Barely four pages into comedian and writer Jessi Klein's memoir, You'll Grow Out of It, Klein presents a portrait of herself in high school, a sartorial horror story that illustrates what she describes as her "transformation from Pippi Longstocking-esque tomboy to are-you-a-lesbian-or-what tom-man." She writes, "I wore my dad's old button-down cowboy shirts with enormous shapeless jeans and combat boots. I have a memory of walking home from school one afternoon when a homeless man hanging out on the corner of my block felt compelled to inquire whether I was 'a man or a woman.'"
The Jessi Klein who walks into Sweet HQ is light years from the high-school era Jessi Klein in cowboy shirts, or the Jessi Klein who wore "wide-legged, parachute-material pants in gunmetal gray" to her first job out of college, or the Jessi Klein who "dress[ed] like Groucho [Marx] as a consistent style choice" at 30. Today, Klein is wearing a pair of black demi-boot jeans, a relaxed white button-down, white sandals, and is carrying a Madewell tote with her initials monogrammed on it in gold. Of course, the woman who perches on a stool, preparing to read from her book, is the head writer on Inside Amy Schumer, has won an Emmy, was formerly a writer for Saturday Night Live, and has logged nearly 15 years of stand-up. She's cool, confident, and relaxed, even if the You'll Grow Out of It version of herself isn't always.
"First of all, I want to thank Jessi Klein, the head writer, who had a baby, like, ten seconds ago. I almost made a stupid sex talk show that nobody wanted, and she got drunk told me that I had to follow my dreams and make my dream show." — Amy Schumer in her 2015 Emmy's acceptance speech.
The memoir is blunt in its self-acceptance, and cutting in its observations both of how women construct feminine ideals and become ensnared in ideals constructed for them. Klein charts her awkward navigation of style and sex, crappy dating experiences—from nearly vandalizing the interior of her ex-boyfriend's apartment with birthday cake to lowering her standards for a man who wore loafers without socks to the nuances of her relationship with her husband—and her push toward a successful career as a comedian. And even though there are moments of true, roaring hilarity (I covered my mouth on the train while reading about Klein's failed attempt to seduce a Disney World employee dressed as Dale at her sister's wedding), coming across the book's more poignant passages is like suddenly having the floor drop out from under you.
On the perils of crowdsourcing opinions: "Asking a man if you look fat is a sure guarantee that he will look at you and see Gilbert Grape's mom."
In one of the book's most insightful moments, Klein posits that the "the bath"—that is, the career woman's therapeutic retreat from her chaotic life, perpetuated by the very existence of Bath & Body Works—is actually "where you go when you've run out of options." "This is why Virginia Woolf stressed the importance of having a room of one's own," Klein writes. "If you don't fight for it, don't insist on it, and don't sacrifice for it, you might end up in that increasingly tepid water, pruning and sweating while you dream of other things."
Klein is as frank in person as she is in print. Remembering her description of the first time she ever truly "killed" doing stand-up, I ask what some of her early material was like. She laughs. "Real rough," she says. "I remember going up on stage and riffing about something really bad, just talking about being on the subway, and how, like, isn't it crazy when a subway honks? What, is there a deer? If you're waiting for the punchline, I'm sad to tell you, that was it."
On being touched by Ryan from The O.C.: "If you are curious what it feels like to have Ben McKenzie's arm around you, it's like being in the womb. You feel like you are asleep under a cashmere rainbow. You feel safe. You feel like nothing bad could ever happen."
Of course, a comedian has to get a few weak punchlines out of her system before she can consistently produce great work. And Klein does that consistently now, produce amazing comedy with other amazing women. Still, she says heading up the writer's room on a Comedy Central hit, winning an Emmy, publishing a book—it never feels completely real. "I think I'm just in a constant state of shock that I'm doing anything. But I hope to grow out of that. Yeah. That would be a great feeling to have. I don't think I've had it yet."
You'll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein is now available from Grand Central Publishing. For more info, visit hachettebookgroup.com.