Sara Benincasa: A funny person answers serious questions
I feel lucky to know a bunch of funny people. People WAY funnier than me. But instead of asking them about comedy things, I like asking them serious, existential-level stuff. You know, the real LIFE shit.
It results in some pretty fun, enlightening answers if you ask me.
Say hello to Sara Benincasa.
Among a ton of other things, Sara is a comedian and author of several books, including most recently Real Artists Have Day Jobs, which I just read and you should too. She’s also one of my favorite people on Twitter.
My questions and her responses below:
What scares you? Like… really scares you?
I’m afraid of hurting good people. I’m afraid of disappointing the people I truly love and cherish. Or hurting/turning off those I admire. I have really bad eyesight so I’m afraid of damage to my eyes. And I had a cystoscopy once and a nuclear bladder scan, totally awake, with no anesthesia. I’m scared of ever dealing with that again.
What do you think is the meaning of life?
There is no inherent meaning. We’re here and then we die and that’s it. You make your own meaning. I say do as much good as you can as often as you can without hurting yourself, and then apologize when you fuck up. And endeavor to do better in the future.
You’re awesome because you’re not afraid to take people/issues on, whether on Twitter or Medium. What have you found to be good and not-so-good about that?
Well, the good stuff is that I enjoy it and hopefully get across some good messages along the way. The bad stuff is when I fuck up and feel bad. I believe in owning one’s mistakes and apologizing for them. And so I do that. It can be humbling and that’s a good thing even though it’s uncomfortable at the time.
My role model is Molly Ivins and when I’m at my best, I strive to act with her level of intelligence and spitfire. She died nine years ago this January and I wish she were around for this election. She was relentlessly truthful and analytical with Bush and she would nail Trump. But she’s dead. And yet I have to read Maureen Dowd’s barely-coherent, damaging, wants-to-be-the-only-pretty-girl-at-the-nerd-party anti-woman bullshit? She gets to fucking walk around and write and speak thoughts out loud? Jesus Christ, what a shame.
I get threats. All women do. I’m in a pretty fortunate place where most of the time no one gives a fuck who I am when I walk down the street and I get paid good money on occasion (not all the time, which is why I hustle nonstop for work). And when people do approach me, it’s typically quite kind and respectful.
The rape and death threats require you to screenshot, mute, and report. Blocking can inflame an already dangerous mind. Sometimes I do it simply because most of these people who bother me are just annoying and useless. To me it’s swatting a fly but to them it’s some badge of victory. Only a loser posts screenshots of being blocked unless they’ve been blocked by a botched abortion like Kraft Dinner Palpatine Donald Trump, in which case that’s great and you should be proud.
We all have to stay vigilant and yet also let go of the fear that would keep us from telling our stories and making our art.
We all feel down sometimes. What do YOU do to perk up?
I drink a cup of iced coffee. Or I take a nap. I cry a bunch to let it out. I talk to my closest friends. I get my motherfucking nails did. Gels are the only thing standing between me and biting the fuck out of my nails when I’m stressed.
What makes you laugh? Any people/shows/sites in particular?
Ohhh shit you just opened up the “Veep” hole (that sounds sexual and it most assuredly is.) But we’ll get there in a moment.
First things first: the dinner scene in “Talladega Nights” is a perfect scene. It’s about consumerism, false idols, extravagance, hypocrisy, ignorance, and about 16 other things. I know it gets cited a lot as a favorite but that’s for good reason. It is a master class in just about everything I want to do in my own work. I watch it for fun and I watch it as a goddamn spiritual exercise like meditation or taking a shit before yoga class.
My friend Sam has a Twitter account called PowerSecret that makes me lose my mind laughing. I have loved Ninja Sex Party for many a year. I was in one of their videos once. It was about having a boyfriend who fucks everything in your house. So true. So very, very truth-in-comedy true.
“Eastbound and Down” is one of my favorite shows because there’s this absurd anti-hero and these genuine moments of heartbreak. And this brings me to “Veep.”
Regarding this past season of “Veep,” there were a couple of moments where I almost cried or actually cried. One was with Matt Walsh’s character, Mike, discovering that he and Kathy Najimy’s character won’t be able to adopt a Chinese baby. And it’s largely because of diplomatic fuck-ups by his shitty boss, who is played by the extraordinary JLD. It’s a testament to the way the shit these powerful people pull on the macro scale can trickle down to fuck us on the small scale. Also, while Mike the press secretary can be a dick, he’s the most consistently loving and good character on the show.
What the fuck kind of show has the heart and the absolute intelligence to drop a moment like that in the end credits? It’s deceptive because it seems like an afterthought and it’s not. It’s played for laughs but it’s not played for laughs and that’s my favorite thing.
I love that Matt Walsh helped build this extraordinary thing that we call alternative comedy. I’m a part of that movement or genre or whatever and I’ve benefited from it. I’ve never taken a UCB class but I have bought tickets to shows and candy and stuff so hopefully I’ve contributed to that world, not that it needs my cash at this point.
Speaking of “Veep,” they added Rachel Axler as a writer last season. I’ll watch anything Rachel Axler has ever touched or been near (including household objects and dicks, which I consider household objects, not that I watch the dicks she’s touched, but I would, but just like to think, “Wow. That dick was lucky.”)
Other stuff that makes me laugh: MST3K, Chris Rock, Chris Redd, “This is the End” and other Rogen/Goldberg stuff, my little brother Steve, Leslie Jones doing stand-up or acting or yelling at Colin Jost, Cecily Strong doing anything ever, Aidy Bryant, my friend Julieanne Smolinski, Rob Delaney, a lot of Funny or Die stuff. Joe Biden eating ice cream, my buddy Trevor Williams, old Lonely Island videos, new Lonely Island movies, the line “this ain’t how to be a player/you ain’t Bill Bellamy” in “Pills N Potions” off the 2014 Nicki Minaj album “The Pinkprint.” “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz.”
What’s a challenge that you’re proud to have gotten through?
This is an ongoing challenge and delight: I’m so proud to choose to be single. I dated for about 20 years straight and it’s so relaxing to take a breather. Deliberately not searching for a boyfriend or girlfriend (my sexuality is “hot people”) has proven to be the most exciting thing ever. I’m open to it and I enjoy meeting people and sometimes seeing them naked with their face in my ass (typically this requires a mirror) but I don’t need them to be my spouse.
I’m done dealing with lazy grifters and hardworking abusers. I’m not done dealing with kind people. Kind people are great. I’m so fortunate to have a couple of people who I used to date with whom I’m still friends. And then of course there are the folks you just fuck once or six times and return to being friends again because your basis is that solid and you’d rather be longterm friends than short term monogamous partners. The moral is CAN BEST FRIENDS BE SEX FRIENDS? That is the worst ad campaign tagline for a film ever. EVER. I say it sometimes just to make myself laugh.
I want to fall in love and all that stuff but I’m also really happy to go to Jumbo’s, drink one bourbon on the rocks, group-text some of my girlfriends about silly stuff, take a bath (not at Jumbo’s) and answer interview questions via email. I did some of those things this very evening. I AM DOING ONE OF THEM RIGHT NOW.
Or maybe this is all a ruse and I have a boyfriend and it’s going awesome. The virtues of keeping your mouth shut about the best and most important things are so wondrous. When I do get into something real with somebody, it’s not going to be done for decorative purposes on Instagram.
There is so much shitty news in the world. As a funny person, how do you deal? Any advice to stay positive?
Sometimes you gotta tap out. You don’t need to read about everything or know about everything. It’s okay.
Is there anything you really want right now, at this moment?
I want to write stuff that gets made and made well. I just adapted “DC Trip,” my third book, with producers Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa and Van Toffler and Adaptive Studios. That’s my first feature script ever. I’m working on a TV version of my memoir “Agorafabulous!” with Diablo Cody executive-producing and I hope we make that. I’m pitching a TV adaptation of my novel “Great” this week actually.
I’m developing a pitch for a show with me as the lead. This is my lady Kenny Powers project. I’ve wanted to do that for years. My character is a 30something stepmother who adores her teen stepchildren, who hate her. She comes from a tough background with a lot of trauma and she’s determined to make a go of this whole “real family” thing. She will do anything to take care of them, love, them, and protect them from harm. I mean anything. She will poison people. She will fuck people. She will steal and lie and cheat.
It’s inspired by a lot of things — “Strangers With Candy” is in there for sure, and of course “Eastbound and Down.” The late, lamented “Trophy Wife,” which was a perfect sitcom, explored the idea of a truly benevolent stepmother trying to make things work with two former wives of her husband. I’m sure there is some “Difficult People” in there as well — this show that’s just stuffed with joke after joke.
Oh, and I’m starting a podcast. “The History of Sex” is what I’m calling it right now. Look for it soon somewhere on your Internet.
Glass half full or half empty?
Half full. But some people will shit in your glass regardless. So mine is a practical optimism, in most cases.