Interview with Humorist R. Eric Thomas

R. Eric Thomas may be the funniest current events writer around. In “Eric Reads the News” at Elle.com, he presents his unique take on pop culture and politics, like Watch Donald Trump Explain How a Dog Works or Once Again I Am Delighted To Spend My Entire Check On Oprah’s Favorite Things.

I’m so excited for his memoir in essays, HERE FOR IT, or How to Save Your Soul in America, where he writes about struggling to reconcile his Christian identity with his sexuality, the exhaustion of code-switching in college, accidentally getting famous on the internet (for the wrong reason), and the surreal experience of covering the 2016 election, and the seismic changes that came thereafter. Ultimately, Eric seeks the answer to these ever more relevant questions: Is the future worth it? Why do we bother when everything seems to be getting worse?

The playwright, essayist and long-running host of The Moth StorySlam lives in Baltimore with his extraordinary husband, the Reverend David Norse Thomas, and an out-of-control collection of succulents, candles, and tote bags.

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Were you an avid reader as a child? What kinds of things did you read?

Yes indeed! My mother tells me that we used to borrow up to the limit every time we went to the library–40 books–and I’d demand we read them all. When I got a little older, I got really into Ellen Raskin, particularly The Westing Game, and then launched into adult novels and thrillers. I really don’t like being scared, but I love a mystery.

What’s the strangest job you’ve ever had?

I was the substitute Chuck E. Cheese at a Chuck E. Cheese. Like the understudy Chuck E. I mean, all my jobs have been strange but this one, on paper, is the strangest. My main job was to be a game room attendant–fixing ticket jams, returning coins, minding the ball pit (shudder). But whenever the main employee who went out in the Chuck E. costume was out (I presume on vocal rest?), I was up. It was terrible.

Which talent do you wish you had?

I so badly want to sing, like really sing. SANG, you know? I am a firm believer that everyone can sing but… true musical virtuosos are rare. I’m not saying I want to throw down like Luther Vandross or Adele–though I wouldn’t mind–but I’d really want the kind of voice where when you’re in a crowd singing “Happy Birthday” the people around you turn around like “Wow, who is that? My soul is expanding; my crops are flourishing; I feel the fullness of life.” You know, simple.

Have you ever traveled to do research for your writing? Where did you go?

Not yet, but my parents and husband and I just started planning a road trip to a couple of National Parks so that I could do research for a novel I’m working on about two black siblings, an in-law, and a cousin who pile into a car one summer to see some of the country’s national parks. It’s–at least at this point–a novel about personal and cultural inheritance.

Tell us about your next big project.

2020 is a year of big projects, some of which started to pile up on each other in 2019 which was… challenging. In the fall, I have a second book coming out from Dey Street Books, a fun and quippy biography of Rep. Maxine Waters that I co-wrote with Helena Andrews-Dyer. I’m also a playwright, so my hope is that I’ll also be able to go into production on one or two of my plays next season–most likely a comedy called Crying on Television about four black millennials trying to make connection, often through the shared language of TV, or a comedy with a very long name about gentrification, grief, and Grindr. Yes, I said it’s a comedy.

 

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