked hot dudes, a decent parking space in her Rogers Park neighborhood and for people to declare her “the funniest person they know.” Well, if Irby keeps expressing herself she just might get the last one.
In “Forest Whitaker’s Neck,” Irby gives a full description of her naked body from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. And from the graphic description of her private parts I am now more familiar with Irby’s vagina than I am with my own. Reading this essay might be a good idea for any of her future bed partners or doctors so they’re not too shocked.
“I fucking love white people” Irby claims in the essay “Milk and Oreos.” However, Irby does have certain standards. She likes white people who shop at farmer’s markets and eat the free samples at Whole Foods. She’s not fond of white teen moms who smoke Newports and are named “Destiny” with 19 Es. In other words, she likes white people like me—farmers’ markets and free samples at Whole Foods? I am so there!
In the essay “I Want to Put a Fat Bitch on Television”, Irby describes her idea for a sitcom featuring a character oddly similar to herself called “Nell in a Hand Basket.” After reading about her idea for a sitcom I want Hollywood to make this happen. NBC just cancelled “Community” (sniff), and now they have a space to fill on Thursday nights. “Nell in a Hand Basket” would make great “must-see TV.”
And speaking of black women on TV, Irby doesn’t take Lena Dunham to task for not having a whole lot of black folks on her HBO show “Girls” in the essay “Elena Tyler. AKA Why I Can’t Be Mad at Lena Dunham.” She fears the show just might make the black character a token or a stereotype. And she also thinks we should appreciate a very young woman making a ground-breaking television show. And just so you know Elena Tyler was Felicity’s roommate on the late 1990s early 2000s TV show “Felicity.” Was Elena Tyler a token? Perhaps. Personally, I was too busy drooling over dreamy Ben Covington.
But interspersed with Irby’s hilarious rants and observations are moments of pathos. In her essay, “My Mother, My Daughter” Irby describes how her own mother pretty needed her care when Irby was still a child. Irby’s mother suffered from Multiple Sclerosis, a disease of which there is no cure. When Irby was around nine, her mother was in an awful car accident, which just exacerbated her MS. Irby betrays no detail in describing that horrific day and its aftermath that altered both their lives completely.
And in the essay “Skillet” explains her relationship with a mostly absent alcoholic father (who suffered from both alcoholism and post-traumatic stress disorder) through a dirty skillet Irby accidentally washed in soapy water. Just reading about the pain—physically, emotionally and mentally—inflicted on a young Irby made me want to invent a time machine and go back to give girl child Irby a huge hug and tell her nobody will ever hurt her again.
Then there is Irby’s battle with Crohn’s disease. Irby tells the brave readers that Crohn’s disease is a harsh mistress that can flare up at any time. She may shit in your car and she may crap all over some poor guy’s dick. Sure, it’s gross, but it’s Irby’s reality. Deal with it.
Meaty is probably not for everyone. If you are uptight, not comfortable with graphic descriptions of sex and shit or just lack a sense of humor, you probably won’t like Meaty. However, I found myself laughing, nodding in agreement with Irby, cringing on her behalf (or in recognition) and at times, feeling nothing but compassion and good will towards her.
Ultimately, Irby’s attitude seems to be “take me or leave me.” I’ll definitely take Irby and I hope she has enough material to write a sequel to Meaty, especially if it includes more recipes.