Zibby Owens: Welcome, Michelle. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Survival of the Thickest. I’m so excited to be talking to you.

Michelle Buteau: I’m excited to be talked to.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. For people who aren’t familiar with your work, could you give us a little background on why you wrote this book and what it’s essentially about?

Michelle: What a loaded question. I’ve been doing stand-up damn near twenty years. I know I age really well. I’ve sort of made the jump into acting and hosting and TV and film and all this really fun stuff, but my true love is stand-up. I’ve been doing a lot of podcasts and storytelling shows. I realized, wow, there’s other things I could share with people besides these funny, ha-ha, sassy-girl moments. Especially after going through a five-year battle of IVF to try and have children, it was really hard being the happy clown with big titties and freckles. As I quietly was going through these really painful experiences, I was also out and about probably working the most I’ve ever worked. Now that I feel like I am healed and on the other side of the mountain, I can look back at my experiences and my pain and my grief and properly write about it and share it because I’m realizing it’s not about me. It’s not about, how long can I talk about myself? I’m not some reality show. No shade to reality show hoes, lol.

I feel like the more I share, the more people feel less alone or just simply educated. There’s a lot of, that would never happen to me, and then it does. I was like, wow, what would happen if I actually wrote a book? And so I did. It was wild. I never want to read or write a book again. It is so much work. I just remember taking care of teething twins who were about ten months old, still had them in the same room, didn’t separate them yet, didn’t even realize that was a thing I could do. Then I would go to set to work on a movie called Marry Me with J Lo and just be in awe of Owen Wilson and Sarah Silverman and be like, this is crazy, and then go to my trailer and try to get an essay done. I’m just like, what is this life? Then go home and go to the store to pick up baby Tylenol and just keep it moving and write this book until I would fall asleep. Then I remember one night, I even realized I had shit stuck in my nail. I’m like, god, why does it smell? Checking under my shoes. It was so dumb. Anyway, I don’t even remember the question, but thank you so much for having me.

Zibby: It was great. I have twins, by the way, who are now thirteen. Yes, it’s true.

Michelle: I can’t wait.

Zibby: Well, pros and cons of every age. I also did not realize that I should separate my twins. I kept them in the same room for a really long time. Once they were napping in beds, essentially, I was like, oh, okay, maybe I should split them up. One of these million things you learn as you go.

Michelle: Are they boy/girl? Who are they?

Zibby: They’re boy/girl. They’re thirteen. The boy was first by a couple minutes and lords that over her head constantly. In reading and seeing your Instagram, it’s taking me back to the very beginning. It does get easier in some ways, a lot less physically demanding at least.

Michelle: I do feel like that I Love Lucy episode where I’m trying to keep all the chocolate on the conveyer belt. I’m just like, get the diapers! I want to say I’m looking forward to them talking, but from what I hear…

Zibby: Talking is good. Walking is good. There’s a lot of great things coming up. I feel like by the time you’re here, it’s more like psychological warfare that we have going on. Being a twin mom, people would be like, but my kids are really close in age, so I get it. I’m like, no, you don’t. Sorry, it’s different. Just a little different.

Michelle: Puerto Rican twins, Irish twins, yes, yes, yes.

Zibby: Different.

Michelle: It’s not the same.

Zibby: Anyway, go back to the IVF part and the pain and having to sort of mask the pain and keep on keeping on. This is something I find so fascinating. How do you keep all of that emotion inside and just come out of the trailer, as you were saying, or head to work when all of that stuff is brewing inside? Did you always talk to your colleagues about it? How did you process it? Did you write personal journals? How did you get through that period of time?

Michelle: That’s a good question. Now that you are talking about it, maybe I should’ve journaled. Maybe I should’ve talked to more people. I felt I couldn’t, though, because no one really knew what I was going through. They’re like, what do you mean hormones? What do you mean shots? What do you mean? That doesn’t sound right. They would get defensive. Why are you doing that? You know what you should do is just eat clean. Maybe lose weight. Maybe don’t work as much. I felt sort of attacked and shamed from people that I love who just simply didn’t know or understand. It felt like I was in a marathon of an emotional cardio wind tunnel where I’m just like, get the fuck through. Get the fuck through. You will be a mom. This will happen. Get through. After the first miscarriage, I was heartbroken. I’m like, let’s go again. I realize that was normal for my other friends who are talking to me about their miscarriages. Then by the third one, you’re like, okay, let’s just wait a second. Let’s take a beat and really figure out what’s going on because it’s something other than a nature takes care of itself type situation. I think because I was so busy and had such a huge to-do list workwise, I was able to compartmentalize all that was going on. I’m like, okay, I’m going to LA to pitch the show I just wrote. They’re interested in it. Fly yourself out. Get a doctor’s note. Get the needles. Get the this. Get the progesterone suppositories. It became my life and my to-do list.

Then I would cry over the weirdest things. Somebody would cut me off on the road or my Uber driver didn’t feel comfortable with me putting my window down, and I would just cry. My husband would leave crumbs from his sandwich on the countertop. I’d be like, I want a divorce. I’m like, oh, or maybe it’s the hormones. It was crazy. Then as I started working more, I started giving zero fucks. That’s when I really started to book, when people are like, wow, she’s so edgy. I’m just like, no, I’m broken, but I will definitely wear the statement lip. When I would improve a scene, it would be ridiculous. Then I would just start crying. I’d be saying the most dumb things but crying because I didn’t know how to manage all that was going on. It really resonated with people. Even my First Wives Club audition which was over Skype because Tracy Oliver, the creator and producer, was in LA and I was in New York, she was like, “Look, your husband who you’ve known since college has cheated on you, finally. You are coming to terms with it now. You guys are going to therapy. You feel broken. You’re trying to put yourself together every day for your two kids.” I’m just like, oh, my god, that’s all she needs to say. Then waterworks. She’s like, “Phenomenal acting.” I’m just like, I got to go to the bathroom. And so on and so forth. To be honest, I don’t know how I managed. In life anyway, I’m day by day. Now with toddling twins during quarantine and still working, I’m hour by hour.

Zibby: Yes, that’s all you can do. Go back to what you said about being edgy versus being broken. Tell me more about that. How do you know which one you are? What causes what? Tell me about them.

Michelle: Again, it’s a case-by-case basis. Everyone has their opinion of you. You could walk in a room and feel ugly, but people see a confident person. You never know what you’re giving off or what people see. People are like, whoa, I can’t believe you said that. I’m like, yeah, because I don’t care if you like me or not. I just don’t care if you like me or not. I know that I’m actually better than this and this project and this material. It did help me in a way where I’m like, I just want to go home and cry right now, so let’s get this shit over with. I was also so happy to have things to go to because that gave me a sense of normalcy. Life is still going on. If I didn’t have anywhere to go, I don’t even know what I would be like. It also gave me a sense of, damn, bitch, you can get stuff done, which is probably why I decided to write a book. So stupid, so stupid.

Zibby: A lot of the book, though, goes all the way back. You take us all through your life and being raised by your parents and all the little things that happened to make you, you. You go into that in a lot of depth. I don’t want to mislead that the book is all about IVF or anything like that. You have a lot, also, about your body in this book and your relationship to your body and your family’s relationship. There was this one passage I wanted to read with your dad. You said, “There was this one time when I was about fifteen and my father said to me, ‘Stop eating pasta in front of your boyfriend. You should lose twenty pounds because then you’d be so beautiful.’ I stopped right there. I told him off. I said, ‘I’m beautiful no matter what, twenty pounds or not. If someone is going to love me, they are going to love me for me.’ His look changed immediately, and he said, ‘That’s my girl.'”

Michelle: Ugh. Isn’t there a better way? Do we have to be GI Jane right now at the dinner table, Dad? It’s too much.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. You’re very open about your relationship with your body. Tell me how you feel about it now, especially after having twins.

Michelle: I didn’t have twins. I had a surrogate. For me, I was like, how am I going to feel taking care of these babies if I didn’t carry them? That lasted for like five minutes because I’m like, oh, no, they are mine. I am theirs. She is a part of our village and extended family, chosen family, which is amazing.

Zibby: I’m so sorry. I totally knew that. I remember reading all that. I don’t know why I said that. I apologize, but I did know that. Keep going.

Michelle: No, that’s okay. I still feel like a warrior princess because I went through five years of fucking crazy rigid hormone taking, spreading your legs three times a week to get tested, blood three times — I feel like I’ve done it all. To get back to what you were saying, I did gain weight during IVF. I was so used to it by then, fluctuating, because I have been since I was eleven that I’m like, it is what it is. I’ll do what I can. I didn’t get that overnight. I developed quite quickly. I talk about wanting a banana seat bike for my twelfth birthday, and I ended up with woman-size tits. To get unwanted attention from older men is gross. To be shamed by older women is also really disgusting. I feel like we have to help kids shape who they are in a positive way. Our bodies are all different. There isn’t one way to look or be. That’s okay. Also, how to speak up for themselves. Yes, definitely respect your elders. Say please and thank you, but you don’t have to take people’s criticism. That’s wild. I think that was the hardest part, actually, writing the book, was trying not to make it sound like I was mad at my parents because there was a lot of shame from them to not stick out my chest. I’m like, I’m standing up straight. You told me to stand up straight my whole life. Why are you wearing that? I’m still wearing the same thing I’ve always worn. It’s just, this is how my body is. By the way, everyone in my family looks like this. Why all of a sudden is it a thing? For me, it definitely is survival of the thickest in terms of having a thick body, but also not shaming people for who they are or what they want in life. That is, I hope, a takeaway, whether it’s wanting to be with multiple partners to figure out — like they’re Julia Roberts in Runaway Bride, how they like their eggs.

Zibby: I refer to that scene all the time.

Michelle: Thank you!

Zibby: All the time. I’m so glad you said that. I think about that all the time. I mention it to people. Yes, so true.

Michelle: Thank you. Nobody ever understands.

Zibby: What? No. It’s one of my favorite scenes.

Michelle: Thank you. Where are they now, her and — is it Richard? What’s his name again, with the gray hair?

Zibby: Yeah. Richard Gere? No.

Michelle: Oh, my god, I was going to say Richard Marx. That’s where my brain is at. It is Richard Gere. They should get together and do something else. They’re going to be cool grandparents.

Zibby: Yeah, the grandparents. They’ll be the new Diane Keaton and .

Michelle: Exactly, without the white, ripped turtlenecks, but yes.

Zibby: I do think, though, that girls developing early is something that not enough is said about. Not that I should be revealing this, but I was definitely wearing a bra by the time I was ten. I’ve never felt comfortable in that regard ever since. My mom took me to buy a bra. I hid between all the robes in the store. I was like, I don’t want anyone to see me. With you too, age twelve, you’re not necessarily ready for that. How do you then deal with your body the rest of your life when something — it’s almost as if there’s this something that’s out of your control from the minute you get going, and you’re struggling to catch up after ever since.

Michelle: Yeah. Not only are you struggling to catch up, but you also want to fit in because you’re at that age where you don’t want to be different. Then you become a teenager, young adult. Everyone has a different relationship with sexuality. Because we were religious, it was just shame on shame on shame. I knew deep down inside that I wanted to be this happy, vivacious, sassy, let’s see what it looks like naked person, but those people sounded like mean and bad people. Then when I finally moved away and had sex, I was like, no, this is great. This is amazing. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. In fact, it was a great lesson in speaking up for what I wanted, whether it was dating somebody casual or we were serious or whatever it was. There’s no classes in school that will tell you how to speak up for yourself, at least when I was going to school. I don’t know about now. There’s a class for everything. I think it’s a wonderful lesson. In comedy, they always tell you to learn from the good and the bad. Learn from when someone’s killing on stage and when someone’s just dying, which is very violent now that I’m saying that out loud. I feel like the same could be said from your childhood experiences.

Zibby: Do you feel like, when you were writing the book, that it always had to be funny? As a comedian, do you feel like, I better make this section funny, or how do I turn this piece — a lot of it was very funny, but there was pain beneath some of the humor. How did you in terms of tone?

Michelle: I couldn’t answer that. I was just truly, these are the stories I want to share, get it done on paper. It’s easier to do a show or host a dinner party or a storytelling show and just talk it out. To put it in print, I’m all over the place, as I am on stage. I’m just like, what’s the beginning, middle, and end? I never thought about being funny because I feel like that’s there no matter what. Even the way I describe something, everyone’s like, who the fuck? I was like, me. That’s how I describe it. Emotional cardio’s the only cardio I’ll be doing. Everyone’s like, who says that? Me, bitch. I already knew it’d be funny, but I also knew that I want to share these more painful, more sincere moments. I was just like, get it done. That’s been a big thing for me. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it’s just got to get done.

Zibby: Why did you say that this is the worst thing you’ve ever done and that you would never want to write ?

Michelle: The hours, the sheer hours, that it takes to write something is crazy. For me at least, I have every hour booked in my life, in my day. I even have an hour to relax, if I do. I will say, I’m going to go in this dark room. It’s usually my closet. Let me do my thing. It was just an added thing that I had to put in the schedule of already crazy. Then also, be vulnerable in a way that I never had before. What if I just made an album, a singing album, and I’m like, okay, Christina Aguilera, listen to this? I’m not a writer. I’ve written. TV and punch-ups is so much different than an author. I can’t even say author. Then the edits where you have to go back and read it. Then the notes where someone had read it, it’s so crazy. It does feel like you are fully frontally naked and getting a pap smear in Times Square.

Zibby: Wow, that would not be on my list of things to do. I can see why you wouldn’t want to do it again. I know how busy you must be because we scheduled this at ten fifteen. I’m like, that is a really busy person who’s scheduling things on the quarter hour.

Michelle: I’m in England right now.

Zibby: Oh, my goodness.

Michelle: I’m in Manchester. Off the record — is that how you say it?

Zibby: Sure.

Michelle: Filming The Circle, which is the show I host on Netflix. It films in England. I managed to bring the kids and our nanny with us because I’m here for six weeks. Well, two more weeks. Four weeks down. Can’t wait to go home.

Zibby: At least you got to travel. I feel like there’s been no travel allowed for so long. Anyway, what is coming next? You’re always doing a million things. Now you’ve got this book launch on top of everything. What is your next year? Do you have any idea? What’s it looking like for you?

Michelle: What’s next? I feel like something is next, but I don’t remember. I’m also, for once in a long time, not living in the, what’s next? What’s next? I’m just like, this is dope. Let’s just enjoy this. I’m not hooked up to a ventilator. I’ve just dropped some really important black joy content that I’ve worked really hard to put together. Sucks that there’s a quarantine, but also amazing that people are enjoying it within a pandemic and a race revolution. Fuckin’ bananas. For me, I really enjoy acting and hosting and all of the above. I really also enjoying being the bridesmaid, but I can’t wait to be the bride.

Zibby: Amazing. What advice would you have to aspiring authors? Don’t say, don’t write the book. It has to be a little more positive than that.

Michelle: Oh, my goodness. I said it already. Don’t worry about it being perfect. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be done. You can always go back and edit. That, and also, don’t do whatever you think people want to hear. That’s whack. Do what you are passionate about. That could be anything. It could be knitting or snails or beaches or whatever time in your life or just a collection of essays and short stories. No one is Stephen King out the damn gate.

Zibby: Very true.

Michelle: Start somewhere. That was more than one piece of advice, but here we are.

Zibby: People need all the advice they can get. I think that’s awesome. Thank you. Thank you for talking about your book. It was so good and so funny and a really refreshing style. You just tell it like it is.

Michelle: I know. I’m trying to go through the essays and figure out what I want to do as a promo video. If your relationship stinks like fish, it’s probably extra pussy; that’s something I wrote. I’m someone’s mom. I’m a good person. Nice to meet you.

Zibby: Nice to meet you. Best of luck with the launch and everything else. It was so nice to share some time with you today.

Michelle: Likewise. Bye.

Zibby: Bye.