Sarah Cooper, FOOLISH: Tales of Assimilation, Determination, and Humiliation

Sarah Cooper, FOOLISH: Tales of Assimilation, Determination, and Humiliation

Zibby interviews comedian Sarah Cooper about her hilariously revealing debut memoir, FOOLISH: TALES OF ASSIMILATION, DETERMINATION, AND HUMILIATION. Sarah reflects on her viral internet fame, her identity, race, and Jamaican heritage, and the power of finding humor in everyday situations. She also shares her desire to bring joy to people’s lives and her journey to finding power from within herself rather than through external validation.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Sarah. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Foolish: Tales of Assimilation, Determination, and Humiliation. Thanks for coming on.

Sarah Cooper: Thanks for having me. It’s a mouthful of a title.

Zibby: Was that the original subtitle, or has it been tweaked?

Sarah: It went through so many incarnations. Foolish is such a broad term that I felt like the subtitle needed to be pretty specific, but it’s still pretty vague as well, so I don’t know.

Zibby: Were you committed to Foolish from the start?

Sarah: No. There were so many different titles. You don’t understand. I’m an overthinker. I don’t know if you’re an overthinker.

Zibby: Can’t relate to that at all.

Sarah: You can’t relate? Okay.

Zibby: No, I’m kidding. Yes, I can relate.

Sarah: I know you’re kidding. You’re a woman, so I know you’re kidding. I went through so many titles and rethought everything. Even to this day, I still am like, should I have actually gone with that title?

Zibby: What were some of the other contenders? Then I want to talk about the actual book, but I’m curious.

Sarah: Robot, Interrupted, sort of a play on Girl, Interrupted. I kind of like that idea because it is about just stopping the script and trying to break out of the things that you’re just habitually doing but your heart isn’t actually in it. I liked that title. That one would’ve been Robot, Interrupted: A Memoir. It wouldn’t have had a big subtitle. Another one which was pretty controversial, actually, was Jamaican American Princess.

Zibby: That’s so funny.

Sarah: They were like, “Actually, some Jewish Americans might get offended by that.” I love the Jewish people. My best friend is — now I’m starting to sound racist, but you know what I mean. Jewish humor is something that I relate to.

Zibby: I know one Jewish person, so I’m okay.

Sarah: A Jewish person is on my cover, literally. Jerry Seinfeld is on my cover, so it’s okay for me to say that.

Zibby: I’m Jewish, and I’m not offended. I thought that was actually really funny.

Sarah: Oh, good.

Zibby: I feel like the whole JAP-y thing has not been said or — I feel like it’s from when we were younger. Now today, people don’t use that as much. I feel like it speaks to a particular population. Anyway, we’re all good. I read your book, so I know your affinity for Jewish people. I feel like you’re an honorary member given all of your overthinking. I’ll let you into the honorary fan club here, the honorary membership, I should say.

Sarah: I think it’s a lot harder to get in, right?

Zibby: Sarah, I first saw you during COVID, which you must be really tired of hearing, because of your whole viral series about Trump and everything. I remember my husband watching. Then I would lean over. It was the great distraction. We were like, “She’s so funny, oh, my gosh.” You went viral then. Your whole life, which you talk about in the book, is funny and creative and interesting and this intersection of tech and — it’s almost not a surprise that you would have gone viral on a new medium given everything. Why don’t you talk about, why write this book? Why at this point did you write this book? How did you end up becoming a viral sensation, for people who didn’t understand that?

Sarah: Oh, wow. How did I write this book? I’ve been writing since I was little. You saw some of my pretty embarrassing journal entries from when I was thirteen.

Zibby: I appreciated those.

Sarah: I realized this after finishing the book, though, but writing has really saved my life. When I was in my room and I felt like I couldn’t really talk to my sisters or my mom or my dad, I would be in my room, and I would make up stories. I would write. That’s what happened in my marriage. When I felt like I was alone and I didn’t know what to do, I would write. Writing was really therapeutic for me to just help me get it all out. I had a lot of material that I’ve been working on my whole life. I wrote an audiobook called Let’s Catch Up Soon, which came out in 2021, I think, or 2022. Actually, I was trying to turn that into a physical book, but that pitch turned into something else with Jill Schwartzman at Penguin Random House. They were like, “We actually want an essay collection that’s new material.” I’m so glad they did that because anybody who looks at anything I’ve done will see how I’ve changed. I look at it, and I’m like, oh, I was a different person two years ago. I’m a different person yesterday than I was now. I change so much that I’m glad I was able to write this. Everybody that found my videos in 2020 — I’ve been experimenting with tech. I’ve worked in tech. When you say it was kind of a foregone conclusion that I would go viral, that makes sense because I have been online for a really long time.

Zibby: Not a foregone conclusion. Just, it makes sense. It’s not coming out of nowhere like it would’ve been for, perhaps, other people. That’s all.

Sarah: I love the internet. I’ve loved the internet since it started. It made sense that during COVID when I couldn’t get on stage, that I would start making stuff for the internet, like a lot of people did and still do. I got really frustrated by our then president. It was mostly the people around him pretending like he knew what he was talking about that frustrated me. It was almost like, yeah, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and that’s obvious, but no one’s saying it. No one’s saying it. Everybody who tries to say it somehow gets shut down or whatever. That’s what was frustrating to me. I say that I started lip-syncing him out of jealousy, which is true because I wish I could get away with just BS-ing my way through life. I worked at Google. I saw people BS their way through meetings all the time. I was like, I can’t do that. When I open my mouth, I feel like I really have to say something pretty important. It’s got to be really good. It’s got to be a good one or else I’m never going to get another chance again. That’s how I feel. Trump just said ridiculous things. He took his time when talking. He didn’t care that he was saying the same thing over and over again. He didn’t care that he wasn’t making sense. He didn’t care. I was like, that would be great. That’s kind of why I start lip-syncing him. I didn’t really expect them to change my life the way that they did, but they did.

Zibby: I feel like just the way you look at things in and of itself is so funny. It probably speaks to the overthinking/interior monologue, which ends up being very helpful when you’re a funny person because then everything that you say later is so funny. Your chapter with the signs that your mom says from all over the house made me laugh out loud so many times. Even when I flip back through it and look at it, it makes me want to laugh again. Can you summarize that chapter for listeners?

Sarah: When I was going through my divorce, my mom helped me a lot. I went down to Florida because I wasn’t sure where I was going to be living. I was crying because I wasn’t going to get child support, but I don’t have a kid, so… I wanted inner child support, but I wasn’t going to get that. I was crying. My mom was hugging me. She said, “Sarah, don’t sweat the small stuff. Guess what? It’s all small stuff.” I realized that that was the sign above the couch. I was like, “Mom, did you just read that to me?” That’s when I made the connection. The guy at the end of The Usual Suspects, you know how he’s just looking at things around the office? That’s the whole movie. I’m like, has my mom just been reading Home Goods décor to me my whole life to give me advice? Has it always just come from there? Months later, I called her. I told her I didn’t know if I’d ever get married again. She said, “Sarah, you have to dance like no one is watching.” I said, “Mom, are you in the guest bathroom right now?” She’s just full of these sayings. Some of them are on the wall. Some of them are not. They’re always these sayings that actually turn out to be really true. At the time, they’re just like, this doesn’t help me at all, Mom. You’re like, why are you telling me time heals all wounds? It’s not helping my wound right now. Oh, my god, do I see a dog? Do I see a dog?

Zibby: Yes, that’s Nya taking a nap.

Sarah: So cute.

Zibby: Thank you.

Sarah: I love dogs.

Zibby: Real active guard dog here, but it’s fine. She just lies comatose.

Sarah: That’s why I didn’t notice her at first. I just saw a leg move just a little bit. I was like, wait, that thing is alive.

Zibby: Usually, she’s on the couch behind me, and she blends in, except for her collar. You also had this really funny part — of course, I won’t be able to find it now. I dogeared all these different passages. You had this really funny part about TV. I can’t find it. Anyway, you wrote about TV and how after all these changes, we basically just have what we had before, which was TV channels with ads. Why are we now downloading a thousand apps to do what we had before? Tell me about that because this is the bane of my existence when we have to download. It’s just so frustrating.

Sarah: I think it was when I was home with my parents. I wanted to watch something. It was so confusing. My parents, they just got a smart TV. It’s brand-new for them. They have Netflix. They have all the streaming. If you want to watch the Oscars, you just want to watch the red carpet for the Oscars — when I was growing up — I hate how I sound old when I start saying this. I’m like, in my day, we just turned on the TV, and there it was. We just went to channel seven, and we could just watch Joan Rivers talk about people on the red carpet. It was great. We liked it. It was easy. Yeah, we had commercials, but whatever. You talked to your family during the commercials. You go get a snack. It was good. It was good. Now we are spending upwards of twenty dollars a month for each service, which ends up being over a hundred dollars sometimes if you’re getting all the services, and now they’re putting ads. It’s like, why? Where have we come from? How far have we fallen? Where will we go next? You know what I mean?

Zibby: I totally know.

Sarah: I just don’t get it. I feel like technology, starting, really, with Netflix, promises so much. They just overpromise, and then they underdeliver. That’s kind of my life as well.

Zibby: It’s so on brand. I love it. I agree. I long for the days of simplicity where it didn’t take a hundred years and forgotten passcodes and remotes that — I can’t deal with it.

Sarah: I just watch Mad Men every night now. Everyone’s watching reruns now too. They just watch things that they like. It’s not even like we’re watching a lot of new stuff because it’s so hard to find.

Zibby: I know. There’s so much. How do you even know what to watch?

Sarah: There’s so much.

Zibby: I agree.

Sarah: It also creates a division between people because people are like, have you seen Yellowjackets? I’m like, no. We have nothing to talk about because you are obsessed with Yellowjackets, and I haven’t seen it yet. Now what do we talk about? Everybody was just watching the same one show that we had, so we could all talk about that one show.

Zibby: Now none of us have anything in common. It’s the beginning of the end. It’s true.

Sarah: It is. Just sign off now. Everybody who’s listening to this, just run out into the street naked because it’s over.

Zibby: That is one thing that I think books offer, especially with books that a lot of people end up reading, and why people flock to best-seller lists and book club picks and things like that. I really do think there is this huge hunger for us all to be consuming the same type of entertainment and being able to experience it together. If they had TV show club, maybe people would watch the same things. I’ll leave it to you to start that. You can do that.

Sarah: My mom is currently watching Suits. I tried, but I couldn’t get into it. Now we have nothing to talk about.

Zibby: My mom keeps recommending films in foreign languages with subtitles. If I’m going to watch a movie, that’s when I’m not reading. That’s the one time I’m not reading. I don’t want to read about more.

Sarah: You literally have a podcast called “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read,” and your mom is recommending subtitled movies.

Zibby: Usually about World War II, which is not where I want to go in my hour or two of freedom.

Sarah: Who wants to go to World War II? Oh, my gosh, I understand.

Zibby: You wrote in such a funny way — I don’t think I’ve said this sentence before. You wrote in such a funny way about race. You even had the time at work where someone said, hey Sarah, do you mind if I put you down as Black for the diversity quota? You’re like, well, I am Black. They’re like, oh, even better.

Sarah: That literally happened.

Zibby: You’re like, I didn’t even realize I was Black until I was ten or something. You’re like, are you sure? Mom and Dad, are we Black? They’re like, no, man, we’re Jamaican.

Sarah: I like how you say man there. No, man, we’re Jamaican.

Zibby: I know, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that out loud. It’s so embarrassing.

Sarah: No, that was adorable. I thought that was adorable.

Zibby: Only more embarrassing thing would’ve been if I actually tried to do a Jamaican accent, so I thought that was the lesser —

Sarah: — I would love for you to try to do a Jamaican accent right now. That’s what I would love.

Zibby: I can’t. I can’t do it on the spot.

Sarah: Come on. No, man.

Zibby: No, man.

Sarah: Yay! That was really good.

Zibby: Thanks. I’ll practice more for our next interview. Tell me about that and the sense of identity that you poke fun at and how you even wrote about it and how you feel about it and all of that.

Sarah: That chapter is Black Enough to Be Called It, Not Black Enough to Say It. The actual phrase is, I’m Black enough to be called the N-word, not Black enough to say it. I didn’t even feel comfortable putting the N-word in the title of that chapter. Most Black people say, I knew you were Black. I know you’re Black. Most white people aren’t sure. Some Black people who are immigrants aren’t sure. I wrote that a lot of times, people just assume I am what they are. Indians will think I’m Indian. Ethiopians will think I’m Ethiopian. I do this in my stand-up. I am Black, but it’s more like, Black? I don’t know if I am really. I think everybody has an idea of what Black means in this country. I feel like I don’t know if I fit into almost any one of those. I guess I fit into one of them, but I just don’t know how many of us there are. I do shop at Ann Taylor Loft, obviously.

Zibby: I like the sweater. It’s very cute.

Sarah: Thank you. It fits me. There are so many things about me that are just — case in point is saying the N-word. I feel like there are some white people who get away with saying the N-word, but I could never get away with saying it. I’m okay with it. Again, let me put that out there very clearly. I don’t need to say it. I’m just saying that the — I don’t know. I’ve always just felt really like, what is my category? Where do I belong? That’s really what that chapter is about. In Jamaica, the motto is, out of many, one people. It is very racially diverse. A lot of people don’t know that about Jamaica. There are Chinese people there. My grandmother is Chinese. There are white kids in the middle of Mandeville going to school with thicker Jamaican accents than I could ever master. There’s so much diversity there. A lot of times, people just are like, we’re Jamaican. That’s why my parents were like, we’re Jamaican. We’re not Black. We’re Jamaican. Then when other people see you here, it’s like you have to be something. What are you? They need to know where you’re coming from, especially on stage. I can’t tell certain jokes without making sure the audience knows I’m Black. Otherwise, they will feel very uncomfortable with a lot of the things that I say. It has to be very clear. That’s just something you have to deal with.

Zibby: Wow. You took something that can feel divisive and made it so that you are a part of everything. It’s great. You did say in the book that you took a DNA test, and you’re one percent Ashkenazi Jewish. I should’ve referenced that when we were talking about this honorary membership because that counts.

Sarah: I feel like it counts a little bit. It counts for something.

Zibby: It counts about one percent.

Sarah: I’m the one percent. I wish.

Zibby: You also said that even though your grandmother was Chinese, you don’t have any Chinese blood or whatever in your DNA. Who knows? Maybe you need a new test.

Sarah: I’m going to take their test because what if I take it again and I’m not one percent Ashkenazi Jew? I don’t want that to happen, so I’m not going to take it again. I’m going to stick with these results.

Zibby: That’s true. That would be devastating.

Sarah: It would be devastating. It would change my life.

Zibby: Can’t risk it. This is a bigger question. Your whole book, you’re like, I don’t know what I’m doing with my life, is sort of the theme. Even though you actually were doing great stuff with your life, you seemed to feel adrift and that you were always in the wrong place. Why were you living at home? Why were you getting another divorce? Your relationship stuff was hilarious too. I shouldn’t say hilarious. I’m sorry. I’m sure a lot of this was painful.

Sarah: No, please. Say it’s hilarious. I want you to say it’s hilarious. I want people to laugh at this. Honestly, that is the highest compliment.

Zibby: I laughed so many times. It was embarrassing. I was reading part of it in the car. My kids thought I was laughing at them. My husband was in the front seat. He was like, “I thought you just kept laughing at the kids rehearsing their play.” I’m like, “No, I’m laughing at my book.” The kids weren’t even being funny. You have this book coming out. You have your stand-up and all the other stuff. Do you have a better view of where you want to go from here having gotten to this point than you did before when you were writing the book?

Sarah: I was going to tweet this the other day, actually, of just being forty-five and still waking up thinking, what am I doing with my life? I still feel that all the time. What am I doing? I think that’s just part of being someone who’s always being reflective and really introspective and really smart and stuff. That’s just who I am. I accept that about myself. I know that I want to bring joy to people’s lives. I feel like I’ve crystalized that, at least, as a goal for myself. I kind of put it into the hands of the universe to see what that will mean. Hopefully, this book will bring joy to people’s lives. I don’t know what might happen with the book or if there’s other things that I will do in the future. I’m just really open right now, especially with this book coming out. I’ve published books before. I remember publishing my first book and thinking it was going to sell a million copies and change my life. Nothing happened with it.

You just have no idea what’s going to happen, especially when you’re in a creative space. I’m sure starting this podcast — when you first start something, creating something from nothing, it’s hard. It’s painful. You have moments where you’re like, I don’t know what I’m doing. Why am I doing this? You have to constantly ask yourself, why? Why? Why? For me, it just comes back to bringing joy to people’s lives. That’s just what I want to do. Also, there’s another layer of the book, which was my own personal story of — I realized at the end of the book how much I wrote about men and how obsessed I was with this idea of getting my power from a man I was with, a man I was working for, men who are in my life and coming to the conclusion that you find your power inside yourself. You don’t look externally for your power. Find it inside yourself. That’s what I really learned about myself from writing this book.

Zibby: That is a good takeaway. Very important.

Sarah: Thank you.

Zibby: No problem. A+.

Sarah: I’m very important. I’m a very important person. Thank you so much.

Zibby: VIP one percenter, here. Watch out, everyone. At one point when I wasn’t sure anyone would ever really listen to this podcast, I kind of made the decision, you know what, I’m really enjoying doing this podcast, so why not? Even if nobody ever listens, I still want to do it. I just kept doing it. I feel like you kind of have to have that mentality, bringing joy to other people, but it has to be also bringing joy to you. Otherwise, you may not want to keep doing it.

Sarah: That’s a big part of it too. The Trump videos, people keep asking me to do Trump again. It’s so wild to me that we’ve gotten to a place where people are begging to hear Trump’s voice come out of my mouth. That, to me, is almost psychotic because we were so annoyed. We were so happy to get rid of him. Now I have people saying, please, please, please. It would be very easy for me to just do that because he’s talking again. He’s running again. He’s out there again. I just can’t do it because it would literally crush my soul to lip-sync that man again. A lot of people are like, he’s saying crazy things. I know. We know now. We’ve seen who he is now. I don’t need to show that to anybody anymore. We’ve got it. We can move on. I would love to move on. It’s about finding the thing that makes you happy, that makes other people happy as well. It can’t just be the thing that’s making other people happy and not making you happy.

Zibby: Are you going to be with a lot of other funny people on your tour? What is your tour looking like?

Sarah: Yes, I’m so glad you asked. I’m going to be with Chanel Ali, who’s an amazing comedian here in New York, in Philadelphia at the Free Library of Philadelphia. October 4th, October 5th, I’m going to be at Symphony Space in New York with Amy Schumer. I’m so excited about that.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, so fun.

Sarah: She’s the kind of person who really doesn’t care what people think in an almost superhuman kind of sense. She literally does what she wants. It is so incredibly inspiring to me. There are so many things I did not put in this book because I thought it would be too offensive, or maybe it would ruin my career. I feel like I might run some of those things past her during our little talk and see if I made the right call. Then October 6th, I will be with Phoebe Robinson, who has written You Can’t Touch My Hair and a lot of other books. She and I will be at Politics and Prose in DC. I’m super excited. I feel like if I say I’m super excited one more time, I’ll probably want to die, but I am super excited.

Zibby: You should be super excited. Those are amazing people to be — I would be super excited to be in conversation with them. I had, actually, Phoebe Robinson on this podcast when her book came out. That’s really fun. You should have fun. It’ll be great. You’ll bring joy to other people. There you go.

Sarah: That’s what I’m hoping.

Zibby: Do you have advice for aspiring authors?

Sarah: That’s a good question that I should’ve seen coming and have a prepared answer for.

Zibby: I would much prefer you not have a prepared answer. I like when people think about things and just say it versus having it written out. Then it’s not interesting. Think about it.

Sarah: I always hate advice that’s like, just write every day. Just write every day. The thing about writing a book, though, I just think you have to love the process of it. It was very, very painful writing this book. It was a lot of work. It was a lot of editing. It was a lot of figuring out what goes in, what gets taken out. I didn’t want to let it go. I wanted to keep working on it and had to finally say, okay, that’s it. It’s over. It’s done. This is it. This is what’s going out into the world. I think if you have a story to tell that you think is an important story that — not even important. It’s just a story that you want to tell that you think might reach some people and might be meaningful to some people. I think that’s the important thing. A lot of times, we’re like, this is really important, but you have to find an audience. The way I found an audience is to start sharing things online. My first book deal came because I shared an article online. It went viral. Then I was able to leave my job and eventually find a literary agent through that article. If you can find an audience, start there. Start with finding an audience and building your platform and building a group of people who love what you do. It’ll be so much easier to publish a book when you already have people who are excited to hear more from you.

Zibby: Very true. Good lesson. I should really be thinking of that when we publish books. Instead, I’m like, oh, you don’t even have a website? Come right on. Perfect.

Sarah: Really?

Zibby: Yeah.

Sarah: Then my advice doesn’t work at all.

Zibby: No, yours does. I don’t know what I’m thinking. I just view it as a challenge. Anyway, if you happen to be in LA, we would love to do — I have a bookstore in Santa Monica. If you ever want to do an event there, you’re more than welcome. We would love it. We get really nice, intimate crowds and fill the store. It’s really fun. Please come if you want.

Sarah: Thank you so much.

Zibby: We can follow up after. Thank you so much. This was really fun. We have a whole shelf at the store called Books That Make You Laugh, so that is where this is going to go. I can’t wait to make other people laugh and share the joy.

Sarah: Thank you so much, Zibby. I really appreciate it. Loved talking to you.

Zibby: Thanks, Sarah. Thank you for making me speak with a Jamaican accent. I will never live that down. Bye. Have a great day.

Sarah: Bye. You too.

FOOLISH: Tales of Assimilation, Determination, and Humiliation by Sarah Cooper

Purchase your copy on Bookshop!

Share, rate, & review the podcast, and follow Zibby on Instagram @zibbyowens