Header photo by the amazing Gia Cognata.
Sinclair: You’re the author of several books, including Real Artists Have Day Jobs, you did a screenplay, you act, and you’re a comedian. How did you get to where you are today?
Sara: I have been very fortunate: I started with parents who cared about me and encouraged me to write. And I had nothing to do with that. That was chance. Luck of the draw. Fate. However you regard it, my birth wasn’t of my doing. And I’m very grateful. I regard it as a privilege and I’m conscious of it every day.
Setting that enormous gift aside, I often say that success of any kind in entertainment and the arts requires talent, hard work, and luck. For everyone, these percentages are distributed differently. I’d say I’m at 40% talent, 40% hard work, and 20% luck. And I’m not the most successful person by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m doing alright. Glad for it, too.
Sinclair: Who inspired you along the way?
Sara: In comedy, Amy Sedaris, John Leguizamo and Margaret Cho were early inspirations. In writing, Molly Ivins, David Sedaris, and my pal Francesca Lia Block. If I could combine Amy Sedaris’s career with David Sedaris’s career, shake it up, blend it up, and turn it into a delicious smoothie, that smoothie would be my ideal career.
Bourdain inspired me. What a storyteller. A chronicler of idiosyncrasies and quirks and details. His love for people was out of sight.
My pal Angela Trimbur is this amazing dancer. I’m terrified to dance in public. She leads this dance group, LA City Municipal Dance Squad. They’re hilarious and great. I love that they teach these affirming, loving dance workshops that I am very frightened to take. I just like knowing they’re out there.
I’ve written one pilot for a couple networks and one feature for a couple of cool production companies. I want to write more for television and film and I’ve been watching lots of stuff lately. I’ve really enjoyed “Sorry To Bother You” directed by Boots Riley and “Eighth Grade” directed by Bo Burnham. Lakeith Stanfield is a fucking incredible actor. His physical work is just beyond – posture, movement, everything. Elsie K. Fisher is so young and so good at conveying pain and hope all at once. Hannah Gadsby’s “Nanette” was an amazing Netflix special. My friend Molly Mary McGlynn is a brilliant young director. Kate Berlant and John Early are fantastic performers.
These girls in the comedy group, 3 Busy Debras, are hilarious. I don’t know what the fuck they’re doing 15% of the time and I also don’t care to know because I love it. They remind me of Stella. I greatly enjoy Cocoon Central Dance Team. They’re like Mummenschanz on meth and shrooms. Sam Jay is an excellent stand-up. I featured for her a few times recently in Toronto and I opened for Scott Thompson as well – two very different, very funny performers who are incredibly educational to watch.
Nick Kroll is never not interesting to watch. It’s good to use a double negative when trying to describe someone as very funny, which he is. I would follow Phoebe Robinson into the ocean, but only with consent, and specifically only with the appropriate breathing apparatus on because I don’t want to die yet.
I find literally no one else inspiring, ever, at all.
Sinclair: Who did you have to let go of along the way, because they weren’t healthy for you or your career?
Sara: I’ve had to let go of a few people, and it would be unhealthy for me to name them. Unfair to them, also. I’d say anyone who can’t be with you when you are up and when you are down has got to go. Get ‘em out. Bye. You don’t owe them an explanation or one more moment of your time.
Sinclair: What’s one piece of work that you’re most proud of?
Sara: I recently wrote a long essay called “Reading Joan Didion in California.” I was scared to post it because it talks about many things – dating, writing, eating, abuse, and getting sober. I worried it was too confessional, too navel-gazing, perhaps selfish. An actual thought I had was, “Maybe I didn’t drink enough to be the right kind of alcoholic.” Having that thought is a big buzzing neon sign you’re an alcoholic.
Now I’m very glad I posted it. I’m a columnist for Medium and it was my first piece of work as a columnist for them. It got passed around a lot and so many kind people offered words of compassion, empathy, or appreciation. I feel deeply grateful to them. In part write and create so that folks will feel less alone, and this time my readers made me feel less alone. I also write and create to make money, and I’m getting paid for this long essay, which is cool because it’s 11,000 words and Mama needs to pay the electric bill.
Sinclair: You were on Marc Maron’s podcast. What was the “fuck” count for that episode? Also, what’s he like? I love him in Netflix’s “G.L.O.W.”
Sara: Marc and I didn’t fuck at all during that episode. OH YOU MEAN THE USAGE OF THE FOUR-LETTER WORD. (See what I did? Look at my creativity.) We probably said “fuck” 30 or 1,000 times. I don’t remember. I don’t usually listen to podcasts after I do them, because it’s me talking about myself or my work or something and I hear myself think all day. Marc is a brilliant interviewer and he walks around in your head if you let him. I opened up a lot at that time and was actually frightened to listen again. Turns out it wasn’t that scary at all, once I finally did listen to it. It helped me figure out some important stuff. He pushed back on some assertions I made and later I thanked him for it.. I don’t know him super well but I’d say he is a brilliant, funny hard worker who is sober and looks great in plaid. He’s a bit of a polymath, you know? A real musical ear and sensibility, which understandably gets second billing after his comedic gifts, but he’s very good.
Speaking of sexy people, I am a Kimmy Gatewood and Rebekka Johnson stan so I hope “G.L.O.W.” lasts for 1000 years.
“I’d say anyone who can’t be with you when you are up and when you are down has got to go. Get ‘em out. Bye.” – Sara Benincasa
Sinclair: As an advocate for mental health awareness, what’s something you’re working to unlearn about mental illness?
Sara: I’m pretty open to ideas and methods for others so long as they’re helpful and not harmful. I guess I’m working to unlearn my own fear of the gym or exercise. I know it’s very helpful for mental health and I certainly advocate it for others but have trouble using it as a tool myself.
Sinclair: What’s something that’s been bringing you joy lately?
Sara: Audiobooks often bring me comfort and joy. I love the feeling of being read to. My mother used to be a school librarian and It must come from there.
Sinclair: What’s something that’s been pissing you off?
Sara: My own procrastination as a writer enrages me sometimes.
Sinclair: Whatcha gon do about it?
Sinclair: What advice do you have for creatives and writers just starting out?
Sara: Read a lot. Read outside the genre in which you wish to write. If you’re creative in a different way than writing, that’s cool – read stuff about folks who’ve excelled in your field. These are your creative ancestors. Learn from them. For everybody: read great sportwriting. I don’t care if you like sports or not. Great sportswriters like Dave Zirin take a game and make it into an epic battle – and often it’s a moral, spiritual or emotional battle, not just a physical one.
Sinclair: What are your unshakable values?
Sara: I value flexibility, adaptability, a slow and steady approach and the willingness to apologize when you fuck up – are these values? I have no idea. Hold people to good standards. Hold yourself to good standards. Set boundaries. Don’t be afraid to tell someone to fuck off if they detract from your sanity. If you’re having a tough time, find a shrink or a meeting or call a friend or find a podcast or audiobook or website that addresses your issues until you can find a professional. Masturbation in the privacy of your own home or office is a healthy choice so long as it isn’t distracting you from important work. Is that a value? I’m bad at this question.
Sinclair: Imagine that all your life’s work disappeared and you only had 1 minute to tell the world what you believe to be true. What would you say?
Sara: Be kind to yourself and to others, and you’ll leave this place better than you found it. It’s okay to be flawed and to make mistakes so long as you’re actively working to better yourself and others. Put your own oxygen mask on first. And say thank you when it is warranted. Breathe. As long as you’re making your art, you are an artist. Threesomes can be boring, so watch out. Drink a lot of water. Not necessarily during a threesome, because you’ll have to get up and pee and then it’s a twosome and why are you doing this if not for the thrill of the triad? I have no idea what I’m talking about. The end?
Sara Benincasa is an author, comedian, and actress. Born and raised in New Jersey, she’s lived in six states and performed comedy in four countries. She’s adapted two of her own books for film and television. She lives in Los Angeles.
Featured awesomeness: Get Sara’s book Real Artist Have Day Jobs
Also, Sara says: “If anybody wants to donate money to Legal Aid Justice Center Virginia that’d be cool too!”