First rule of Michelle Buteau is: YOU WANT TO BE HER FRIEND. This is not one of those optional rules, it is a rule set in stone. When we first met her in 2018 (remember that year? It was about two centuries a go?) as she, her hair, her freckles, and her jumpsuit collection swept into our Bentzen Ball Comedy festival, EVERYONE from the most jaded, darkened souls on staff (read: me) to the brightest eyed intern to Queer Eye stars couldn’t stay away. We even got a “Belle of the Bentzen Ball” t-shirt made and handed it out to exactly two people: her and Jordan Carlos, her co-host on “Adulting”.
It was one of those moments when you just knew this person was going to be FAMOUS (ALL CAPS) and you just couldn’t be happier for them.
Since then, Michelle has been BUSY – she had twin babies, starred in the “First Wives Club” remake on BET, appeared in every streaming thing ever (“Someone Great”, “Always Be My Maybe”, “The Circle”, “Work It”, “Russian Doll”, “Happiest Season”….to name a few) and made it better whether it was for 3 min or 90 min, had her own Netflix comedy special “Welcome to Beautopia” drop just as this Fall was about to kick out tushes and more.
And now, just in time for the holidays is coming out with her first book “Survival Of The Thickest” coming out THIS WEEK (December 8th) with a virtual book tour feat. Tessa Thompson (Dec 7th presented by The Strand) and Nicole Byer (Dec 8th, representing DC’s own Solid State Books).
Much like Michelle, the book is loud, proud, incredibly relatable, deeply human and covers topics from growing up Caribbean in Jersey to body positivity to long distance romance with her Dutch now-husband to marriage, IVF & surrogacy. She never shies away from saying it just like it is, and because you are her friend (in your mind, it’s ok, no one is judging), you stick with her through the thick and the thickest. Go an buy it from an independent bookseller now, we promise you won’t regret it.
We had a pleasure to catch up with Michelle last week and are also going to be giving 2 COPIES of her book away at our instagram (go follow @brightestyoungthings now). Here’s how that catch up went down:
Hi, how are you doing? WHAT are you doing?
It’s …. weird. It’s so weird that I wrote a book. I’ve been in quarantine with my babies so I could recite you everything from what the Wiggles are doing to … but now, I am talking to adults and HAVE TO be an adult, wearing heels and my pinky toes have a pulse and…
And it is funny because I was that kid that when it came to summer reading always felt like “OMG, there are so many books”, but I did like recapping them. So the fact that I have done this for myself, I’ve won. I will never be bikini body ready, I’ll never have the clean house I’ve wanted, I’ll never Marie Kondo my drawers, but I got this book f**king DONE. That’s a huge deal.
I remember a lot of comedians saying that this is one of the hardest things they’ve done – creatively, sitting down to do it. It has been such A BIG year for you – so many roles, the Netflix special, the book – how did you do it ALL? (with 2 babies no less?)
That’s the thing. I had this notion that I would be like Colin Firth in every movie and rent this house upstate, looking over a lake, and have hot water with lemon and write this book with Lisa Bonet dreads, and it was just not like that. It was more like: Ooops, I missed two deadlines? Do I talk about that? Am I talking about my Mom too much? OOOOH, I just booked this J.Lo movie, amazing, I’ll just write between takes and while they’re setting up and on my lunch break. And it was insane, but I got it done, because I am a big fan of when you say you’re gonna do something, you better do it. Don’t keep telling yourself you want to do something, and then not do anything about it.
Survival of the Thickest means a lot of things but it also means surviving this process. It is difficult for comedians because we are so used to sharing our stories, and on stage if someone doesn’t get it we can say “You just don’t get funny” or if someone gets offended you can just be like “Then… don’t listen” but in print, I really have to stand behind every I said.
Do you feel the delivery part is hard? Since I am familiar with your comedic delivery live, I felt very lucky because I personally kept imagining your voice and little shimmy here and there and those moments brought me the biggest joy. But how do you think the funny translates without the personality there?
I hate to be: It’s natural. But it was. I kept reading it and thinking – you are so goofy, you are such a clown but lets try and add some sincerity to this, because it is so crazy. But I had to, you know, take a minute and make some of this stuff real. But recapping your life is basically just like having a really fun dinner party that you are hosting and hope people come.
Does it also feel a little bit of a reckoning, a moment that feels like a “this is your life”? Why do you think this is the right time for the book?
Since the kids came into my life, and I’ve been married for ten years, and the whole stand-up and career stuff just took off, it just feel like a really good moment for reflection: Damn, look at all this shit you had to do to get here. To have this family, to have this man, that you found through self-acceptance and owning your sexuality, where did that come from? Being fat shamed, being told that you can’t do something, or even just being a strong black woman when people are questioning your blackness, and find your place in the world. This was just the DAMN TIME TO DO IT.
Tell us a little bit about the book (which our readers have probably not read yet, since IT COMES OUT TOMORROW) – what’s it about? Who would like it? Who would hate it? Who would you give it to as a holiday gift?
Well, I’d like to think that Mike Pence’s family would love it (laughs). No seriously, I really hope little thick boys and girls everywhere will read this and feel there is hope for them and they can define who they are and the society doesn’t get to and that you don’t need anyone’s approval. I also hope that this book is for this is for that mousy little kid who was afraid to raise their hand and that they will learn to trust their voice. I hope that straight guys read some part of it and understand what their wives are going through when it come to miscarriages and treating women and the whole “it’s not what you say, it is how you say it” approach sticks. I hope that the person that has been with that partner for way too long and it is not going anywhere, reads it and moves. My whole thing is “education through love” and I hope they are not just entertained, they learn something.
Did you intend for it to be read in order, or as more of pick-and-choose your essays kind of thing? Depending on your mood?
This is a good question. I am dyslexic myself so I NEVER read anything beginning to end, sometimes I start in the middle or the back, or start a chapter at the last line so when Simon & Schuster said to me “This doesn’t have to be a memoir, this can just be a collection of essays”, the light bulb went off in my head. Because there are so many parts in my life that don’t have a through line. I love Jen Sincero’s books so much. “You are a Badass” is my emotional bible and I bring it with me everywhere I go and treat it kind of like tarot cards. “What do I need to hear today?” and I hope people have that experience with “Survival of the Thickest”.
Is there one essay in here that you feel is ESSENTIAL reading? Which and why?
That’s so hard. That’s like picking your favorite Whitney Huston song – like, what ARE YOU going to pick? It is like Sophie’s choice of essays. So wild. I DON’T KNOW.
It is ok to say you don’t know. That’s a totally valid answer. We can just say they should read it all.
Exactly, like: you guys tell me!
Ok, lets shift gear to the holiday season….
Did you not see this coming?
It is kind of like a lightning round, it will be fun, I promise.
What is your favorite holiday movie and why?
Well, Love Actually, obviously (see that Colin Firth reference above-ed) but now also Jingle Jangle because it has everything I want and I can also watch it with my kids.
What is your favorite TERRIBLE holiday movie and why?
All of them. Because they are all terrible. Like, “Four Christmases” (for example), I’m like – did that really happen and why?
Yeah, at least now with the streaming there is a little less pressure, and people kind of own the terrible, but the fact that once upon a time Hollywood really tried and made terrible things… (p.s. we have this handy guide for all those terrible holiday movie lovers) with some pretense of prestige…. OK, back on schedule: What is your favorite holiday song and why?
Really, its the only answer. What holiday song would you eliminate from rotation permanently?
Baby It’s Cold Outside just feels like a bad date that’s been officially Me Too’d.
We agree! Any cool holiday traditions in the your household?
Yeah… not being on a ventilator? Is it cool if I say our holiday tradition is washing your hands, wearing a mask and appreciating the three people (my husband and my two kids) you can actually see?
Perfect answer yet again – you are doing so well on these. Anything you guys always make – food or drink wise?
We do mulled wine (or glühwein as they say in Holland) and I always do oxtails. In Holland they do a duck, and I’m like PASS, but they do do this thing called oliebollen which translates to literally “oil balls” but it is this delicious dough that is fried with raisins and they cover it with powedered sugar and it is delicious and we kick off the New Year with those. So, those three things always.
What is your favorite gift to give – throw out some actual products/things, lets support some small businesses etc?
You know, I am going to say – donate. I love donating in people’s names, whether it is to Oxfam America or my uncle (who is the archbishop of Jamaica) and my Mom have an organization that raises money for orphanages and kids in AIDS hospices. And donating clothes and shoes…. just donate this season. We have everything we need, just donate half your stuff and it will be ok.
Yes! We have been deeply moved by USPS’s Letters to Santa ourselves this season. BYT readers, just donate.
And finally, Michelle, real talk – what does your Mom think about it?
(nervous giggle) I don’t know. And I kind of don’t want to know. That is still something I’m working on and hopefully she’s just proud that I accomplished this thing.
Great attitude. So, just to recap:
- Stay safe this holiday season and DONATE to those less fortunate
- Buy Michelle’s Survival of the Thickest book (preferably from a local independent store, out tomorrow) and follow Michelle at @michellebuteau on instagram
- Try to win the book on @brightestyoungthings instagram later today
- and tune into her virtual book tour feat. Michelle’s COUSIN Tessa Thompson (Dec 7th presented by The Strand) and Nicole Byer (Dec 8th, representing DC’s own Solid State Books).
Did we miss anything?
Nope. Happy holidays! It will all fall into place.