“Laughter goes hand in hand with tragedy and how we cope.” Saturday Night Live star Cecily Strong joined Zibby for an Instagram Live to discuss her debut memoir, This Will All Be Over Soon. Combining her own story with that of her beloved cousin Owen, Cecily reflects on the pandemic as it unfolded and what the loss felt like. Cecily hopes the book will keep Owen’s optimistic spirit alive, as well as help readers cope with their own loss.


Zibby Owens: Good morning, everybody. I’m saying good morning because I’m on the West Coast still. Here, it’s six thirty in the morning, but that’s okay. I’m up. I’m ready. It’s going to be a great day because today is pub day in the literary world. Every Tuesday, all the new books come out, if you didn’t know that, which by the way, I did not know until I got into this industry in any sort of working capacity. Anyway, Tuesday is pub day. Today, there are many great books pubbing including This Will All Be Over Soon by Cecily Strong who’s going to join us in a minute. She has been on Saturday Night Live for about ten years, which I’m embarrassed to say I almost always can not stay up to watch, but obviously, it’s amazing. She has written a fantastic book. By the way, tonight, I will be at Pages: A Bookstore in Manhattan Beach at six PM Pacific Time with author Nicola Harrison. I will be celebrating her book, The Show Girl. That should be really fun too.

Today in this Instagram Live I’m going to be talking about This Will All Be Over Soon by Cecily Strong while I try not to sneeze because my allergies are so bad in the mornings. Sorry about that. While we wait for her to join, I can just tell you, this is a beautiful memoir about Cecily. It’s basically written in diary form about how — oh, here she is; hold on — about how she made her way through the pandemic and how she coped with grief, losing her cousin, dealing with the pandemic, and all the rest of that stuff. It says Cecily Strong must upgrade app in order to join. I don’t know what that means, but that doesn’t sound good. I don’t know, Cecily, if you have to upgrade your Instagram app or if it hasn’t been upgraded in a while or something. I don’t know, but that’s what it’s saying. Cecily Strong must upgrade app in order to join. I’m just going to keep talking for a few minutes while you go into the app store and see if there’s an update or something or if there’s another phone nearby and you want to text me and tell me where you want to join from. It doesn’t work on a computer. It only works on a phone. Let’s see. I’m not sure what to do. Maybe you could try to figure it out. I guess Cecily has to upgrade the app, or maybe on an iPad if you have an iPad instead of your iPhone. Instagram can be a little bit tricky sometimes with the upgrades and everything. Meanwhile, as I was saying about her book while she figures that out, This Will All Be Over Soon is about the tragic loss of Cecily’s cousin Owen, who — oh, wait, here she comes again. Let’s see if this works. There we go. I was a little bit worried about that, but clearly, needlessly because here she comes. I have to blow my nose. Sorry.

Cecily Strong: Perfect timing all around.

Zibby: I’m so sorry. Hi, Cecily. How are you?

Cecily: Hi. How are you?

Zibby: Happy pub day to you.

Cecily: Thank you. Great excuse, reason to upgrade my Instagram.

Zibby: I’m so sorry about that. I’ve never seen that before with all the various things that happen.

Cecily: You’ll see it all with me. I do everything wrong, tech-wise.

Zibby: No, stop it. Congratulations. As you know, I just loved your book from the second I started reading it months ago or whenever I got it. This Will All Be Over Soon, I’m so excited for you that it’s out in the world today. How do you feel about it?

Cecily: It’s strange. It’s still early, so I don’t know how I feel. Maybe I won’t know until afternoon.

Zibby: .

Cecily: Yes, exactly, but I’m very happy. You’ve been so nice since early on. I really appreciate you and even you doing this today.

Zibby: Oh, my god, it’s my pleasure. The book resonated with me on so many levels. One, the loss of your cousin and how beautifully you write about that and how you flash back and show us all about him as a person. This isn’t just about your loss. It’s about celebrating him. Now we all get to know him and your other cousin and how your relationship evolved and how amazing and supportive he was and the impact of that loss on you, but also how you took us through the pandemic. You showed us how, like so many other people, people aren’t only grieving loss because of COVID during COVID. There are so many other things that happened in life that happened along the way. Even when you have that funny line about, yeah, I’m going to talk to you about boy troubles in the middle of a pandemic, life goes on. Tell me a little bit about what made you write this book. Why did you decide to publish this book? I feel like you wrote it for you. Why did this become a book for everyone?

Cecily: After doing the first essay, sharing that with New York Magazine, I just had a lot of people reach out to me. It seemed like it was maybe helpful for some people. Early on when I lost Owen, I didn’t know how to write about him. I didn’t know how to talk about it. It felt like, okay, if people are maybe going to feel helped in any way, that’s the best way I could think of to share my cousin and be able to share him. It feels like an active thing, publishing this book, that Owen’s still going, that his story’s still going.

Zibby: It’s so true. You had a lot of beautiful passages about grief. I just wanted to read this one tiny section when you were talking — I love how you dated. It’s all in diary form, which I love. This is like the Bridget Jones’s Diary of grief. This is from April 17th, 2020. You say, “Do you also cry yourself to sleep? So often, I keep approaching okay, but I’m never fully there. I’ll only ever be okay-adjacent. I’m everything-adjacent because words are hard to find these days. I’m living life-adjacent right now.” I love that. That was so . I feel like so many people are living life-adjacent these days. Can you take us back to how it felt back then in April when the world was upside down? You had just been bopping around your Airbnb and coping with everything.

Cecily: I think because writing this book was such a — it was kind of a magical experience for me personally and a lot of catharsis every day. Because I’m trying to understand Owen and his positivity, he sort of gave that to my life during that time. I was making these connections. It felt like they were gifts. I would write during the day. I was in an Airbnb with my friends Matt and Kevin. The other love story in the book is my friend Kevin, who I live with now in the Hudson Valley. I would write during the day and sit with myself and go through something and then had to let it go. Then we’d go to do a family dinner. Then Kevin would read out loud so I could hear it. It would maybe make us cry. We’d talk about it. Then it was like, got to release that, and then maybe have a little dance party after dinner.

Zibby: Tell me a little also, you wrote a lot about your childhood and growing up and this crazy situation where you ended up basically getting kicked out of school. Life could’ve gone a lot of different ways for you, I feel like, at that point. That was insane. In case people don’t know about what happened, can you —

Cecily: — Yes. My sophomore year of high school, I bought my first bag of pot, real seedy and gross. I felt cool, I guess. I bought it with my friend. I left my bookbag just in the green room. I did a lot of theater in high school. I put it somewhere with a friend to audition for The Shadow Box. Then they found my backpack and went through it and found the pot. I was expelled. I was handcuffed and walked out of the school.

Zibby: I can’t believe it. Of all the things, for the tiniest, little thing, wow. Then you had to figure out how to land on your feet, the first of many times when you found upside down and having to rethink life.

Cecily: Certainly, it was the first time realizing my life’s not going to go the way I had thought it would or that I see other people’s go. I was very lucky. I’m privileged enough that it didn’t destroy my — I got to go to a Catholic school. I got it expunged. I did community service. Then I went back to high school and dealt with some pretty bad depression. I wasn’t going to graduate on time. I was a straight-A student, and I was going to have to be a fifth-year senior because I didn’t have enough gym credits. Then I dropped out and wasn’t sure if I would ever graduate high school. I was like, I guess I’ll just get my GED. Then I found an art school in Chicago and sort of found my people. I felt like I was very quiet. I just felt very small and like I couldn’t speak. Then I went to this art school. It was like, I found my people. I can’t slip through the cracks here. I was voted best personality my senior year at that high school. It felt like that was a huge accomplishment. It is a bit of a brag, me saying that, but it was also such a big accomplishment because I felt like I didn’t speak or smile a lot for the year before that.

Zibby: You can brag about that all you want. This is your time. By the way, somebody in the comments just asked, are we doing a podcast? I just wanted to say this will be a podcast on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” If you want to listen to the whole thing or if you missed some or whatever, people can hear the whole thing soon over there. Tell me a little bit about — you lost the — I can’t remember what, exactly, role he played on Saturday Night Live, the costume or makeup, the man who ended up passing away.

Cecily: Hal Willner, music producer.

Zibby: I’m sorry. My mind . It’s early.

Cecily: He kind of did a lot.

Zibby: That also was the first person you really knew who passed away from COVID. That obviously brought up all the loss from the months before when you had lost Owen. Tell me about that and how you had to cope with that on top of everything else.

Cecily: With COVID, it was so fast. I just remember being outside hanging out with friends and looking at Facebook. My friend Yoni, who was — number one, Hal knows everybody and has worked with everyone you’ve ever thought was cool. Hal’s worked with them and was the first person you’d see and notice if you walked into SNL. He’s got his hat on and his big beard. He always kind of looks like he’s up to something. My friend Yoni posted something that’s like, “I love you, Hal. We’ll miss you.” I was like, what? Just stop in your track. I started texting my friend who’s a producer at SNL. She said, “Yeah, he passed away from COVID.” The night Hal died in New York, I think there were something like six hundred people. That’s so many people if you think about one of them being the most singular, unique, out-of-this-world human beings you’ve ever met. He’s one of these six hundred. These numbers are really overwhelming to see because they’re not numbers. They’re people.

Zibby: Everybody has a story. Everybody has a network. Everybody has so much love in the world and so much loss and grief. It’s overwhelming. It makes me panic to think about it. The scope of it is overwhelming. You turned to comedy in the end. Here you are with this hugely successful career. By the way, when you read the book, all you’re doing is rooting for you. I feel like if people didn’t know you before and they read the book, you now have all these people just being like, you can do it, you can do it. Oh, my gosh, she’s making it through. How great. How has comedy helped you through some of the hardest parts?

Cecily: I think it’s always been a part of my life. I think laughter goes hand in hand with tragedy and how we cope. It is its own little, mini cathartic moment. I tell a story in the book. At Owen’s service, I spoke. I tried to get a couple of laughs, probably not a great standup routine, but I know that he would’ve appreciated that. His friend came up to me after. He said, “I think Owen would’ve liked that.” Then he said, “I was holding it together so well because it was stoic. It was all sad and serious. The minute I laughed, the tears came.” It just allowed him to feel it.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, it’s so heartbreaking. Is there anything in here that, especially today on pub day, you’re like, oh, my gosh, I can’t believe I put that out there?

Cecily: I don’t know if one’s more than another. I think what’s good about the book is that I suppose if you took one thing out, it could maybe make me uncomfortable, but everything in it together, it’s all part of the same thing. Nothing should be taken out as its own unique experience. It’s all been there. I didn’t write this because I want anyone to feel bad for me. I wrote it because I wanted to just add my voice to the things that I think a lot of people in America deal with.

Zibby: It doesn’t come across as some sort of self — it’s not a “feel sorry for me,” self-involved thing. You’re sharing your story from your heart. There’s no real bigger gift than when people do that because all you’re trying to do is connect. You’re trying to and connect to others and acknowledge that your experience is universal. No, I didn’t take it, as a reader, at all in that way.

Cecily: My hope is that people who need it who may find this book take a moment for themselves and check in with themselves and see if they’re doing okay because I don’t know that we check in with ourselves enough, especially right now. I think it was a really hard year. I think there’s this push. Now we’re vaccinated. We’re okay. We’re not quite out of it. We may be holding onto some trauma we may not understand. Everybody, on some level — even if you think, well, I don’t have it as bad as someone else, just checking in with yourself doesn’t take away from anything. It’ll make you be a better support system to somebody else anyway if you check in with yourself and make sure you’re doing okay.

Zibby: It’s very true. It’s very important. There’s so many people going through so much. That’s also just a fantastic reminder. My husband and I, Kyle, we were on Good Day LA yesterday recommending your book.

Cecily: Thank you.

Zibby: Sure. He was like, “This is such a great title.” It’s the best. It’s so true. I hope so. There have been fifty-seven times since I’ve been holding your book in my purse for the last two weeks where I’m like, I could just pull this book out. You need this messaging all the time. It’s very important. Just last thing, do you have any advice for other people who are aspiring writers who maybe want to share their story in the selfless way that you’ve done?

Cecily: I think just sitting and writing. It’s really as simple as that. I didn’t train to be a writer or anything, so I’m not going to write the great American novel. What I can do is be as honest with myself as possible. Just sitting and writing every day allowed me to see these little connections and give myself magic and stories to understand and process my losses and loves. It was a lot about love. It’s really just exploring the love I’ve gotten to have in my life.

Zibby: Cecily, I’m really, really sorry for your loss. I’m really grateful for you to introducing us all to Owen and having him back out in the world in this form and keeping him alive in our thoughts. That’s all we can really do. Sorry for my allergies.

Cecily: He’s got music. I’m so glad it’s good music. If you ever want to hear his voice and his songs, they’re called The Evening Fools, his band, on Spotify. I highly recommend.

Zibby: Perfect. This Will All Be Over Soon, Cecily Strong, everybody go out and buy this book, please. If you want to hear the rest of this from start to finish, go to “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” Cecily, congratulations. I’m so thrilled for you. I’ll be here clapping as one of many, many fans for this memoir and everything else. Congratulations.

Cecily: Thank you so much. Sorry about my Instagram.

Zibby: No, I’m sorry about my horrific allergies.

Cecily: It’s real life.

Zibby: Real life. Have a great pub day.

Cecily: Thank you.

Zibby: Bye.



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