Photo: Hachette Books
You know that weird, conflicted feeling you get when you recognize a guy is kind of an asshole, but you want to hook up with him anyway? Or when you think you look the hottest you've ever looked one second and completely hideous the next? Or when you spend 20 minutes deciding between two pairs of seemingly identical black boots? Comedian Iliza Shlesinger has a name for that: Girl Logic. She even wrote a book about it, aptly titled Girl Logic: The Genius and the Absurdity, which is in stores this week.
Shlesinger defines Girl Logic, or simply GL, as "a characteristically female way of thinking that appears to be contradictory and circuitous but is actually a complicated and highly evolved way of considering every choice and its repercussions before we make a move toward what we want."
Honestly, we're just happy to finally have a name for it. Shlesinger, a comedy veteran who became both the first woman and the youngest person to win NBC's Last Comic Standing in 2008, applies this idea to everything from coming-of-age traumas to shopping dilemmas to the reality of dealing with fragile male egos. The book is full of wisdom and humor and the kind of confessions that make you feel like you know a celebrity, even when all you've done is read something they wrote. Shlesinger mentions her friends by name, gamely talks about having a nose job and an abortion, and recounts the bullying she dealt with at the hands of her male cast members on Last Comic Standing following her win. But the best part is that she gives advice—real, honest advice about how to navigate the world as a strong woman who questions everything and kowtows to no one. Which is why we caught up with her to pick her brain further.
I feel like the term Girl Logic puts into words something about our brains that a lot of women feel but have a hard time defining. How and when did the concept of it come to be?
Well, I wanted to write a book, but I knew I didn’t want to write an autobiography at 34. I think there’s something kind of pompous about that. I didn’t feel I had the right to do that yet, but I knew I had more to say to women than I could with just my stand-up. I thought about it, and I just kind of grew tired of women always being called “crazy.” As I was moving through my late 20s into my 30s, I was noticing that this was just commonplace to write women off with, “oh she’s crazy,” or “oh she’s a psycho-bitch,” to paint women with these broad strokes as if we’re not these complex, beautiful creatures. And I think a lot of the reason people call women crazy is because we have so many thoughts about so many things and it comes off as crazy because there are so many parts to our decisions, so many variables, but the truth is, women are expected to be so many things to so many people at once. That’s not to say that men don’t have those pressures, but I can’t write from a male perspective, I’m not a dude. Women are expected to be all these often conflicting things: sexy, but not too “slutty,” whatever that word means; strong but not too strong, because then you’re intimidating; inviting but also tough; a go-getter at work, but also a team player. And not only are you supposed to be all of these things, people’s perceptions of you as a woman count. It matters. You can’t just say, whatever I just live my life, because not taking into account what people think of you could be detrimental to your job or your safety. Because of this constant feedback, women have to factor in so many things when we’re making a decision. We live in constant fear of judgment because that judgment can have real implications. And we do it all in an instant, but life is very complex for us. I wanted to shed light on that.
I read your statement on Weinstein [Ed note: Girl Logic was originally published by Weinstein Books before the imprint was absorbed by Hachette], and I don’t want to harp too much on him, but what do you think the consequences of all of this will be for the entertainment industry? Do you think it will all just blow over or do you think this is the beginning of some real change?
It’s definitely not blowing over anytime soon, and we’re seeing so many people coming forward, not just with women but with men. These are all good things, until it becomes a witch hunt. It’s good that women are getting the chance and having the voice and the strength and the numbers to come out and say something. And it’s so shocking to me, people who are like, why are they coming out now? Because it’s safe now, duh! Everybody knows what it feels like to come up against someone more powerful than you and you know that if you say something, it will go unheard. So finally, the megaphone is open and people can get their voices heard. It’s so sad that in 2017 we’re still having to explain to people that no means no. And that women are vulnerable, and that humans are vulnerable, and that you shouldn’t touch someone who doesn’t want to be touched. Like, don’t we learn that in the first grade?
I think it’s gonna get really bad before it can swing back and get somewhere normal. If you want to talk about draining swamps, it’s happening right now. It can’t go on like this forever, but these people who have been wronged deserve a chance to speak up and I hope it will change the way things are, particularly in Hollywood, but also in general. If you’re Harvey Weinstein, this goes beyond therapy. Like, there’s something wrong with you, this was calculated, this had many people involved. Bad people will always find a way to be bad. But I think with this coming to light, good people have a bit more of a voice, and that’s always a great thing.
One thing that really stuck out to me in the book is all the stuff about you being bullied and mistreated by the male comedians on Last Comic Standing. How would you advise someone who is in an abusive work situation like that to deal with it?
It’s a precarious thing, it’s such a tough thing. Because in that case, you know, you want to say just be you, but I was just being me. Sometimes just being you isn’t enough. Sometimes just putting on your blinders and going into work isn’t enough because you still have the emotional toll, you still have other people projecting that negativity and abuse on you. Sometimes just being a stalwart and moving forward is difficult, but such is life. I guess I would tell them to do exactly what I did: hold your own, don’t let them see you cry, hold it in for several years, and then stick it in a book somewhere. It’s tough, and I guess I wouldn’t advise someone, because, the specifics of that are... like, what would I tell another reality show winner stuck on a tour bus with a bunch of jealous dudes? It was just a weird thing. Hopefully, you’re in a place where you can tell somebody what is happening. In my case, we had a tour manager who was just the least professional ever, he didn’t care that that was happening. But comedy is kind of like a Wild West in terms of morals. You’re gonna get people with chemical imbalances, and you’re gonna get great people. All you can do is know at the end of the day that you did the right thing. All you can be in control of is your own actions. Which is why I didn’t fight one of their girlfriends when she got in my face one time on the tour bus. Because I was like, if I hit her, I’m the bad guy.
In the book, you talk about some things you’ve done that you’re not proud of and you also expose some vulnerabilities about yourself. Was that hard?
I think it’s not so much hard as it is, like, when you’re typing it, you’re just hoping that people take everything with a grain of salt and take it as you just opening your heart, versus any other negative motive. Vulnerability is always rewarded, and when I open myself online to my fans, they’re always so kind. So you’re just hoping you’re choosing the right words, saying it tactfully and in the right way because you don’t want to be misconstrued as anything other than what you are. And that’s always hard with a book because you have no control over perceived inflection. You have no control over the tone. People read how they want to read. So it wasn’t that it was so much hard for me emotionally, but just that in the execution, I wanted to make sure that when I was vulnerable or talked about a time I did something wrong or made a mistake, that it came from a humble, honest place.
Was there anything that made it into the book that you struggled to decide if you wanted to talk about?
Not really. I think my mother, although she was part of the decision, kind of cringed that I put the abortion story in the book, which I totally get. Her friends are going to be reading it, and I get that it’s a personal thing, but I, as an artist, as somebody who stands up for what I believe in, was like, how can I sit here and be part of a Women’s March and be part of us wanting to fight for the rights of our bodies and having Planned Parenthood on my late night show, and donating to them and being active, how can I do all of this and I’ve had this experience that I would be ashamed of? I wouldn’t be able to go to sleep at night knowing that I was contributing to the problem of just retweeting articles and not actually coming out and being like, this is my story, I know for a fact that getting an abortion is not a big deal. If you’re ever going to make an impact, sometimes you have to use yourself as an example, and shying away from that felt weak. It is my story, so why not use it?
I love that because I feel like society always wants to push this narrative of how getting an abortion is this really big deal, and that just isn’t every woman’s experience.
Yeah. And now, of course, if you say one thing, you have to say the opposite, so for me, it wasn’t a big deal, I’m sure it is a big deal for other people. But in general, so many women are like oh, yeah, I had one. It’s kind of just unspoken, as are a lot of things about being a woman. We’re very shamed for the functions of our body, whether it’s a period or anything having to do with pregnancy. It’s like, oh no, don’t talk about that. And I’m, very lucky, I’ve had a nice life, I’ve afforded myself a lot of opportunities, and from the get-go, my parents were always very supportive. But I had this thing I had gone through and to not share it felt cowardly.
It feels to me like women in comedy are a lot more visible these days than they were even like a few years ago. Do you think that’s the case?
Well, from the get-go, when I started comedy, the whole thing was “women aren’t funny.” Which isn’t true, and I would always say, no, women are funny, there are just less women doing standup, so you have less of a sample to choose from, so when one woman isn’t funny it feels as if it represents the whole minority. So now that there are more women doing it, we’re more visible, because of the internet and Netflix and stand-up comedy is so huge right now. There are more people of color, there are more Muslims doing standup. Over the last ten years, the landscape has dramatically shifted. There’s a want for diversity, there’s a need for content.