Matt Bellassai's 'Everything Is Awful' Is The Anti-Adulting Guide That Will Make You Feel So Much Better About Your Life
If you, like me, are afflicted with a chronic case of secondhand embarrassment, then let this serve as notice that there's one story in Everything Is Awful: And Other Observations that will force you to get up, set the book down, and take a brisk walk around the block to clear your brain and get your heart pumping at a normal rhythm again. In this particular story, author and comedian Matt Bellassai relates to you in frank detail of the time he hid in the dorm room closet of the boy he loved in order to spy on him with his girlfriend.
"It's almost just cringeworthy and not funny," Bellassai tells me when I ask him about this particular lapse in judgement, chronicled in the appropriately titled essay, "On Being In The Closet, or Why You Should Never Fall In Love With Your Straight Best Friend."
"I fully accept that what I did is outrageous," he adds.
Fortunately, Matt Bellassai has made peace with — and a career out of — exposing his most personal embarrassments to his hundreds of thousands of fans. A Chicago-native, Bellassai first started writing comedy in childhood — neighborhood newsletters, American Idol recaps, that sort of thing — but didn't really find his stride until he enrolled at Northwestern University, where he lent his humor writings to his dormitory's The Onion-style newsletter, which was taped up to all of the residency's bathroom stalls. He enjoyed humor writing, but he didn't really think of it as a career path. As a journalism major, he thought he wanted to work for Time or Newsweek, and in his senior year, he took an internship at In These Times, a Chicago-based democratic socialist newspaper. As part of the internship, he was required to send his professor a one-page recap of his experiences each week. Bellassai decided to have fun with it.
"He would write me back and be like, 'These are the funniest reports anyone has ever sent to me.' I wouldn't write about what I was doing, I would just like write about all of the people and caricaturize them and talk about how we worked in an attic. It was weird," he says. "I liked being funny and writing in a funny way far more than I liked writing about the news."
After graduating, he moved to New York to take a fellowship position at Buzzfeed, where he started writing news and pop-culture pieces and helped ideate content for the site's new BFF Facebook page. Eventually, his wacky, deprecating sense of humor landed him a web-series: "Whine About It," a weekly confessional-style series where he would drink wine and complain on camera about everything from Christmas shopping to online dating to the worst kind of people on Instagram. "Whine About It" was a huge success, and the last installment, posted just before Bellassai's departure from the company in 2016, racked up over four million views.
When Bellassai left Buzzfeed, he took with him his huge fan base (he has over 350,000 followers on Twitter and Instagram as of this writing), his People's Choice Award for Best Social Media Star (the inaugural prize), and the concept behind his famous web-series (it's now been rebranded as "TBH"); from there, he embarked on a new path for capitalizing upon his misadventures that definitely included a stand-up comedy tour and podcast (Unhappy Hour launched earlier this year), maybe included a television show (something like Larry David meets Sex and the City, he says), and theoretically included a book.
"I'd always wanted to write a book," he says. "I didn't really know what I wanted to write the book about, but just having written a book was a goal."
Out now from Simon & Schuster, Everything Is Awful is the counterpoint to the deluge of "adulting" books that have hit the market in recent years. This is the book that will make you feel OK about the fact that you have don't know how to meal-plan, you don't work out, and you have never, ever vacuumed under your couch. The essays — all personal stories from Bellassai's childhood, college, and early adulthood — are written with a sense of genuine candor that never comes off as either self-deprecating or removed from the broader problems of society. It reads less like a lesson from a success story and more like a conversation with your hilariously incompetent but kind-hearted best friend.
"The point of life is picking yourself up and dusting yourself off," Bellassai says. "It sounds cliché, but I talk about Nora Ephron and her whole 'When you slip on a banana, people laugh at you, but then when you tell the story of when you slipped on the banana, it's your story.' I've taken that to heart."
Yes, the essays are silly, embarrassing, and a almost a little too ridiculous to be true at times, but they are far from vapid. Even the most cringeworthy stories are imbued with painful universal truths that transcend the laughs. In one particularly powerful essay, he writes about fat-shaming, bullying, and the unique struggle of coming to terms with your body and your sexuality at the same time. "Young gay kids are plagued with the dual struggle of wanting to be with the bodies that haunt us and wanting to be like them, those desire often irrevocably tangled up in one another," he writes. "I didn't know if I was watching the other shirtless boys because I wanted to look like them, or because I liked the way they looked, or both. I didn't know if the shame I felt was about my own body or my own desires. And the confusion made it all not worth thinking about at all."
In stark juxtaposition to this honest outpouring, the section that immediately follows is a list of tips for maintaining a "not-at-all-medically-concerning lifestyle," which includes advice like "Legally, they can't stop you from bringing chocolate lava cake into the gym," and "Anything you eat as a part of a contest doesn't count as eating. That's a hobby." With effortless buoyancy, Bellassai is able to float from the deadly serious to the inordinately silly from one page to the next, and in doing so, he perfectly encapsulates the mantra of his life and career: being a human is hard work, so you may as well make your story funny when you can.
"It's nice to be able to laugh at yourself and then let everybody else know you can laugh at yourself, too," Bellassai says. "It's fine. Don't take yourself too seriously."