Maeve Higgins’ new book ‘almost killed me,’ the comedian says

Maeve Higgins isn’t going to delude you with fantasies of the ease and glamour of making it in New York.

In fact, in the comedian’s new collection of humorous essays, “Maeve in America,” Higgins isn’t shy about detailing the pure awfulness (The Q train! Rent the Runway! Chase Bank!) that, somehow, makes being a New Yorker even more of an accomplishment.

amNewYork caught up with the Ireland native, 37, who now calls South Slope home, to discuss the mental torture of putting jokes on a page, Los Angeles’ bleakness and some mysterious subway urine.

What made you want to write “Maeve in America”?

Even though it’s a weird and lonely job, I love writing. I also love making people laugh because I want them to like me so bad, even if I don’t like them, so writing a book of funny essays seemed like a great idea. In the end, it almost killed me, but the result is good, so I think maybe it was worth it? That question is mainly for me to think about, I suppose.

What was this book writing process like for you?

When I say it almost killed me what I mean is, I have all of these thoughts and experiences that I want so badly to express, but the journey from my brain through my laptop out to you, the person reading, is extremely difficult. Not in an actual dangerous way, like my father’s job, [which involved] clambering up scaffolding to replace some heavy Georgian slate that fell off an old building in rural Ireland. Mine is more like mental torture that my own brain creates. But anyway, like I said, it’s done now, and when you read it, you’d never guess!

While the book-writing almost killed you, where did you seek inspiration?

I wrote this whole essay about the summertime in New York and another about a comedy workshop I taught in Iraq, so I guess everything is copy, except for some reason my mother said, “Do NOT mention my wrens.”

How is New York humor different from Irish humor?

I don’t see a huge difference between New Yorkers’ and Irish peoples’ humor. To thrive in NYC, you need to see how ridiculous everything is and probably have a healthy dark side to your character too, and that’s just like Ireland. On the subway recently, there was a pool of piss on the seat that was a little hard to see so this one guy was warning everyone not to sit there. I wrote a little note saying “CAREFUL” and floated it in the pool. Then a lady was like, ‘Oh you’re not gonna write that in Spanish?’ and I don’t know why but we all just cracked up. Sometimes I’m forced to go to L.A. for meetings and it’s a real tragedy for jokes out there. They get missed and run over and killed stone dead every day.

What are you reading now?

Right now I’m reading “Outline” by Rachel Cusk because Patricia Lockwood wrote about it glowingly and I trust her taste, and it’s really brilliant.

And what are you writing now?

Right now, most of my days are taken up with writing for The New York Times and The Guardian who have somehow both decided to pay me for my opinions, something I remind my family of every time they answer the phone, which is perhaps one out of three times I call them. I’m also being a cheerleader for my book, which feels odd, but worth it, because as I said, it almost killed me.


Maeve Higgins is in conversation with Phoebe Robinson on Aug. 16 from 7:30-8:30 p.m. at Books Are Magic | 225 Smith St., Cobble Hill, 718-246-2665, booksaremagic.net | FREE

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