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How to Use All Caps Tastefully: A Review of We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby
By Erynn Porter
Samantha Irby knows how to introduce herself, she’s able to step into the spotlight and scream “THIS IS ME!” and have everyone look at her. Her collection, We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, opens with “My Bachelorette Application.” The essay showcases her love of television and her comedy. The essay in an application format, explore who Irby is and her many quirks.
“Why would you want to find your spouse on our TV show? Have you been to the club lately!? Shit’s fucking dire, man. Also, I need someone to watch Shark Tank with, and I feel like that’s a spousal kind of expectation. Can’t just ask your casual booty call to commit to spending Friday nights indoors arguing over the valuation of some at-home mom’s jelly and jam business. And I’m too poor to run multiple background checks.” (9)
She goes on to explain why The Bachelorette is her favorite show, “…you should already know that a show where a woman is surrounded by twenty-five slabs of brisket clamoring to brazenly drink her dirty bathwater and massage the corns on her toes in front of the entire country is 100 percent my kind of party. I love watching a man humiliate himself; I wish it was on every night.” (11) As much as she loves the fantasy of the show, her idea of romance is deeply grounded in reality. It’s so realistic it can be downright depressing if she doesn’t phrase everything just so.
This can sum up Irby’s humor, downright depressing if she doesn’t phrase everything just so. Irby balances on tight wire of self-deprecating humor and bullying herself for our entertainment. She says what we all think but don’t say or don’t want to admit to thinking. She’ll be the first to point out her flaws and then exaggerate them so much that you actually laugh out loud and people look at you funny. She can make you feel better about your own situation while recounting her less than ideal situations.
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life covers a broad range of topics, being single, lost loves, awkward situations, tough childhoods, parents dying, being disabled, being queer. This book feels like you are sitting together with Irby at a meal and are gossiping and having a good time. Nothing is off limits for Samantha Irby and that is her greatest strength.
Irby’s vulnerability will surprise the reader though. She will unexpectedly highlight the day to day struggles she has with her disabilities, how she gets dumped, how people don’t understand, how she struggles to do “normal” things due to her aching knees and joints disintegrating.
“HOW CAN I SWIPE LEFT ON TINDER WHEN MY GNARLED AND CRIPPLED FINGERS CAN’T EVEN WORK THAT WAY WITHOUT A COUPLE OF CELEBREX?” (25)
When she writes about sad things, she does it very casually, making it seem like it doesn’t affect her but then you can see the ripple effect. The trust issues she overcomes; the insecurities she tries to get rid of. She becomes painfully relatable.
“Total Attack of the Heart” might be one of the most vulnerable and powerful essays of the collection. It deals with the time she thought she was having a heart attack and it turned out to be a panic attack. She felt embarrassed and humiliated by the whole event.
“Not being able to deal with your life is humiliating. It makes you feel weak. And if you’re African-American and female not only are you expected to be resilient enough to just take the hits and keep going, if you can’t you’re a Black Bitch With an Attitude. You’re not mentally ill; you are ghetto.” (110)
It’s important that she brings up this feeling of failure, people always feel like they fail when they have mental health issues. People of color have it even worse, always feeling like they have the right or privilege to have these problems. Even worse is that Irby’s funny, because you can’t be sad and funny. No one takes her seriously.
Something consistent with all her essays is the use of all caps. Even though all caps represent yelling these sentences seem to be the most intimate with the reader. It’s when she is speaking to the readers most directly, breaking that wall between them. She exposes her uncertainty, insecurity, her fears. Her most ludicrous scenarios that go through her head. The all caps might seem like a strong front but the feelings exposed are delicate. It almost seems like she uses them to make us laugh so that we don’t notice the cracks in her façade. But we do and love her more for it.