For years, Megan Amram has been entrancing Twitter's cult-comedy segment with her gloriously dark tweets, some of which double as subtle feminist commentary, while others clobber the "cool girl ideal" that women consistently be up for anything ("So weird that hot dogs come in packs of ten but my butthole can only fit eight so far"). A writer for Parks and Recreation, she's now conquering the book world with her satirical text book Science... For Her!, a hilariously nightmarish mash-up of brain-numbing women's magazine fluff, Real Housewives-esque nastiness and a Neil deGrasse Tyson lecture. Topics covered include "organisms vs. orgasms," "the sexiest molecules," and "the "best gravitational fields for losing weight." Below, we talk to Amram about her book, her twitter account and her first AOL screen name.
"Megan Amram" is credited as the author of Science... For Her!, though it seems like the Megan Amram behind the book, who is extremely sexist and plainly awful, is a very different version of the Megan Amram who we see on Twitter or writing for Parks and Recreation. Do you think many people will pick up this book thinking the Science... For Her! Megan is a real person?
Well, no one really knows who anyone is in real life. You have so much control over the persona you're putting out there on the Internet. For a long time, all anyone knew about me was that I had a completely horrifying profile picture, which was very deliberate, and that I was a weirdo making jokes. And even though I have written more personal things in the past few years, I still want to be the weirdo who no one really knows is real or not. For the book, I didn't want to have a bio that that says "Megan Amram is a comedy writer in Los Angeles working for Parks and Recreation. Only the character "Megan Amram" who wrote the book has a bio. I want people to pick this up not knowing who I am, and thinking it's a sincere person.
The author's bio in Science ... for Her! is for Megan Amram's ex-boyfriend, who is the inspiration and focus of the book and not its ostensible female audience. I know you read a lot of women's magazines to prepare for this book -- was that something you found in your research? That some of those magazines are still ultimately about women pleasing men instead of themselves?
It's one of those things in women's magazines like Cosmo or Glamour that is more salient for me -- how much of it truly is "you should change yourself in order to find a boyfriend, or to keep a boyfriend or to get him back." So I really wanted to play a character whose obsession with an ex is the only consistency in her life. She both blames herself for not being good or pretty enough, blames him -- and sleeps with all of his friends -- and also blames her girlfriends for somehow pulling her down. She's just a very sad and angry person.
Were there any magazines you read to research the book that were more enlightened than others? Or were they all pretty disheartening?
I think to give them credit, they're all trying to be a little more tongue-in-cheek than they were 12 years ago or so. But, that being said, I just feel like a different species than the women in those magazines when I read them. I remember reading these magazines as a little girl and thinking, "I'm never going to be a grown-up in the way these women are. All they want to do is look beautiful and think about sex." Not that those are bad things to want at all, but even as a kid, I felt like, "When am I ever going to be this beautiful model?" Even now, as a person who's older than most of the women featured in these magazines, I still feel like I'm not a grown-up in the same way that they are. It's a weird experience to see a specific "type" of woman portrayed by media and to feel like you're not that person.
You mentioned your Twitter avatar earlier, which is a photo of you scrunching down your face to give yourself a double chin and wearing garish eye makeup. You almost look alien. Is that something that's inspirational to your work or something you think about -- female performers who are willing to make themselves look unappealing as part of their comedy?
I am obsessed with women who are willing to make themselves look unattractive. I think about it from a place of insecurity, as do a lot of people. I never grew up as a "hot" person. I grew up as an overweight person, or what I thought was an "overweight person." I thought I was a monster. I don't know what it's like to grow up not thinking that way. And that feeling never really goes away, either. I think I have a much healthier self esteem and self image now, but it still is something that I think about all of the time. I'm very aware of that. And, whether you were fat in high school or not, so many people feel the same way about themselves.
So when I first started out on Twitter, I wanted to be completely devoid of gender in any direction. I wasn't tweeting then as a girl, but more as this weird cypher. You didn't know anything about that person, except that she had a girl's name. It was also a guard against people saying, "she's only popular because she's pretty." Which is offensive. I'm not even saying that that would have been said about me, but for some people their attractiveness can fully detract from what they're trying to do.
Of course part of the reason I wanted to use that image as my profile picture was because I thought it was funny, and I still do. But I also used it because people on the Internet love to call women fat and ugly. That is such a weird phenomenon, but it is so prevalent. So, I thought, 'If I'm jumping the gun and already putting up a picture that is arguably very fat and ugly, then you don't really have anything you can say that can cut me to the core." The women who I admire a lot are objectively beautiful, but also don't care about that. A great hero of mine is the stand-up Maria Bamford. I'm so fascinated by how her whole style of comedy is totally separate from her beauty. She plays these other characters and it doesn't matter to her if she looks crazy. And I think that's really powerful.
Do you block people on Twitter very often?
I didn't block people for a long time, which is crazy. I block people who are threatening or who will respond to me with stuff like, "yeah, that joke really wasn't your best. Can you try harder next time?" Which is a really weird comment to make to someone. Oh, you're my teacher?
Do you ever have followers add to your jokes and say they "fixed" them?
Yes. It's like, "What do you want me to do with that?" I should send them hand-written apologies. That's what's in my DMs: Me getting their addresses so I can send them apology notes.
What do you think your career would look like in a world without the internet?
I truly don't think it would exist. Maybe it would have, but it definitely would have happened at a much slower pace. Basically, my life was accelerated by Twitter. I moved to LA and within a matter of months I was writing professionally. That's something that could take five to 10 years, if not more, for people. Professionally, it sped everything up.
What tweet are you proudest of?
I think one of my favorite tweets that is most indicative of my style of writing is, "My blod is typo." It's exactly the sort of wordplay that is always going on in my head. I make puns constantly. I was very self conscious of that for a while, but now I have given into it.
The tweet that turned into my book was "Just woke up from a date rape drug. So it WAS a date!!" The thing I like about it is that it's very satirical and I'm on the side of the victim -- I don't see this as being "a rape joke." I'm making fun of this whole prescribed form of culture, but I'm also commenting on the violence against women that you see every day, that is ingrained in our culture and that you're afraid of if you're a woman. If you are someone who is angry about something in society, including violence against women or sexual violence, your options are either to write a manifesto, which I don't think I'm a good enough of a writer to do, or to make satirical jokes about it.
Is there anything you'll automatically re-tweet or favorite from your account?
I use favorites as a way to say hello -- I'll favorite tweets if someone gives me a compliment or is nice. That's sort of my way of answering them. I favorite a lot. We looked at my account at work the other day, and I've favorited tweets something like 30,000 times. It's some insane number. But it's also that I just think a lot of jokes are really funny and I want to tell my friends that! If you go through my favorites, it appears that I'm a huge egomaniac. They're all just things about me.
Have you ever deleted a tweet?
I delete tweets constantly. Hopefully no one really notices.
Do you ever delete tweets because they're just not getting a strong enough response?
Yes. Sometimes I truly don't know if something is funny or dumb. That's the weird thing about being a writer -- no matter how big you get, or long you've been doing it -- you still don't really know if something is good or not. There's a very fine line sometimes between a great joke and a boring joke. I usually delete things if they're not getting enough re-tweets, which is so lame to say. I delete things that I think could have been more clever. I just want my twitter feed to be a high-quality, condensed joke soup.
#BreakTheInternet Lightning-Round Questionnaire
What were you into in the early web 2.0 days -- Friendster? Myspace? LiveJournal? Napster?
I was super into LiveJournal. I am so unbelievably glad I deleted it once I went to college. I'm pretty sure it was just Stephen Sondheim musical lyrics and Jon Stewart fangirling. Not really adding to the human condition.
What was your AOL screen name?
Sharkbait9387 was my AIM screen name in middle school. The story is very embarrassing -- in sixth grade, I didn't have any good ideas for a SN, so I invented this whole backstory that my twin brother called me "shark bait" as a nickname to make fun of me. Totally fabricated. I was always prepared at the drop of a hat to explain the screen name, but of course, no one asked. It's the saddest thing I've ever done. I hope the desperation to be cool is coming across.
Are you now, or have you ever been, an online dater?
I haven't before, but I'm thinking of signing up with just my profile picture from Twitter. It will really separate the men from the boys. And then me from both of them.
If you could adopt any web-famous animal, who would it be?
What's the longest you've ever been offline?
Never. Even on flights with no wifi, I astrally project into The Cloud.
Who are your favorite Twitter/Tumblr/Instagram and Vine users?
There are so many great tweeters: @billyeichner, @bejohnce, @kateberlant, @luxurykat. I'm a BIG fan of @bootlegbart on Instagram -- all posts are of off-brand Bart Simpson merch. It always makes me laugh so much. I'm not a big Vine user. Don't have the attention span for it.
Sweater by Ted Baker, jeans by Dittos, heels by Topshop. Styling by Norma Jayne Seward for Cloutier Remix / Hair and makeup by Amy Hanlin at The REX Agency
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