Jane Borden's love letter to New York, I Totally Meant to Do That, is a fantastic collection of humorous essays about growing up in the South, living her post-college years in NYC, and coming head to head with the question we all have to come to terms with at some point here--where do our priorities really lie? Every NY transplant should read it. The book recently made New York Magazine's Approval Matrix, which means it's good AND culturally relevant. I talked to her about its reception, her future, and all the items on the book's backpage that got glossed over.
First off, I really loved the book--you completely nail the feelings and emotions I went through as a transplant in New York and the struggle to explain or relate my existence here to those back home. Does everyone tell you they feel a kindred connection with you after reading it?
I have had a lot of people say that, yes. And it means the most when the person is not from the South. Underneath all of the jokes and details about New York and North Carolina, the book is just a story of transition, and of growing up. So I definitely wanted that to transcend the specifics of my own experience.
Do you find that it reads well to people who haven't lived here? I saw on Amazon one reviewer who admits to never living in NYC write, "I don't believe Jane Borden; at all." There was nothing that rang untrue or out of the ordinary to me, even the part about sharing a whoopee cushion with a tranny hooker.
That review really made me laugh. Part of what compelled me to write this book is that the South and New York are such interesting places. The former is quirky and eccentric. And the latter is straight up crazy. So to hear someone, who has visited neither, say they don't believe any of the stories...it's like, "Yeah, I know--exactly!" Also, regarding the the tranny hooker, I'm secretly hoping s/he will find me on the Internet someday, just to go, "I was the one you played whoopee cushion with!" But that will never happen: A) I sincerely doubt I'd be popular in that community and B) s/he is probably not on Facebook.
I like how the stories all tidily wrap up in a way that calls back details laid out in the beginning of them. Is that your improv background at work there? Or is that just good storytelling and editing?
I think that stories--in print or spoken, written or improvised--have more fundamentally in common than they do different. However, I'll also say that improv classes are the only formal creative training I've had in any genre or medium. And also, my experience with it in the beginning was cult-like, to say the least, e.g. my parents were concerned. So, yes, in general, as someone who is obsessed with improv, I see its stamp on every facet of my life, in ways large and small. In fact, we should change the topic before I totally nerd out and embarrass myself by using words like "therapy."
I know you as the Time Out comedy editor but the dust jacket says you've contributed to SNL, Comedy Central and VH1. Since you don't talk about any of these jobs in the book, what did you do at these places?
I was a freelance joke writer for Weekend Update for six (seven?) seasons. So I submitted 10 to 15 jokes per show in the hopes of getting one read by, through the years, Jimmy Fallon, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, or Seth Meyers. It was a blast. But it was also a labor of love; freelancers rarely get stuff on the air. Or, at least, I rarely did. VH1: those talking-heads shows, you know about the '80s or a reality star or an old brand of cereal or something. And Comedy Central: Back when I was barely old enough to drink, I was cast in a sketch on Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn. We improvised most of the audition, so when I came back for the taping, he asked me to help him rewrite it. I remember being late to meet him in his office because of hair and makeup. I was sitting in the chair thinking, "I don't care what I look like, just let me out of here so I can go upstairs!" An early sign that I should be a writer and not an actor, I guess. And actually, it was right around then that I stopped pursuing auditions and focused on words.
How did you become the Time Out comedy editor? How long have you been there?
Six (seven?) years--I swear that was not an intentional call back (unless that is some really deep-seated subliminal improv training). I had been writing a humorous column about New York for the L Magazine for a year when the job at Time Out opened up, and because I had also been entrenched in the New York comedy scene for a number of years, I had the right combination of qualifications.
Not to spoil it for those who haven't read the book, but are you really leaving New York?
I spent five years and 230 pages figuring out where home is. And then I went and got engaged to an academic, which means that we will live wherever he teaches. I invested all of this time and energy into
making a decision, and the big-cosmic-joke is that it's not up to me. But I needed to make that decision, to stop being a coward and grow up. So I'm glad I did before the deus ex machina swooped in. It was an opportunity for "therapy"--okay, that call back was intentional.
Well, I think before you go, we should create and sell the rights to a "Would You Rather?" type of party game called "What's More Ladylike?"
Okay, but only if it's a drinking game: If there's anything my book proves it's that I would always lose at a game like that, so at least let me get drunk.