Gabourey Sidibe Wants To Tell You A Story — & She's Not Holding Back

Photo: Randy Holmes/ABC.
I love books and I always have. The distinct smell of bookstores and libraries has always been one of my favorite things. As such, I’m one of the few people who has remained staunchly against e-books or audio recordings of my favorite stories. I’ve never owned a Kindle. I don’t have a subscription to Audible. I’ve raged against the machine that asked me to choose technology over what I saw as the purest form of literature. Until I talked to Gabourey Sidibe about the audiobook version of her new memoir, This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare.
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When I spoke to her on the phone about this new project, we were on the same page about physical books being amazing. But she also dropped some science on me. When it comes to celebrities and performers — people whose voices and oratory abilities you're already familiar with — an audiobook is worth the experience. As Sidibe put it, it’s like you’re sitting down with one of your favorite comedians and letting them tell you a story. After listening to clips of This Is Just My Face, which is also available on Audible, and speaking with Sidibe, I knew she was right.
Sidibe is nothing if not a comedian herself, something that also came through over our phone conversation. We laughed together as she spilled the tea on revealing personal information about the people closest to her, what it was like voicing her story aloud, and how much dating sucks. On that last point, I didn’t need to be convinced. Check out our conversation, below.
What was your writing process for this memoir? How long did it take?
“It took like three years. The reason I started writing the book is because I wrote this speech for Gloria Steinem’s 80th birthday party. I wrote about cookies and confidence. And that speech kind of went viral, and that’s what led to the entire book. And the three-year anniversary of that speech was on May 1, the day my book dropped.
"I don’t know if that’s long time or a short time. But it kind of felt like I was pregnant a little bit from the second I started writing the book. And my friend was like, ‘You could write this but not publish it. You don't really have to.’ I just kind of started writing in this funnel of just getting my feelings out and working through some things. And at the end of it people were like, ‘Wow! You must be so brave to say what you said.’ And I’m like — oh crap. Am I? Because I kind of wrote without expecting that people would read it.”
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So where did you write? At a random Starbucks or holed up in hotel or… ?
“Ugh. Disgusting. No. That’s such a thing that people do. No, I would write in my house, in my bed. It would take me a while to figure out what to write. So I would usually have to take a shower first [chuckles]. I know that sounds weird, but I would know what I wanted to say but I just didn’t know how to say it yet. So I would just kind of dick around on the internet for a few days and then I’d get into a shower or something. You know, shower thoughts…”
Yeah, showers are where all genius thoughts are made.
“Exactly. So how I would start the story would usually come in the oddest of places... And then I’d shut off my phone. I’d put it in another room. I wouldn’t watch TV. I wouldn’t play music or anything. I would have complete silence. It would just be me and my laptop for eight hours minimum.”
What was the biggest risk you took in writing this book?
"The biggest risk was really talking about people, my family, my friends. The biggest risk is hurting someone else’s feelings, which I never want to do. But that sometimes happens when you’re just telling the truth. And even when you tell the truth, it’s through a filter of yourself. This is my truth. And I hope it doesn’t hurt you or upset your truth. My truth isn’t any less true than yours.
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"My biggest concern is always mostly my family, because your family is such a huge impact on who you are and who you are not, especially your parents. I think they try their best, but they carry all the ways their parents hurt them. And it’s inevitable that when I have children I’ll figure out a way to hurt them by accident [laughs]. A lot of ways that my parents have hurt me, and my family has hurt me, and my friends have hurt me, are in ways that I’ve never discussed with them because I know their intentions are good and I don’t want to upset them. So that was my biggest concern."
Photo: Courtesy of Audible.
Do you come from a family that believes in not “airing your dirty laundry”?
“I really couldn’t even think of that because I had a lot of shit to work out. I basically said [to myself], ‘Look, just write. Work this out. And if it’s too much you can pull back.’ And I pulled back a bit. But I had to [write down] a lot of things, because they were useful. And anything that wasn’t useful, I just took out. I’m a person who is of some level of emotional intelligence and I was clogged in a lot of ways. Writing helped me unclog. I needed to allow myself to do that.
"Black people and dirty laundry is a very real thing. There was a point in writing this book that I thought, there are so many ways that we are doing disservice to one family member by protecting another family member. You can’t clean your laundry without recognizing the laundry is dirty. Goddamn!”
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Did you feel or think differently about some of the experiences you shared when you had to read/perform them aloud for the audiobook?
“Yeah. Even with just my father. I like wasn’t talking to him when I first started writing. Writing about him changed my relationship with him completely, because it allowed me to see him as a human being, not like some monster who hurt me. He’s not a monster. He’s a human. He wants to survive just as well as the rest of us.
"But while doing the audiobook... I realized I have a knack for this: I’ll tell a really, really heart-wrenching, sad story and then I’ll tag a joke onto it. And I’ll laugh as a defense mechanism. And it wasn’t until I was reading the audiobook that I was like, ‘Goddamn Gabby. Let yourself feel these feelings. Why’d you have to turn it into a joke?’ There’s a chapter where I talk about being in therapy and I [made a joke] and the therapist was like, ‘But Gabby, peel the onion. What’s behind that joke?’ And I was like, ‘Shut up [therapist’s name]! Fuck you! Fuck your onion! Fuck all of it! You don’t know anything!’ And then I was reading the book while doing the audiobook and I was like ‘Goddamn Gabby, peel the onion! [Your therapist] was right!’”
If we could only get one version of This Is Just My Face, which one would you recommend?
“Definitely the audiobook because I feel like you need to know who I am in order to read the book. Hopefully, I did a pretty good job of writing in my voice as best as possible. But even then, if you don’t share my sense of humor, you don’t know what’s a joke and what’s not. Or some of the ways that I spell things… I use bad grammar sometimes on purpose because that serves the joke. And you get that in the audiobook. You get the joke because you hear it in my voice better than you can probably read them.
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"And also I have a super sexy voice and I might go through all the phone sex voices with you." [Ed note: She is very serious.]
In the book you write about having a “hoe phase” and not talking to your mom about that. What phase of your love life are you in now?
“Exhaustion, again. I’m like, good god. Can a fairy just come down and move my life three years forward to the point where I am married and pregnant? Because this, ‘Is it him? No. Is it him? No.’ is just a numbers game and I can’t fucking play it anymore. I mean, I could never play it and it’s worse because I’m recognizable now. And men will flirt with me to get what they want. And what they want is not at all a relationship. It’s not even a smelationship [Yes, she made that word up]. What they want is a pilot relit and they flirt with me to get it. But I don’t need a pilot. I’m okay. I’m looking for love. I don’t want a friend. But people who want to be my friend will flirt with me because they think that’s the answer and no, you’re setting me up. You’re wasting my feelings and you’re wasting my time. It’s hard.
"I looked up one day and I realized that everyone I hang out with is either a woman of color or a gay man. None of them are going to do me. That’s not a relationship. So then I realized I have to be friends with straight men who could potentially be in a relationship. And then I did that and I realized that I don’t want any new friends. I’m good with the ones I have. I need a love interest. I’m not lonely because I’m really busy, but I would like a relationship.”
Girl, saaaaame!