Megan Amram’s Simple Physics for Ladies
Ladies, have you wondered what planet you would weigh the least on? Or what household chemicals make the best cocktails? Or perhaps you want to know what the best birth control method is (hint: long denim skirts). Comedian Megan Amram has a book with all the answers for you.
If you’re familiar with Amram’s work, you probably also know about her particular brand of biting, acerbic humor, one that she broadcasts on her very popular (32,400 followers and counting) Twitter account and uses to her benefit on the writing staff of the hit NBC series “Parks and Recreation.”
Now, Amram has turned her attention to “Science… for Her!” a faux textbook skewering the tone of such women’s magazines as Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire. The book includes charts like “The Best Religion for Your Body Type” and “Fashion Staples for Each Phase of Global Warming,” pointed absurdism that’s also clever social satire.
The 27-year-old Portland, Oregon, native launched her career on Twitter, where she would practice joke writing. Before she knew it, Amram drew the attention of Academy Awards show runners, who hired her in 2011 to write jokes for that year’s Oscars. This led to writing stints for “Kroll Show,” “Childrens Hospital” and even the Disney Channel before her current position writing for “Parks and Recreation.”
The Forward’s Margaret Eby spoke to Amram about feminism, growing up Jewish and the state of the Internet.
Margaret Eby: How did you hit on the format of “Science… for Her”?
Megan Amram: I really wanted to write a comedy book, and I wanted it to be a higher-concept artifact than just a string of jokes. I noticed that a lot of the things I posted to my blog happen to be making fun of the writing in women’s magazines like Glamour or Cosmo. It would be a fun aesthetic. The end of that was making a science textbook making fun of how women don’t understand anything about science or their bodies.
One of the things that this book illustrates really clearly is this sort of fake feminist tone that’s so popular in women’s media. Like, say, your riff on “Physics Through Nail Art.”
I was so obsessed with that. To give some of them credit, some of these writers are working within the bounds of these sexist institutions. I got the feeling that there’s an editorial structure that’s pretty passive aggressive. You see someone write glowingly about his or her best friend and then tell them how they could have better skin. It also is contradictory in so many ways. You’re supposed to be extremely thin, but you’re also supposed to be happy with your body, be okay alone but also find a man who gets you and keep him. It’s just very confusing.
My book is obviously the nth degree to that. And it really isn’t just these magazines. It’s a stereotype even in female friendships, where women are supposed to always be talking behind people’s backs. I think that is something that’s always been such a cliché, women being mean to other women. I mean, I gossip sometimes. But the reason my friends are my friends is because I like them.
Why do you think that tone still exists?
I honestly think it’s because people are very complacent about it. Equal pay, that’s a big thing you can point to. But small stereotypes about how women treat each other are not that high on the list. But it’s something that I’ve become very attuned to, the way they portray the day-to-day lives of women.
You grew up Jewish with a single mom, which you’ve written about before. How did that affect your comedic outlook?
I so strongly identify myself as Jewish. I’m not super-religious, but I think it’s such a wonderful legacy to be a part of. I also grew up in Portland, where I felt like a minority in a good way, like a novelty. My first comedy heroes were like the Marx Brothers. I remember learning really early on that this, jokes, it’s a thing that our people do. It’s such an awesome legacy to enter in. I think it was so influential. My mom is a doctor, and a very good one. Growing up I never had any inclination that women wouldn’t just all be doctors and scientists. My mom was that. It made sense to me. The first thing I wanted to be was a pharmacologist. I wanted to be a researcher who made medicine. And it’s only when I got older that I realized not every woman grew up that way.
How did writing for “Parks and Recreation” translate into writing a book?
Obviously my book is way crazier than the stuff we do on “Parks and Rec.” It’s not necessarily my favorite type of writing, but it is core me. The book represents something I would write with no parameters. But the constraints of having people act like people and have real emotions attached are more fulfilling. Working for “Parks and Rec” has been really important about teaching me about constraints, and not making things so crazy that they’re unintelligible. They’re very fun to do together because they’re so different. It was wonderful to do side by side on the same day, because they’re very different styles.
You have an amazing Twitter account that you’re very active on. Do you think platforms like Twitter make it easier or harder to be a woman with a visible profile in the media?
I don’t know if it’s easier or harder. You have to really say to yourself, “Okay, I’m going to get a lot of people telling me I’m ugly.” I am always fascinated by trolls calling women ugly and fat. Isn’t that old? Get a new insult. For me, my profile picture is very ugly. If anything, I wanted to say to them: “This is your insult, but it’s not going to work against me. Find something else. Criticize the work I’m doing.”
How do you react when you see people take your satire seriously?
I love it. It really amuses me. Not for them to be laughed at, because I intended the book to look like a sincere thing. It makes me feel like I accomplished my real goal. And in the book there’s no bio of the real me; it’s just a crazy person that’s narrating the book. I would hope that in 100 years, after the world has exploded and aliens land, they’ll look at this book and assume everything in it is real.
This interview has been edited for style and length.