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Michelle Buteau

Michelle Buteau
Mindy Tucker
Provided by the artist
Michelle Buteau

On New Year's Day 2020 Netflix released the first season of the socially-distanced reality series The Circle, hosted by this week's Ask Me Another guest, comedian Michelle Buteau. In The Circle, contestants live in isolation and can only communicate via the internet: a premise that became everyone's reality about two months later.

Buteau confessed she wasn't initially onboard with the concept: "A competition, and you can catfish people? Absolutely not, sir! Rude!"

She said she warmed up to the idea after watching the British version, which focuses on why people choose to misrepresent themselves online. "They are convinced that people won't like the real them," Buteau said, "And that is so sad and important to talk about."

Buteau, by comparison, has built her career on unapologetically being herself. Her new book of personal essays is called Survival of the Thickest. She said the book was six years in the making and was originally called, "Maintaining Chunky: A Thick Girl's Guide to Not Getting Fat...Or Skinny." But Buteau struggled to tell that story. "I just felt like a very lazy Jillian Michaels where I'm just like 'Work out! If you want! But also, who cares?' And I couldn't get past 20 pages."

But she credits her work hosting the WNYC podcast Late Night Whenever and co-hosting Adulting with Jordan Carlos that gave her the nudge to shift the book's message inward, "I was just telling these kind of crazy stories that didn't fit into the standup world, Simon and Schu Schu were like "we love the podcast, can you just write a bunch of essays?" I said "I can do that..."

In the before times, Buteau was an avid traveler and her and her Dutch husband would make frequent trips to visit Holland. So for her Ask Me Another challenge Jonathan Coulton led her in a music parody game that pairs the music of Van Halen with things about The Netherlands.

Interview Highlights:

On balancing new motherhood and writing a book

I thought "I'm gonna bring the twins home and write while they're sleeping." WHAT?! And then I was like, "I'll take the twins to Majorca with a nanny and then I'll write in the cool, Mediterranean breeze while eating a paella in between." WHAT?! Cut to me on the subway with one finger trying to type... girl it was a mess.

On why her babies aren't baptized

My uncle is the archbishop of Jamaica, and I had to get [my kids] baptized because I'm the only child and my mom is like, "don't disappoint me," and I still fold like a beach chair when she brings that up. I picked really good friends to be godparents, and both godmothers are gay. When I told my mom and they met the family, they were like "they're great but they cant stand at the altar because the church doesn't recognize homosexuality." And I was like, "it's legal," and they were like, "but not in the church." And I'm like, "but they were straight when I met them 20 years ago, is there a loophole?" I was just like, "You guys, c'mon, these are my friends, this is my chosen family." And so it was such a big moment for me, in my 40s, working so hard to be a parent, to finally put my nine-and-a-half foot down and be like, "I can't get these kids baptized because my friends are enough and they're always enough, no matter who they are or what they are, and I can't be that example for my kids."

On being the host of The Circle

We just shot season two safely in England. The great thing about the show is that we can shoot it safely because we are in quarantine. But I also just thought it was so important because whether you like social media or not, you have to engage with it somehow. What does your profile picture say about you? Are you giving out too much information or not enough?

Heard on Michelle Buteau: 'The Circle' And Van Halen.

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