“Capitalism is a disease, and the only cure is a major publishing company giving me a book deal for a hardcover to sell at Urban Outfitters” reads the pinned tweet on @GuyInYourMFA, one of comedian/writer/cultural critic/Twitter celebrity Dana Schwartz’s parody accounts. The Herald talked with Schwartz, now 24 and an Arts and Culture writer at The Observer, to hear about her experiences watching Netflix and crying, writing a viral letter lambasting The Observer’s (former) owner Jared Kushner, and cranking out a Young Adult novel, all in the two years since she’s graduated college. With bylines at publications including The New Yorker, Mental Floss, GQ, and The Guardian, and a BuzzFeed quiz-inspired memoir on its way, Schwartz has some thoughts to share with all of you on how to get what you want in a creative career right out of college.
YH: How did you get your start? Were you always a comedian?
DS: I auditioned for some comedy things the first year of college, and didn’t get them, and then was like, “Oh, I guess that’s not my thing.” So then did not do comedy, or even consider it as a career, until I got some external validation outside of college. I didn’t even apply again to do anything comedy related until after I had interned at Conan in LA and after I had the success of [parody Twitter account] @GuyInYourMFA, and then I was like, “OK, maybe this is something I can do.”
YH: How did you started with that Twitter account?
DS: I was in a creative writing workshop, and I had a packet of pieces to workshop for the next day, and I was flipping through them, and 3 out of 4 of them were about a man who got on a train to leave his wife. And I was like, “Oh my God, this is the worst instinct.” [Then] I was like, “This is something very relatable and something that I need to excise from my own bad habits,” and so a Twitter account was born!
YH: How did you gain a following?
DS: I definitely self-promoted. I cross-posted to my personal Twitter account, and I put it on reddit and Tumblr. I think BuzzFeed wrote about it too, which helped.
YH: What was the first publication that you got published in?
DS: The Highland Park Pioneer Press in Highland Park, Illinois. No, but seriously, a non-school or local publication it was Mental Floss, where I actually ended up working for a bit. I cold-emailed them when I was in college and gave them a bunch of pitches and begged them to let me write for them. I was just really aggressive at emailing people and begging them to let me write for them. I would just write for anyone, do anything––because I felt that I was late to the writing game and late to the comedy game, so I felt lucky to do literally anything. And someone would be like, “I don’t know, you can write my grocery list,” and I’d be like, “Yeah, absolutely! And I’ll have it before deadline.”
YH: Did you write anything crazy early on?
DS: Early on before I really had my audience, I wrote this story––and it’s a true story––about how I had to go to the gynecologist because I got a tampon stuck.
DS: Right? It was awful. And I wrote a piece on it because I didn’t even think that it was that personal other than it kind of involved my genitalia, but I thought it was a funny story, because it was, but that, as soon as I published it, my mom and my sister were like, “Oh my God, Dana, what did you do?” I think I humiliated my little sister, because they weren’t as used to it as I was, or weren’t as comfortable with that sort of writing as I am. But for me it was that’s a funny story and I wanted to tell it. I hope the reason that I overshare is because I hope that my story has larger relevance, that someone out there has gotten a tampon stuck and are like “Thank God someone is writing about this,” or at least someone will get a laugh out of it.
YH: So do you think your writing hits home? Is it taken the way you want it to?
DS: I have never been an investigative reporter, so I hope the people who read my stuff recognize that it comes with a bit of––God, it’s so gross to say your stuff has sass––but it’s not always 100 percent serious. I would hope that people who read [my work] understand my tone and where I come from.
YH: Have you ever regretted putting something out on the Internet?
DS: Oh, yeah, hell yeah. The other day––a few weeks ago––I saw these two pictures. In one of them, Donald Trump’s hands look way bigger. And I thought it was hilarious, so I tweeted like, “Oh my God, lol, Donald Trump 100 percent photoshopped his hands to look bigger.” I hadn’t checked to see if he had actually photoshopped them. Because I don’t think of my Twitter as my journalistic writing. I just put funny things on the Internet with funny things I write. And then it got insane. It got retweeted a ton of times and was all over the Internet, and then somebody was like, “Oh, he didn’t [photoshop] them,” and here was the proof with whatever pixels they did.
YH: Wow. What did you do?
DS: I did what I thought was the right thing to do, which was [to] delete the original tweet, because it was getting shared around, and then say, “Hey, I’m sorry, I didn’t really mean it as a piece of journalism, just thought it was a funny image.” I kind of forgot that [the] people [who] follow me who aren’t just my 14 friends at college.
YH: How did Twitter react?
DS: The people who hate me––I think people who are normal understood––but the crazy deplorables, people with #MakeAmericaGreatAgain in the Twitter bios got furious at me, and were like, “You’re Fake News!” For like a week I couldn’t go on Twitter. I made my boyfriend change my Twitter password so I couldn’t log on. It was just too much; it was insane. How could people not realize that that tweet is not the same thing as news? Do people really think that that’s what news is? They’re like, “You work for a newspaper!” [and my response is] “I write about TV! And most of that writing is jokes!” I guess I’ve learned my lesson. You can’t put anything on the Internet that can be interpreted incorrectly. Even if I didn’t mean it that way initially, [I’m] still responsible for the way it’s interpreted. I think I did the right thing by deleting it and apologizing. The other lesson is the people who want to hate you will always hate you. The people who want to call me Fake News, and a liberal snowflake idiot, they’re gonna think that no matter what, and all you can do is be true to whatever moral compass you have and ignore that garbage.
YH: You write a lot of funny stuff, but have also written real things about politics, particularly that open letter to Jared Kushner.
DS: I started as a more politically-minded person before I was in the comedy world. I actually majored in Public Policy and American Institutions [at Brown]. I definitely am an impulsive writer, in that when there’s something I’m passionate about it just boils up inside of me, and I don’t really have the means to contain it. Basically the weekend prior to writing [the letter to Kushner] I’d been getting really disgusting, vitriolic, anti-Semitic hate mail, hate tweets online. And I was just kind of furious. So I wrote this letter in a fugue state when I got to the office on Monday, and I didn’t think twice. And I don’t regret it, I’m really glad that I spoke my piece, and it was really honest to my experience and how I still feel.
YH: What was the aftermath?
DS: It was incredibly gratifying to see the support that I received. Obviously [publishing this letter] also exposed me to a new audience of people who are not fans of me or my work. But again it was totally worth it. I think people assume that I had to sit across from Jared Kushner in the office and had to avoid him at the coffee machine, but the fact of the matter is he’s since divested from the paper when he moved to Washington. I’ve never met him; he’s never been to the office.
YH: What’s next for you? I hear you have a YA novel coming out in May?
DS: Yeah! It’s called And We’re Off. It’s about a high school senior trying to become an artist. She goes traveling around Europe before going to an artist’s camp in Ireland, but her mom tags along. It’s loosely based on when I graduated from college and didn’t exactly know what my direction was going to be.
YH: Why did you write a YA novel?
DS: The boring answer is that the good people at Penguin Razorbill reached out to me and were like, “Hey, have you thought of writing a YA novel?” And I was like, “I could try!” But then the long answer is also that it was very fun for me to write in a young voice. When I was growing up YA novels had such a tremendous impact on me that it felt like a gift to be given this chance to try to do that again. I think I had to confront my own snobbery about what a YA novel would look and sound like. There is that slight tendency that people have, and that I even have, to think that a young adult novel is less sophisticated and less worthy than other literature. And I think my goal in this was to say, “No, I’m going to tell the story of a young girl––like a young woman––and those stories are legitimate and deserve to be told in honest and compelling ways,” so that was my goal.
YH: What else is next for you?
DS: I’m working now on a sort of a memoir that is 100% more adult, so several themes not suitable for children. It’s actually like loosely based on a BuzzFeed-style personality quiz and it becomes a choose-your-own-adventure sort of. It’s a little weird, but it’s mostly about moving to New York and dating people, and I don’t know, trying to be a grownup when I still feel like a 14-year-old.