PAY ATTENTION - SHE WANTS YOU TO CHOOSE YOUR OWN DISASTER

DANA SCHWARTZ: FUNNY GIRL

Chicago area native Dana Schwartz got the world's attention tweeting outrageous funny things you and I don’t have the balls to say under the parody handle @GuyInYourMFA. It secured her an agent, eventually a book, and now she’s in Hollywood working on her first TV projects. Although she’s clearly smart, funny, and driven she’s also - get this - a human being. Her new book is a memoir touching on everything from eating disorders to ‘grey area’ sexual assault. She’ll make you laugh and make you think. All this at just a quarter century old. 

 Instagram @danaschwartzzz

Instagram @danaschwartzzz

Catt:
I've heard so many great things about you and I've read lots of your things online.  You're so interesting and funny and fascinating, and I know very much, on your way. So congratulations.

Dana:
Thank you.

C:
You are a writer but you're also a journalist. You're many things.

D:
Well I always feel weird calling myself a journalist. Even though I'm technically an entertainment journalist. On Twitter I just spew whatever dumb thoughts I would text my friends anyway. And then I have right wing trolls be like, "I thought you were a journalist," because I'm like, "This politician eats his farts," or some other dumb thing. And people will say, "This isn't journalism," and I'm like, "Don't hold me to that standard, there are real journalists doing real things, I'm just talking about movies."

C:
So I always like to dig into people just a little bit - where you come from and where your roots are.

D:
The world's most boring childhood.

C:
Really?

D:
The north suburbs of Chicago, four kids, two parents, two dogs. My dad took the train to work to be an insurance agent.  I feel like Norman Rockwell couldn't have come up with a more boring childhood.

C:
Wow. But stable.

D:
Yeah, I feel super lucky that I got to grow up with a swing set in the backyard.  And siblings that I like. I went to school out east, I thought I was going to be a doctor. Because when you're a girl and you're kind of good at science, there's a lot of people who are like, "Do that, do that thing."  So all through college, I was in labs, literally cutting off mice's tails. My senior year, I sort of had a crisis moment. Instead of interning at a museum, which I had planned, I interned at Conan in LA.  I told my parents, "It's just my last one fun thing before I go to med school and become a doctor." And then I come back and I have to sit my Jewish parents down and ... It's the closest thing to a coming out that I've ever had - to tell my Jewish parents, "I'm not going to be a doctor. I'm going to try and be a comedy writer. We'll see how it goes. I love you."

C:
And how did they take it?

D:
Surprisingly well. I think because I have three other siblings who can carry on the mantle of respectability.  So that was the end of my medical career.

C:
So you were clearly drawn to the comedy. What was it that attracted you to getting that internship at Conan to begin with?

D:
I think it's as far from working in a lab as you possibly can. Working in a lab is lonely and quiet and sterilized and meticulous. Everything has to be down to the decimal and so precise. And so working on a comedy show where people are loud, and people are funny, and people talk over each other and share ideas, I was like, "Oh, this is where my personality belongs."

C:
And it spoke to you.

D:
Yeah.

C:
Was it in tandem with that internship that you started writing? And then it's just all grown from there?

D:
Definitely.  I feel like I auditioned for the Brown comedy troupe my freshman year of college, didn't get in, and was like, "Well, that was that, nice try Dana. That's over."  But then, my senior year after Conan, I started a parody Twitter account that took off.  And it was anonymous. And I was like, "Oh, I can make jokes and people will pay attention."  I had no way into this world, my parents are nice suburban people, no one is in entertainment in my family. I didn't know anyone who did anything like that.  But I was like, "Oh, on the internet you can say jokes, and if people like them, they can get heard." So that was what made me think that I could write and put it out in the world, and get a reaction and see what happens. Which is also the polar opposite of doing science, where you work for like three years on one tiny, specific thing, and then have to wait to see if it means anything. And someone in Japan could have been doing the same thing and publish a day before you, and then all your work is garbage. I like that writing, especially on the internet, is immediate. You put it out there and then you get feedback. Patience is not my strong suit.

C:
And careers are born on Twitter these days. I mean, was that very much your case?

D:
One hundred percent.

C:
That's crazy!

D:
Twitter literally gave me everything. I was a senior in college with an anonymous parody Twitter account and that's how I got a literary agent, and that's how I got my first book deal.  Using Twitter is how I made connections that got me my later jobs.

C:
But let me ask you this, because you were writing anonymously, how much harder is it to write as Dana Schwartz, because then you can't hide behind this other name, right?

D:
Yeah. You know, a weird thing has happened where I feel like the internet persona of me, and I'm sure you feel this too, like the public persona of you, is not a fully accurate picture all the time. It's as if I heighten certain things. I feel like I'm more self-deprecating online, I'm more blue with my humor probably. I think my parents and my family have had to realize that not everything I say or share online is necessarily a perfect reflection of who I am personally so it still sometimes feels like I'm writing and tweeting behind a character.

C:
I get that, that makes sense. But what about your essays?

D:
No, the first time I feel like I wrote as literally honestly as I could. I just had a book come out, called Choose Your Own Disaster and I wrote essays about that and that process. And that was me sitting in a room thinking, "How can I be as honest and vulnerable as I possibly can?"

C:
And why that change?

D:
I think physically I needed to get it out. Sometimes you have stories or things that have gone wrong in your life that you just have no idea how to express. These were things that I was so humiliated by, that I could never tell anyone. The first draft of this memoir, it was like, a vomit draft in every sense of the word. Where it just had everything I needed to get out. And then I had to look at it and think, "Okay, well how do I make this interesting and entertaining and fun?"  It was really cathartic, in a good way. And at the time I was telling myself, "Maybe this will help people."  I think there are a lot of people who go through eating disorders and gray area sexual assault, and relationships where you're sort of too ashamed to be the best person you can be, and be honest with your friends about how it's going. Those are sort of issues that I think more people experience than they talk about.

C:
Most definitely. And so what is the response then?

D:
Incredibly gratifying. I've gotten so many emails from girls and boys who have had eating disorders who have never seen it discussed that way and that openly. It warms my heart.  It makes me feel like I did the right thing. Even if there are definitely moments in that book that have made me beg my parents not to read it.

C:
Whoa. Did they read it anyway?

D:
Not that I know of.

C:
So you haven't even really touched on it a little bit with them?

D:
Well I really asked them not to read it. I told them, "It won't make you happy."

C:
Is it because it pertains to them in particular, or it would make them sad or worried about you?

D:
It’s just that I think, if you're someone who loves me and cares about me, it will make you sad. Also, I describe sex and I don't want my parents to ... right? No one wants their parents to read a detailed sex scene. Yeah.

 Instagram @danaschwartzzz

Instagram @danaschwartzzz

C:
Wow. So now that you've bared your soul really, I mean, how old are you?

D:
Twenty-five.

C:
You're all of twenty-five and you already have a memoir?

D:
Of sorts. I always say ... It feels so weird when people ask, "What did you write?" and I'm like, "A memoir." And then people will tell me I’m so young.   It feels like they expect, like I said, "My memoirs,” like I was writing it with a feathered quill.  It's like, no, it was just essays, about 18 to 23.

C:
How cool. I feel like everybody should do that. It's like a form of therapy.

D:
Yes.  I’m now turning Choose Your Own Disaster into a pilot. I'm constantly working. If I'm not working, then I have to think about the sadness in my soul and worry about my problems. So I'm constantly working and churning out ideas. I have an idea for an animated show with a friend who is illustrating my next book - which is an illustrated book. A cartoonist who is amazing.

C:
For adults or children?

D:
For adults. It's like an illustrated humor book.  Yeah, before I was a full-time writer, I was the cartoon assistant at The New Yorker, which was a lot of rejection letters, if you can imagine.  And a lot of scanning. But I was lucky enough to make friends with some of the amazing cartoonists there and one of the cartoonists Jason Katzenstein and I are working on a book. He is an amazing animator and I've been working with him. But the weird thing is I feel like I know how to do a book. Like I've been through that process and been rejected enough times that I get it. But I have no idea how to do TV yet. I moved to LA for work, now I have to learn.

C:
Just try. Got to learn.

D:
I practice every day by looking in the mirror and just rejecting myself.

C:
I'm glad you brought that up because this feature, I love celebrating women like yourself who are kicking ass and breaking down barriers and using their voices in every sense, but rejection is a part of life.

D:
Yeah.

C:
A lot of young girls, for whatever reason, I'm a mother, I'm old as hell now but young girls tend to watch what I do and who I'm talking with and everything. I love to inspire the next generation.  How does this business serve you? What is the good side? What's the upside? Because rejection is inevitable for all of us. We've all been rejected, professionally and personally, I mean.

D:
I have actor friends who like to say, "Rejection is God's protection."  Right? If you get rejected it’s because you weren't right for the role or what have you. But being a writer a lot of times, rejection just sucks and it happens a lot and it can be really discouraging. A lot of times it is because you weren't in the right place at the right time or what you wrote didn't hit the person at the exact right moment, they had a bad morning, they got a parking ticket, they forgot their coffee, whatever.  So much of it comes down to luck. I wrote a proposal for the next book I'm working on, a similar concept about three years ago and it got rejected everywhere. And then I was like, "I have an idea of how to do it slightly differently." I sent out the proposal again and I got it. So much of it is timing and luck and audience and so many people I talk to get rejected once and think, "Okay, well that's not for me." I wish every successful person could talk about how many times they were rejected before it worked.  Yeah, especially with books. You send it to a dozen publishers and you just need one "yes." With agents, I'm sure there are so many incredible writers I know who didn't get the first agent they submitted to. So I think people would be a lot less discouraged if they realized how common it was and that you just have to keep going.

C:
Yes and so much about the climate we're living in today is about this kind of sisterhood of women also helping one another up and banding together, rallying around one another, supporting one another. Don't you feel like we're seeing more of that kind of support system than we ever have before?

D:
Yes absolutely. I feel so lucky that I live in a time where there are so many smart, successful women who want to help other women. Because I think that for a time, culturally, there was this sense that every room just needed one woman which pit women against each other, right? It's then of course, like, "Women are so catty and competitive!"  It’s like, "Well, of course they were catty and competitive because it would be a room of twelve guys and one woman so we all were competing against each other for a single slot.” It's not our fault ...

C:
There wasn't enough room at the table.

D:
Yes. It was the patriarchy giving us one chair and then being like, "Isn't it crazy how these women are fighting all the time? They're so competitive." But I think we're at a place where now there is room for more than just one woman, it doesn't just have to be like, "The lady X," which allows us to be able to help each other in a genuine way.  I think especially in the comedy community people are realizing that with women, a rising tide lifts all boats. As more women are more successful, it helps women, it doesn't hurt them.

C:
Oh, yeah, without a question.

D:
I think that the only reason I'm successful is that I'm very impatient and I like trying to figure out how to make things happen.  The Twitter account that I ran was @GuyInYourMFA, and when that sort of began to take off I had agents reach out to me, but I went through Twitter and just scrolled through and control-F, “find agent,” and I just emailed every agent who followed the account to be like, "I have some interest in this, I just want to make sure I find the right fit. I want to talk to everyone. Can we speak?" And that was how I found my agent, just by aggressively cold emailing people which I learned later is not how you are supposed to do it at all.

C:
What is the right way? I don't know. I don't know if it's the wrong way, it certainly worked for you!

D:
It was very effective, I'll say that. I think a lot of job stuff came when I wanted to freelance when I decided I wanted to be a writer, I literally just emailed every website that I read and was like, "Can I freelance for you? I'll do it for free, how can I do this?" And Mental Floss was the one that got back to me and was like, "Yeah, you can write this for $100 a post.”  So I was freelancing obsessively when I was in college, and then when I moved to New York, they offered me a full-time job. So it was also my first paid writing job. So, so much of it is just being really demanding and possibly annoying.

C:
Yeah, that's okay, right?

D:
You miss 100% of the shots you don't take, Wayne Gretzky, Michael Scott.

C:
Amen.  What is your daily mantra? Like what is your daily approach to life?

D:
Oh, the mantra that I have, that doesn't work, is like, "Today I'm not going to eat carbs.”  And then by 4 pm, I'll be eating goldfish at work. So that does not work.

C:
You sound like us with alcohol. We've been on a supposed ten-day detox for ...

D:
How's it going?

C:
We never make it past two days.

D:
I always am like, "I live in LA now.  I'm supposed to be healthy. I'm supposed to take care of myself,”  and by the time I'm hungry my wherewithal is completely down. But I think the thing that does hype me up a little bit, is I tell myself that I'm in an act-three-getting-my-shit-together-montage. You know that scene in Legally Blonde where Elle Woods decides to kick into high gear and do her shit? Whenever I feel really down and the world is molasses and I don't know how to go about my life, projects are piling up, I'm just like, "Put yourself in a getting-your-shit-together-montage, and hit it!”  Surprisingly effective.

C:
I love that!

 Instagram @danaschwartzzz

Instagram @danaschwartzzz

Conan O'Brien or Stephen Colbert?
Is this like a marry, fuck, kill situation? Stephen Colbert.

Ivanka or Melania?
Oh, Melania. Because I ... I don't want to totally justify it, but I think Ivanka doesn't give a great name to Jewish people right now. And I will speak on behalf of all Jews right now, and say at least Melania kind of, didn't know what she was getting herself into.

Better trilogy: Twilight or The Hunger Games?
Hunger Games, because I didn't read Twilight. But I don't say that as like, a snob about it. It just didn't hit me at the right age I think. I read the first one and then just could not get with it.  Hunger Games was one of the rare cases where the second movie, Catching Fire, is better than the book. There's like three, as someone who is always like, "Books are always better than the movie,” there are like two or three examples of that and Catching Fire is one of them.

Fresh-faced, makeup-free or a good beat?
Fresh-faced because I'm not great at makeup. This is the best I can do.

@DanaSchwartzzz

Catt Sadler