Oh, happy day! Now we can all read one of our favorite humor blogs in the bathtub without fear of electrocution, because Hyperbole and a Half is on paper! I’ve already sung the praises of this new humor book (suitably subtitled Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened), and today I’m talking to its author, Allie Brosh.
You have a remarkable recall of details from your childhood. What’s your earliest memory?
My earliest memory is standing in the kiddie pool, feeling totally confused about the light reflecting off the water. It was so confusing that my memory started working, probably as a desperate attempt to figure out what was going on. “Whooaaaa…WHAT is that water doing?? I don’t know how to process this at all. Maybe I should put it away for later so I can deal with it as an adult.”
How do your loved ones feel about your sharing family stories with the world?
I know my mom likes to read my stories after a hard day. And I think many of my family members can appreciate the stories from a different angle. A lot of it feels like an inside joke to them because they were there.
Did you ever consider doing the book in a format other than the comic-essay structure that you use for your blog posts?
If I did, it was very briefly, and I’m sure the idea was awful. (“I KNOW—I should do a director’s commentary where I write over the words I wrote to explain what they mean!”)
I read your book on a plane and fell into a giggle fit so severe that a flight attendant had to stop and ask me if I needed help. What do you read that makes you laugh like that?
I remember feeling legitimately panicked about the lack of oxygen from laughing so hard at Douglas Adams. He could take a sentence and ratchet it up through all these twists and turns until each new word is forcibly causing you to break your own personal laughter-severity record. And just when you think the worst of it is over, there’s a one-word sentence. Just one word. And it’s the funniest word you have ever seen. He just had such a way with tension and juxtaposition.
All your posts go viral, but your depression post—which is also a chapter in the book—spread like a monkey virus on an international flight. Why do you think that one resonated with so many people?
I was honestly a little surprised by that. Depression is such an isolating experience. It feels sort of like being trapped in outer space without any connection to anything. And at the worst of it, I felt that if I could just find some way to explain it… maybe it would feel slightly less like being trapped in outer space, or at least maybe I could feel like someone knew where I was. I suppose other people probably felt the same way, and it was a thing they could use to help them explain. I also think it’s sort of liberating to laugh at the things that scare you. Even if nothing is okay, laughing at it at least makes it bearable for a while.
What connotations do you think the word “blogger” carries, and how do those affect how you’re perceived as an author?
I detest the word “blogger.” To start, it’s just an ugly word. I mean, look at it—it’s a perfectly engineered succession of horrible letters. And it has come to be associated with a tremendous sense of self-indulgence and inanity. Every time I have to say it (because I have repeatedly failed to come up with an explanation for what I do that isn’t confusing and eight minutes long), I dislike myself a little. Maybe other people don’t feel quite as opposed to it, but if they do, I imagine it makes them feel sort of opposed to me as well. And I am sorry. But I promise that I am scouring the cutting edge of verbal technology in search of a new words. So, someday…
On the bright side, I do get to refer to myself as an “author” now, which was a huge relief.
Do you ever think, well, that’s it, I’m out of material? Or do you feel like you have an endless supply of stories to tell?
I thought I was out of material probably three weeks into my writing career. And every time I’ve written something since then, I’ve thought, “well, there it goes—my very last good idea.” But I seem to keep coming up with things that I can then think are my last good ideas, so I hope that continues to happen. Once you pick all the low-hanging fruit, fruit-picking becomes way scarier.
Is there anything you’ve ever regretted writing about?
Not as far as topics go, but I certainly wince at some of my older material. It’s like when you read through your middle school diary as an adult and find yourself thinking, “WHO IS THIS PERSON?? HOW DID THEY GET IN MY BODY AND MAKE ME DO THIS??”
Let’s talk about your art process. How long does it take you to create a single illustration?
It depends. Some come together pretty quickly, some seem to just drag on and on.
The hardest thing is when I’m trying to draw my character/thing from a new perspective. The thing I invented to represent myself isn’t a shape that actually exists in reality, so I don’t have anything to reference when I’m trying to make it do something weird. It can also be difficult to figure out how to convey a complex emotion in a simplistic way. The thing I draw doesn’t have many facial features to begin with, and it’s also made out of all these unfamiliar shapes. So if I’m trying to get fancy with the perspective or capture something subtle, it can take a very long time to get it right. Maybe three hours? If I’m trying to do both at the same time, I’ll be working on one drawing for the better part of a day.
If you were to draw a face on a piece of fruit and pretend it’s your friend and talk to it all day, what kind of fruit would you choose?
Absolutely a banana. Bananas are just so personable.
Finish this sentence: I wish I could _____.
“…have as many wishes as I wanted. And a banana friend.”
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
“Be an unsinkable ship.” Basically, making yourself seaworthy is easier than trying to control the sea.
Is it really possible to clean ALL the things?
It’s theoretically possible to clean all of them, but it isn’t possible to have all of them be clean at the same time. Because they start getting dirty again while you’re cleaning the others.
When has life truly surprised you?
There’s a bird that lives outside my bedroom window. It is the size of a golf ball. Looking at it, you would absolutely not think, “I bet that bird makes a sound like a race car.” But it does. Every single morning. Starting as soon as there is a detectable level of light in the sky and continuing until there isn’t. And it doesn’t make the sound out toward the world—it makes it directly at me, three feet from my sleeping face. I was truly surprised the first time I heard the sound. Then I was surprised at how specific the bird seemed to be about wanting me to hear it. Then I was mad that it wouldn’t stop. Now, it has sort of grown on me. Not the sound, but the intention behind it. Like maybe the bird likes me and it wants to show me its favorite noise.
What do simple dog and helper dog think of the book? Have they tasted it?
The simple dog is terrified of the case of books sitting in the living room. She gives it a wide berth. The helper dog only seems interested when I read aloud from it, and that’s probably because she thinks that means there’s a chance that I’m going to feed her or take her outside (I’ve noticed that dogs seem to think of every noise in terms of how it relates to outside and/or food. If there are a lot of noises, there’s a high chance that one of them is food- or outside-related, so they pay attention).
Surprisingly, neither dog has attempted to eat the book. To put that in context, I caught the simple dog eating dirt the other day. She was just standing in the back yard, eating dirt off the ground like a rogue backhoe.
Mmm, dirt. Thank you so much for chatting! It’s been a real pleasure.
What would you ask Allie Brosh?