Megan Amram Just Wants a Physics Ph.D.

By

Comedian Megan Amram's Twitter account navigates many voices: deadpan, ditzy, unhinged, stone-cold tone deaf, cuttingly lucid. If you're willing to risk overthinking things, you could say that it mimics and critiques outrageous female stereotypes — from the narcissistic bimbo to the uninformed scold. In her first book, a parody textbook called Science ... for Her!, Amram has extended this project even further. 

When I called Amram to talk about the book, it was 9 in the morning on Friday, August 22. This was days after Nicki Minaj released her "Anaconda" music video, which became immediately very important. I asked Amram if it was a good time to talk, and she said yes: She was watching Nicki Minaj videos on loop, "so it’s probably good that you called me and stopped me."

She'd been playing "Anaconda" nonstop, prompting her boss at Parks and Recreation (where she's a writer) to confront her on the subject of her Minaj-love. "I just watched a ten-minute compilation of all the feminist things she’s said at different interviews. It really got me. I’ll send it to you," she said. In fact, she added, she sees Minaj's influence on her comedy: "One of my favorite things in the world, which I try to emulate with my book, is very beautiful women who act super-weird. It feels powerful to me. Nicki Minaj is so gorgeous and she makes these weird voices and plays characters. She just acts like a boss.”

This Minaj comparison is apt, actually. Amram works in the mode of weirdness and exaggeration. (To note: Amram has a famously unattractive Twitter photo, which Rosie O'Donnell once advised her to change.) With her book, she has created a character named Megan Amram who is writing a science textbook to win back an ex-boyfriend. She’s a demented soul who exhales drivel; she seems to have learned English from back issues of Cosmopolitan and reruns of Real Housewives. She's shallow, cruel, and dangerously dumb. It's funny. 

There are chapters on Carbon Dating, a careful explainer on the difference between Orgasms and Organisms, and, of course, all the adorable Bachelors of Science. There are chapters about legitimate rape and how to do crystal meth to lose weight.

Amram cites Stephen Colbert's full-throttle parody of conservatism as another reference point for her strategy in tackling feminine stereotypes. Women supposedly want to be thin? The Megan Amram of Science ... for Her! believes you should be as close to your birth weight as possible and "is furious at trees because she thinks they make unrealistic body expectations for women, because they’re so tall and thin." Women are supposedly backstabbing petty pigeons who can't stand each other's success? Megan Amram has 500 best friends and she hates all of them. Like Colbert, she says she sometimes relishes the confusion about whether she's joking. It's the fun risk of fighting fire with parody-fire. 

And "science" provides an ideal subject. Amram was on her science team and math team in high school, then attended Harvard not long after Larry Summers made his infamous comments about gender and scientific aptitude. ("Bogus," Amram says.) And the news is a constant source of fodder — she recalls Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” fiasco unfolding as she worked on her book proposal. She says some of this jokingly, but slips easily into serious conversation about gender politics and women in science. Sometimes, she says, she wants to be one of these Women in Science: "Part of me thinks that in two years, I’ll quit comedy and go back and get a Ph.D. in physics or whatever and work at like, the Hadron Collider in Switzerland," she tells me, in a tone that is very close to serious.

Reading Science ... for Her! gets uncomfortably dark at times. Megan Amram pushes "Megan Amram" exceedingly far: toward violence, drug addiction, dangerous weight loss. She goes through the ringer. "The amount of violence most women have to think about day-to-day has been on my mind," Amram explains. Just after laughing about how serious our conversation kept getting, Amram mentioned the risks of simple things like walking alone at night, making sure doors are locked: "There is so much of my brain used for that, and I wish it wasn't," she says. "Because I probably have more Nicki Minaj songs to memorize."