We host an interactive comedy extravaganza this Thursday night (June 15th). Mark As Spam: The Email Game Show is a sort of “liar’s game” with 5 comedians, where you separate real emails from equally awful fake ones – roughly based on Amanda Meadows’ brand new Best American Emails. The genius comedy publisher gave us a few extra minutes of her time…
Eric Larkin – What is Best American Emails and where did the idea come from? (Faves: “Hi from Mommy” and “Psych Presentation”. And most of the rest of the book; it’s pretty damn funny.)
Amanda Meadows – Thanks! “Hi from Mommy” is so, so silly. This seems like a weird idea for a book (it is!) but it comes from a real place. At Devastator, we tell folks to write about things they feel strongly about. Taking that advice, I decided to rail against something that takes up a ton of my time: emails. Running a small publishing house means writing a lot of communication and doing tons of behind-the-scenes work that no one will ever see; so in a way, I consider Best American Emails as an ode to the invisible labor we all do to keep our worlds turning.
EL – A member of my immediate family once sent me an email where they typed the entire text in the subject bar — and it was like, a full letter – all in the subject line. Actually, it may have been the address bar. What’s the dumbest email you’ve ever received or sent?
AM – OH MY GOD. That’s great. The dumbest email I’ve ever gotten was, not surprisingly, from my mom. She sent me a total non-sequitur email that seemed to contain a copy-paste of her search results from searching her inbox for my email address. It’s hard to explain! So it basically had no content in it, but it showed me that I needed to teach her how to maintain her gmail contacts.
EL – You also wrote We Don’t Think You’re Racist (with Robin Higgins). I don’t personally need the reassurance, because I’m totally woke, but on behalf of white folks who don’t “get it” like I do, thank you. Any thoughts on how useful satire is for combating the abuse of power in the world? We’re mocking the hell out of Trump, for instance, but do you think it makes a difference?
AM – You’re welcome! There’s even a secret part of the We Don’t Think You’re Racist! that says “Eric Larkin is the ultimate ally!” I see comedy as one of the ways a culture tells others what’s important, and there’s social capital in appearing in-step with what the culture’s saying. There’s a reason the first things fascists dismantle are the media and humorists, right? (Good thing I’m not important enough to be assassinated, though – phew!)
I think the first line of defense to “abuse of power” – and to me, the everyday American embodiments of that are white supremacy and the enduring effects of colonialism – is when people do the emotional work to talk sense into their loved ones. After that, satire really is the best! We Don’t Think You’re Racist is like, “White Folk Self-Awareness 101,” because it’s mainly about microaggressions. But other media, like Get Out and Dear White People, pull facades away to expose structural racism, which is much deeper and more difficult to explain. So for me, comedy is a way to teach, to point out that something’s wrong. Thankfully, some people seem to be listening!
EL – I still love Dream It! Screw It! The Devastator covers a lot of ground, from pointed satire to abject silliness. Is there a plan? Do you have a Plan B if you run out of funny ideas/people?
AM – Thank you! Geoffrey Golden wrote Dream It! Screw It! and it’s just an incredible and hilarious work of revisionist history. We love experimenting with different formats and topics and hope to keep covering weirder and weirder ground! Geoffrey and I have been working hard to bring in lots of new voices to the press, and we’re excited about 2018 and 2019. If we fail miserably at making funny books, my Plan B is to move to an island and learn to make zines with coconuts somehow, like The Professor on Gilligan’s Island. Though hopefully, everyone reading this will head to The Devastator and buy our books, so we don’t have live like gap year backpackers for the rest of our days.
EL – Writing is hard. Is writing comedy harder than boring, regular writing, do you think?
AM – Writing is the WORST! Why do we do this to ourselves? I also think comedy writing is more challenging than it used to be, because there’s so much more of it – in every medium – than there’s ever been. You have to say something different, or at least say it in a more distinct voice. We make books because that’s what we love, and that’s harder still. You have to make a lot more difficult decisions, if only because you’re making a permanent object. Not to toot our own horns, because we make mistakes constantly. But the growth from those mistakes feels more meaningful and actionable than when writing for web, which you can revise forever. If you can make a humor book that’s funny, looks good, and is still culturally and emotionally relevant years after it’s printed, you can do anything. Or, at least that’s what I tell myself to get through proofreading.
EL – What else is new, and what’s in the works? (And will we see The Devastator at Comic Con?)
AM – Besides The Best American Emails (can’t wait for our event at the store!), we have some good, pop-culture-y items this fall. I’m really stoked for Zachary Auburn’s new book through us, A Field Guide to the Aliens of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which is written by a troubled 90s tween who’s writing commentary on each TNG alien season-by-season, and we see a lot of glimpses of his home life. It’s a richly, darkly hilarious book. Plus, the brand new game we Kickstarted, Wet Hot American Summer: Fantasy Camp, officially comes out this November and we can’t wait to do more game play parties for it! Our upcoming zines are also quite dank, so check out our Twitter @devastatorpress to follow those releases.
And yup, we’ll be at San Diego Comic-Con! Find us at exhibitor table E-04. We’ll also be on a couple of panels, so check out the program guide when it goes live next month. Look for me – I’ll be the one in some kind of geeky t-shirt!
Join us Thursday night for the impossible task of separating hilarious emails written by professional comedians from totally-in-earnest emails written by your parents.