Screenwriter Jenny Pentland joins Zibby to discuss her first memoir, This Will Be Funny Later, which largely looks at her life following the success of her mother Rosanne Barr’s show. The two talk about the different ways seeking control has manifested in their lives, how motherhood often feels like a constant effort to not make the mistakes your parents made, and why it was cathartic to re-evaluate her traumatic childhood from her family’s perspective. Jenny also shares how this book began as Tweets written to help calm her mind and the ways in which this project has been transformative for how she copes with her PTSD.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Jenny. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss This Will Be Funny Later: A Memoir.

Jenny Pentland: Thank you for having me here.

Zibby: Best cover ever, by the way. Love this. As a child of the eighties, growing up, this is just fantastic, as was the book, oh, my gosh. I just recommended it, actually, on some local Good Day DC feature that I did. Thank you for sharing all of your ups and downs and treatments and journeys and everything. I feel like I’ve just gone on such a ride with you. What inspired you to share it? Why now? Why did you decide to share your story?

Jenny: I’ve never in my life done something for just one reason. There was a bunch of reasons. One of them was I was coming out of a dark period where I basically couldn’t leave my house and was agoraphobic. Part of coming out of that for me was not saying no to things just because they were uncomfortable or because I knew that they would be transformative and I couldn’t control the direction of the transformation. That was part of it, was that I had sworn to myself that I would say yes to any opportunity presented to me. Then there was just something about the time that was telling me that now is the time to talk about these things. This is the right time in my life and just in the way the world is right now. That’s all.

Zibby: Wow. You had the funniest chapter headings, by the way. The whole packaging of this book — I read a lot of books. I have such an appreciation for interesting structure and titles. I kept chuckling at every one. Even though a lot of the content was very emotional, the way you wrote about it was with a sense of humor, kind of tongue in cheek, a lot of the stuff that went on, I feel like, I hope.

Jenny: I’m hoping it would come across that way. In the early — when I would let people read a chapter, I’d be like, read this one. Being funny is our family’s language. I don’t know how to talk about anything without a sense of humor about it. I’d let people read it and think they were going to come back to me and be like, that was hilarious. They would always be like, I’m so sorry. Maybe it’s not coming across. It’s a healthy mix of comedy and tragedy. It depends on the reader, what their reaction is going to be. Definitely, being funny is a huge defense mechanism in our family, and our love language, I guess.

Zibby: I should really have that guy on. Next time, I’ll try to put you on at the same time. Maybe we could have a whole session or something. I was literally saying that to my husband the other day. Anyway, it’s not relevant. He did something. I was like, “We’re having different love languages here. I was showing my love by taking care of five thousand things. You’re only showing love by spending time with me.”

Jenny: pay attention to my needs. I have the same — I like that guy in that theory. I just think he should delve deeper into the other versions of love languages too. Being mean is a love language for some people. That wasn’t on the list.

Zibby: That’s true, the dark web version of the five love languages. Love it, oh, my gosh. There’s so much in here that was so interesting from, obviously, growing up with a celebrity as a mom and how that transition happened over time and how you coped with it, but I was more interested, honestly, in your struggles with your mental health and the eating, even, ending up in the treatment facility at 280 pounds and having to go through that. I actually worked at an inpatient unit when I was in college. I love psychology. I was in the adolescent inpatient unit. All of this reminded me — the same sort of terms and everything. Although, mine was in New York. Then all the way to the gastric bypass, this whole arc of that part of coping — honestly, that’s just one way to cope. I was hoping you could just talk a little bit about that and how it felt to share it and where you are with it now.

Jenny: Sharing it was easy because being fat, you can’t keep that a secret. It’s not a secret. You’re sharing it by going outside. I think there’s a vulnerability that just always exists in being overweight. You’re not choosing to opt into the vulnerability about talking about it. Because of that, I think it was easier in some ways to talk about that than the anxiety and the other things that you learned to cope in ways that people might not know. I felt like I had a unique journey with that because I never really did the disordered eating parts of it. I haven’t worked that one out all the way yet. I might need to write solely about that. I was a little bit overweight when I got put into the institutions. Then being complacent and sitting on my butt and eating cafeteria food for five years, I just kept gaining, gaining, gaining. By the end, I was about 280 pounds.

Then it became a power struggle issue between me and counselors or me and even our counselors that would take us to OA, Overeaters Anonymous meetings, and my own family. The power struggle part was more what it was about for me, and then using that as a means of autonomy, having some autonomy. What are you going to do about it? This is one of the only things I can control. That past with the disordered eating, other people that I’ve talked to that have had struggles with that, the control issues are the real thing. I see that in other parts of my life too, with just trying to manage being alive and control what you can control. Looking at that was bad because that is pervasive in every other avenue of my life too. I wish I could compartmentalize it just into body issues or eating issues. Unfortunately, everything is so deeply tied and interwoven with everything else that I’m just never going to untangle it.

Zibby: I totally get that. I have struggled with my weight my whole life. I feel like it’s so unfair. I’ve had all these thoughts. I’m like, if I were an alcoholic, nobody would know if I was just — maybe I would be falling over. I probably shouldn’t say that. That’s probably not appropriate or something. I wish I had something that nobody could tell. Everyone knows I’m failing at something right now. I’m failing publicly. I’m really ashamed. I can’t do anything about it. This is my own stuff, but I totally relate.

Jenny: Also, we do live in a society that’s extremely critical of women’s bodies in every way for everything you do. You’re too skinny. You’re too fat. You’re too this. If you feel great, then you dress too provocatively. All of it, there is no way to be as a woman where you’re not in constant criticism wherever you go. When you’re in public, then you’re being looked up and down, I think because of that. Women get in on it too because then we’re feeling picked apart, so we start picking apart everybody else to try to figure out where we fit in there. It’s probably in most countries that I’ve been to. Anywhere I’ve travelled to, I feel a little bit of it. Part of the reason I like Hawaii so much is because that’s probably the only place that I did not feel that way. They have very different views of women’s bodies and female being there, which I really like.

Zibby: And very flowy clothes, which is nice.

Jenny: Flowy clothes. Also, no one cares. You’re judged on merit a lot more than anything else. Everybody’s related too. Everybody knows each other and is related. I think you’re going to be less critical of people who are in your family than you would of a stranger and people that you see every day. You start to see past anything that you pick up on. We’re also in these big communities and big cities where you don’t really run into the same people every day, so people don’t have a chance to get to know you beyond their first impression. You’re just constantly being first impression-ed to death. It always has to do with your body or your clothes. Whatever it is that you’re insecure about, if you don’t have enough money for nice clothes, whatever the thing is that you feel you’re falling short in is the thing that you’re going to have in your head. Other people will pick up on that. Why does she look insecure? Then they look you up and down and go, oh, okay, it’s because of this or that. That’s just the way of categorizing other people. We all do it. We all categorize other people to try to figure out where we fit into the pecking order. I’ve had chickens and goats for a long time. I watch the way they do it. I’m like, oh, it’s just innate that we try to figure out the pecking order, where we fit into it. In human farmland or on the human farm, it’s a different thing because it’s verbal. We’re horrible. We’re horrible verbally to each other, and microaggressions and stuff. I’d rather somebody just peck my eyes out to put me below them rather than slowly critique me to death on a podcast or something or in a news article kind of situation. I think the book was a lot about that too, just being picked apart slowly.

Zibby: These all sound like bad options.

Jenny: They’re all bad.

Zibby: These are our choices today, being pecked apart by chickens or sabotaged in the press? I don’t know.

Jenny: I’d rather, just peck my eyes out. I guess it’s not the best option. being called fat. I haven’t decided yet.

Zibby: I was really, also, moved when you wrote about the birth of your first son and how he was born with a soft cleft palate and how you handed that and the surgeries. That all must have been so stressful too.

Jenny: Yeah. Being a new mom — I was twenty-four. I was in LA. I was in the Jewish area too. We lived right by my temple. There was so many things about it that were stressful. Me and my husband had only been together for six months at that point in time. I think we were both on unemployment, not when it happened. I was a nanny when I got pregnant. Then soon after when I was so anemic that I couldn’t work, we were on unemployment. There’s a lot of things that were stressful during that time, and then that being one of the things. He was born with a cleft palate in the soft part of his mouth. The way everybody else handled it and me trying to stay calm and listen to my intuition and also be my own advocate — also, I looked like a fifteen-year-old, so none of the nurses wanted to listen to anything that I had to say. It was a stressful time. It was very, very stressful. I’m saying it like it hasn’t been that level of stressful up until this morning, but it has, in all honestly. Always been .

Zibby: It continues now?

Jenny: Yes.

Zibby: You have five kids, right?

Jenny: Yeah.

Zibby: I have four kids. I understand the stress. I think it’s also the unpredictability. You never know who’s going to have an issue or what type of issue. Everything else has to stop while you handle it and all of that.

Jenny: Then that’s just in the physical world. There’s also all the spiritual and mental repercussions and the dynamics between brothers and the dynamics between extended family members and just all of the interpersonal aspects. If you don’t have a lot going on, say your kid didn’t have a cleft palate, you would worry that there’s something that you couldn’t see. You would worry that you’re not going to be a good enough mom. We’re just hardwired or programmed and taught to worry and worry and worry about everything. That’s a huge part of parenting that I see. I’ve been doing it for twenty-one years. If my brain gets quiet for a moment, I’m like, what if one of my kids has a driver’s license? What if the car breaks down? What if the tire falls off? You can just really spin out in that kind of fear. I feel like when you have kids, too, for what I was talking about trying to be in control of situations, you’re basically never going to be in control of the situation ever again, especially when they’re eighteen. There’s a level of acceptance that you need to have or else it’s really, really difficult. I’ve been watching all those sad mom movies, those that have come out lately. I think that’s a huge aspect of it. All of the ownness is on the mom, it seems, for the most part, for the kid’s well-being mentally and physically. If the kid struggles at all with any of their own independent issues, then it somehow always feels that it goes back to the mom. Motherhood’s no joke.

Zibby: Yes. I would underline that if I were reading it. Motherhood is no joke. Not for the faint of heart. I totally agree. You painted a picture of what it was like for you growing up and the kind of parenting you received. Do you keep that top of mind when you’re in the day-to-day dealing with your kids, actively going against or actively making decisions to do things in the way that you wanted or that you would have wanted it?

Jenny: Yeah, I think there’s an element to, I don’t want to make the mistakes that were made with me. At the same time, I don’t really even view them as mistakes. They were just how people had to cope in the moment. For a while when my youngest was young, like three or four — I don’t know if I said he’s twenty-one now. When he was three or four, I realized that I was being reactive to the parenting that I had. I was basically, essentially, accidentally doing the opposite as opposed to really consciously looking at myself and what I thought I needed to do as a parent. It was like, oh, I don’t want to do that. This is the opposite of that, so I’m going to do this. Then at some point, I was like, that doesn’t work either. I think that the real thing that works is just getting to know your kid, paying attention to your kid, and really viewing them as human being and trying to — that brings up a whole nother thing when you have more than one kid, too, because you’re parenting each kid differently. You have this different relationship and dynamic with each child, which makes it a little bit more difficult. Once I realized that I was reacting to pain, then I was like, oh, I should probably deal with my own pain. That’s probably the best thing you can do as opposed to doing the opposite since that’s just two ends of extremeness or whatever.

Zibby: If you can have the self-awareness and perhaps the right therapist to work through all that, then you’re probably better off.

Jenny: How do people find therapists? I feel like I found a life partner and my best friends and the people that I love really easily. They just kind of came into my life. I was like, I love that person. I can’t find a therapist that I can — I cannot find one. Is there a speed-dating situation? I’d like to just go in and sit down and be like, hey, here’s all my issues, top five. Can you handle it? I actually did that with my last therapist a couple months ago, but then she ghosted me.

Zibby: I have a new therapist who’s amazing. I am happy to send you her information. Someone just recommended her to me on Instagram. I was like, okay. She’s amazing.

Jenny: I’ll take it.

Zibby: I’m happy to send it to you, the information. I agree. It’s hard. There’s so much, personality and style. There’s a lot of different factors. I’m being, probably, way too personal.

Jenny: I don’t know how to personal.

Zibby: How long did it take for you to write this? How did you feel writing it? Was it a huge relief to get it off your chest? How did you feel about it?

Jenny: You know how when you’re mulling over your to-do list in your head for a week and then you’re like, god, I should just write this down so I don’t have to keep cycling through? My whole life, I was collecting stories, in a way, that I wanted to process later. It was mostly like, I need to process this, but too much is going on now. I need to process it later. I always had in my head, don’t forget to process this one, and just kept mulling them about in my head. It was causing me a lot of anxiety. At some point, I was like, if I write these things down or write these thoughts down — that’s where it started. It really started on Twitter maybe eight years before I started to write the book. I was like, I have to get these thoughts down or it’s going to make me insane. My kids were little. Then Twitter came up. I was like, oh, I have to condense these thoughts down to one sentence. Then I can just put it away. Then if I need to go back and look at my Twitter feed later, I can. I can search it. Twitter sort of was an organizing to-do list or life-processing kind of stuff. Then once I started doing that, I realized I really enjoyed editing things into a shape. Then I went through that struggle where I couldn’t leave my house. Then I was like, I’m going to say yes to everything. Then my friend called. She was like, “Are you ready to write a book? I have somebody that can help you.” I was like, “Yes,” and just delved into it.

I had no idea. I still don’t know what happened or how I did it. I would be like, okay, now what do I do? Now you start writing the words down. Okay. I called my dad. He’s really smart. He remembers everything. He told me year by year. He gave me a timeline of events. I had compartmentalized them into little pockets in my head and didn’t remember what year anything happened, so that really helped me out. I did the timeline first. Then I started saying, oh, this is — say my mom got her TV show in this area. That also was when I was twelve, so this is what I was going through personally at that time, and trying to connect everything and figure out how all of it happened. It ended up being really cathartic and healing in the sense that I was looking at my life and what happened those five years through everybody else’s eyes, in a way. I wanted to really be fair and not just have it be a journal where I’m going to turn it into my therapist at the end of the week. It could’ve gone that route. My first drafts, a lot of time, would be just like, I’m angry, and these are all the things I’m angry at. Then I was like, okay, but then also, what was this person going through? The person that you’re mad at, what was that like for them? It gave me a reason to put myself in everybody else’s shoes and see it from their perspective. That was healing for me because I always kind of felt maybe I was just sort of brushed to the side as a — not inconvenience. I was more than an inconvenience, but just like, nobody knew what to do with me, so they just put me somewhere else because they had too much going on.

Then when I really could break it down, I could look at what really happened and be like, oh, okay, this was that week. I had a lot more understanding for what happened. I could really see how my parents did exactly what they needed to do at the time and how everything kind of fit. That was healing. It took three years. I’m sitting there in my PTSD for three years. I don’t think I handled it as well as I thought I was. Looking back now, the last few years are a little bit of a fever dream trying to get to this point that I’m at right this second. I did some things right. I did some things not well. I didn’t handle some things well. Like I said, it’s transformative. It’s extremely transformative, but I could not have imagined in what ways emotionally or physically or spiritually it would be transformative. I definitely could not control those terms. It just came out yesterday, so it’s just starting to hit me, what ripple effect everything had, and not just of writing the book, but of my PTSD when I was a teenager. I thought I had handled it. Then I thought, I handled it, so now I can write about it objectively. That seems to be not what happened in hindsight.

Zibby: What do you think really happened?

Jenny: I think I opened up a Pandora’s box that I was not equipped to deal with. I think I dealt with it poorly in some aspects. Now I’m trying to recover those parts of my life that I sort of lost control of again. Stay tuned for book two, is what I’m getting at.

Zibby: I can’t wait. Having written this memoir, what advice would you have for someone who’s trying to write a memoir of their own?

Jenny: Don’t do it. Just get a therapist instead. Just work through that. Keep the world out of it. Or write one and give it to your grandkids after everybody you write about is dead. I think those are my two pieces of advice. Don’t do it or do it when everyone’s dead.

Zibby: But you don’t really mean that.

Jenny: No, of course I don’t. I think anybody who’s writing a memoir is probably doing it because there’s some pain and suffering that they’re trying to process. I don’t recall reading a memoir that was like, then I went to coffee with my best friend. I would say if you’re going to write a memoir, it’s probably because you’re trying to process some stuff. Just make sure that you set yourself up for being able to process that. Have somebody help you emotionally through it. Just do it. Also, don’t do it. Also, just do it. Also, don’t do it. Those are my two .

Zibby: Thank you, Jenny. Congratulations on the book coming out. I hope in the long run you’re really glad that you did it and that it becomes an inflection point and leads to a lot of more new, amazing things like talking to me and finding your perfect therapist.

Jenny: I’m hopefully helping some teenagers that have gone through that too and bringing some light to the troubled teen industry. That was my real hope.

Zibby: I’m actually on the board of the Child Mind Institute. It’s all about child mental health. If you have any interest in an introduction there or anything, if you want to help out to reach whatever, let me know that too. I’m happy to put you in touch with Harold Koplewicz who runs the whole place.

Jenny: I think I do want to get into that. That’s kind of the direction I’m feeling pulled right now after this. I would love to talk more about that.

Zibby: Okay, great. Awesome.

Jenny: Thank you for having me on and craziness.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, it was great. Thank you so much.

Jenny: Thanks. Have a good day. Bye.

Zibby: You too. Bye.



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