“I can’t imagine a world in which I was born gay and wasn’t completely proud, to the point of arrogance. It’s like you are the REAL chosen people. You’re smarter, funnier, warmer, kinder, more capable of emotional intelligence, more stylish, and just straight-up more incredible than anybody else on this planet.”
That’s how Julie Klausner responded when asked what it means to have capital-P Pride in 2013. She’s known for such broad, unapologetic declarations—and, judging by the ticket sales for her upcoming headlining appearance at the Toronto Pride Week edition of Bitch Salad, a queer comedy show, the feeling is mutual. Klausner, who is New York-based, is an author (she wrote the 2010 bestselling dating memoir I Don’t Care About Your Band, and the recently released young-adult novel, Art Girls Are Easy), a host (her interview show, How Was Your Week, has been called “one of the few essential podcasts” by the New York Times), a television writer (she writes for Billy Eichner’s manic pop-culture quiz show Billy On the Street), a cabaret and sketch performer, and a contributor to Vulture, Spin, Jezebel, and the New York Times. She’s also a cultural critic, a tastemaker, and a redhead.
“I can actually say that if I had unlimited resources—which, let’s be clear, I sure as fuck don’t—Julie Klausner would [still] be my top pick to bring in,” gushes Bitch Salad’s host and creator, Andrew Johnston. “I’m such a fan of hers, much more than anyone else I can think of in the comedy world right now, and she’s just the quintessence of everything [the show] represents.”
What Julie represents is difficult to explain to those unfamiliar with her work, but Torontoist is happy to try. We spoke with her earlier this week about her new book, her podcast, her upcoming trip to Canada, and the importance of finding and cultivating one’s own voice.
Torontoist: First of all, I want to talk about your new book, Art Girls Are Easy, which I loved.
Julie Kluasner: Thank you so much!
Adult writers depicting the teenage experience tend to be either sentimental or overdramatic. Your book falls into neither trap, but why do you think so much entertainment that’s aimed at teenagers misses the mark so completely?
Thank you. I don’t think I was a different person when I was 15 or 16—I was just becoming who I am now. I don’t think teenagers are terribly different than adults. There are cool teenagers, there are asshole teenagers, there are teenagers who are curious, teenagers who couldn’t care less about what came before them. I love smart people who have a good sense of humour and are open minded enough to care about what exists beyond their own personal force fields. I don’t think those values should be limited to people your age. So, I guess I just tried to write a book I would want to read, as well as a book I would have wanted to read when I was 12, 13, 14, 15, 16.
Sex was such an important part of your first book, I Don’t Care About Your Band, and it’s such an important part of Art Girls Are Easy. But since the intended audience for each is different, did you approach writing about sex differently in each book?
Sex is a phenomenally important force when it comes to young women coming into their own during adolescence—which is a fundamentally psychotic, hormonally-driven time. It would have been negligent and dishonest of me to avoid emphasizing the sexuality of those years. For me, it was an engine. It guided my identity with an urgency I still find embarrassing.
So much of your other work—like your podcast, How Was Your Week, and your recaps of the Real Housewives franchise for Vulture.com—expands on your appreciation of camp. Much of the culture produced in 2013 seems so soaked in a kind of dour, too-cool-for-school irony. Do you think camp is even valued anymore?
Absolutely. Everything on Bravo is high camp. Musical theater will always be camp. Every YouTube video featuring Prancercise or a conversation taken out of context is camp. It will always exist, it just may not be apparent to all, which is fine. The people who have an ear or an eye for camp will never not be able to see or hear it.
You’re set to headline Bitch Salad at Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times Theatre as part of Pride Week. If some of what you do and who you are is labelled as gay entertainment, is that flattering, or limiting, or both?
Flattering. I love gay people. They have better taste than anyone. Who am I to say I’m better than Bette Midler, who started out performing in bathhouses decades before DOMA was even an acronym? I’d be a fucking idiot going around saying that. I would punch myself in the face.
How did the opportunity to appear in Bitch Salad come to you? What can Toronto expect to see on June 28th?
Andrew emailed me and made sure I’d be put up in a nice hotel and flown out first class. That’s pretty much all it takes, plus my fee, honestly. I don’t know what Toronto can expect, besides my lumpy Jewish face in the flesh. We’ll figure something out, though.
(Note: For his part, host Andrew Johnston says, “I’ll be doing a breakneck-paced multimedia interview with her called “How Was Your How Was Your Week”…we’ll hit on a bunch of specific topics from her podcast and a bunch of broader pop-cultural/LGBT topics as well…I do want to make a point of saying, just because it’ll be “How Was Your Week”-centric, it’s still going to be very accessible to people who have little to no familiarity with her podcast, and she’s so effortlessly witty that it’s going to be hilarious across the board.”)
Have you ever performed in Canada before? What do you know of our lovely country?
I haven’t! I know you’re all very polite, and subversive but quiet. I grew up obsessed with the Kids in the Hall and SCTV, but what else is new. I know you like beer and hockey. I know you guys have really good candy. I like Smarties and Aero bars. I’m curious about the Jewish deli in Toronto. I saw Anvil and I want some smoked meat on rye.
David Sedaris was on your show a few weeks ago. He said, “I just love hearing you talk about stuff. I’ve learned so much from you. For instance, Face Off.” It may be a trite example, but he’s alluding to what fans of yours appreciate so much, which is that your tastes are so varied. Your listeners accrue movie, music, and book recommendations from you like they would from a close friend. How did you develop your tastes? Where does it come from? How come you’re not sitting around reading Danielle Steele or watching Dateline like the rest of us?
Thank you! I have no idea where my interests come from—in a way, my tastes are like my ideas, so it’s hard to say “my idea for this song or this story or whatever came from blank.” I find things that tickle me and they inspire me to explain why I find them fascinating—whether it’s because they stick out, or they’re shocking, or silly, or they remind me of something else. But I don’t know if there’s an underlying thread that weaves them together or what it says about me that I gravitate to this rather than that. Probably just boredom and ADD. I get annoyed easily when people talk about, like, the Kim and Kanye baby, or Amanda Bynes. Nothing about that or Brad Pitt is interesting to me. I don’t care. I want something weirder in my eyes. Otherwise I’m just going into a trance state.
All the stuff you put your name on seems so disparate on the surface, from a cabaret act, to Housewife Recaps, to a young adult novel, to a dating memoir, to Billy On the Street, to the podcast, but really the common thread is your voice. This type of career flies in the face of platitudes like, “Find the one thing you’re good at and just do that.” What gives you the confidence to lead with your own voice and perspective?
Never worry if people will get confused, or not get a reference or a joke. Never assume you should dumb something down, or that you should do less, because people won’t understand who you are. Give people credit, and you’ll get to do what you want to do—and the right people to follow you.
This interview has been edited and condensed.