The Way We Get By: Aisha Tyler on Welcome to Hell World by Luke O’Neil and Troop Zero

The actress, comedian and writer-director recommends two things that will raise your spirits and make you laugh during this difficult time.

Most of us are sequestered in our homes, doing our part to slow the spread of COVID-19. That includes some of our favorite artists, so we’re asking them to tell us about one thing — a book, a movie, a record, whatever — that’s helping them get through this difficult time.

I have some close friends that have contracted coronavirus and are pretty sick, but it looks like they’re going to recover, which is great. It’s such a strange time. I don’t have any kids, so my quarantine has been decidedly less stressful than it would be if I were a parent. I’ve been disinfecting everything and doing a lot of organizing. My apartment is immaculate.

I’ve got a handful of projects in development, so I’ve been doing a lot of writing too. So much creative work requires many hours of rumination, and that hasn’t stopped. I’m developing two television shows and have had virtual meetings with my producing teams on both those projects; we’re pushing them as far down the road as we can at the moment. There are other projects I’m in talks for that won’t happen until late summer, and I feel pretty sanguine that by then productions will have started to ramp back up. But we just don’t know. It’s very fluid at the moment, and I’m trying to stay fluid as well.

The book I want to recommend is Luke O’Neil’s Welcome to Hell World: Dispatches from the American Dystopia, a collection of essays from his newsletter of the same name. He’s such a wonderful writer and I think the book could be helpful to a lot of people right now. I’ve never read anybody who makes anxiety and despair so funny. He’s incredibly smart, he’s very self-effacing, and his writing is just … ebulliently nihilistic. I think that’s the only way I can describe it! He’s very forthcoming about his struggles with depression and anxiety, and writes about those issues in a really intelligent, truthful way. He puts all our middle-of-the-night fears into bright light and somehow makes you feel less alone. If you’re immersed in your own existential dread, reading someone who’s so honest about that stuff really lightens your own fear load. I’ve never laughed out loud more about the things that terrify me than when I read Luke O’Neil. Reading his book in this time has really helped me feel less alone and more optimistic.

He writes about culture, about the ways in which American society impacts working people, and how we can be better, and that feels very relevant right now. He’s also been writing in his newsletter about taking walks in his neighborhood and how the quarantine has changed his life. He’s one of the smartest, funniest, most sarcastic motherfuckers. He’s a blast. He has this acid edge, but I met him at book reading at the Strand earlier this year, and in person he’s strangely shy. He’s the 13-year-old kid in all of us, sitting in a corner talking shit, and you just want to hang out with him all night and pull society apart together.

The other thing I want to recommend is the movie Troop Zero, streaming now on Amazon Prime, which is this confectionery coming-of-age story set in the ’70s about a misfit group of girl scouts whose troop mother is Viola Davis. It’s bright, cute and so enjoyable, the kind of movie that’s feel-good all the way through until you cry at the end, just like you should. It has this really crazy, uplifting existential ending, not treacly and not at all what you’d expect. The acting is delightful – I mean, I would literally watch Viola Davis sitting on the toilet. She can do no wrong. And the rest of the cast – Allison Janney, Jim Gaffigan, Mike Epps, the child actors – are great too. The whole way through, I was grinning like an idiot, and everybody to whom I’ve recommended it has loved it as well. It’s the perfect thing to put you in a good mood before you go to bed — something to counter the existential dread. We’re all home streaming things, so everybody should go watch it.

Aisha Tyler is an actress, broadcaster, writer and filmmaker. She is known for her roles in the TV series Friends, Ghost Whisperer, Criminal Minds and Archer, and is also currently the co-host of CBS’ The Talk and the host of Whose Line Is It Anyway? and the podcast Girl on Guy. She recorded the comedy special Aisha Tyler is Lit: Live at the Fillmore in 2009, and is the author of two books, including Self-Inflicted Wounds: Heartwarming Tales of Epic Humiliation. Her directorial debut feature, Axis, is available on VOD from April 10.