The Good Witch of the Northwest
Playboy South Africa|March 2020
With the release of a scorching new book and the return of her hit show, writer Lindy West finds herself at a crossroads — what happens when you don’t have to be shrill anymore?
ERIC SPITZNAGEL

Lindy West is sitting in a director’s chair — so big, she says, it’s “almost a hammock” — in a Portland, Oregon warehouse filled with cameras and an inordinate number of crew members with handlebar mustaches. As she glances up at the monitors, watching actors repeat lines she helped write, she reflects on her hypothetical death.

“I was exhausted, but I felt proud of myself,” she says of a recent six-mile mountain hike across often treacherous terrain. As she was traversing a high, narrow trail, she crossed paths with three other hikers, all young and fit.

“I had this realization that if one of them accidentally bumped me off the trail and I tumbled down this ravine, and if someone caught it on video, people would think it was funny,” she says. “It wouldn’t be ‘Woman Tragically Plummets to Her Death.’ It would be ‘Look at the Fatty Roll.’ ”

It’s hard to know whether to laugh or nod grimly when West shares stories like this. The 37-year-old writer and producer has made a career of this balancing act, pointing out injustice while also being one of the most uproarious social critics of her generation.

Dressed in a Queen T-shirt knotted at the belly and a form-fitting leopardskin skirt, West exudes fabulousness with just a hint of I’m not entirely sure about this. She’s also exhausted. They’re in the final weeks of shooting the second season of Shrill, a series inspired by her best-selling essay collection of the same name. (The show returns to Hulu in January.) The first season was beloved by both critics and viewers, and the show was promptly renewed. The pressure is on to keep the bar high.

“It feels like a lot more responsibility,” she says, keeping an eye on a scene in which Aidy Bryant, the Saturday Night Live regular and Shrill’s lead, gets into a heated exchange with her fictional boyfriend. “I’m glad I wasn’t given this kind of long leash when I was 23. I probably would’ve made something really bad.”

Over the course of the day, West mentions several times that for most of her career it was just her on a couch, wrestling words out of her head in an otherwise empty apartment. Now she’s sitting in a crowded soundstage where “there are always a million moving parts and a million things to do. Sometimes it’s a last-minute zhuzhing of the script, and sometimes it’s the props department needing me to sign off on some tiny detail that viewers probably won’t even notice.”

Shrill the TV show follows Annie Easton, a character loosely based on West. While the similarities between the two are hard to miss — both Easton and West are writers living in the Pacific Northwest who champion fat-positivity and get hounded by trolls, oblivious passersby and many others — the fictional counterpart has a long way to go before she reaches present-day Lindyness.

“She doesn’t seem like a character who’d be like, ‘Yes, I’m a witch and I’m hunting you,’ ” West says, referring to her recent book of essays, The Witches Are Coming. (The title is from her 2017 New York Times op-ed about #MeToo blowback and men bemoaning “witch hunts” despite “millenniums of treating women like prey.”) Of the character’s development she adds, “I think we’re going to move in that direction slowly. It’s her journey toward becoming shrill, or learning how to own that.”

West is long past learning how to embrace her inner shrill. She practically owns the word now. She built a career as an outsider critic and satirist of misogynist culture, but she’s no longer an outsider; she’s a best-selling author and a writer and executive producer on a hugely successful TV show.

The subtitle for her first book is Notes From a Loud Woman. But she doesn’t need to be loud anymore. Everyone is listening.

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