It’s 8:30 in the morning, and Michael Showalter is balancing a coffee in one hand while he opens the door to let me in with the other. He looks nervous, but not about spilling his coffee. “Come in, please,” he smiled, “otherwise they’ll run out.” He was talking about his cats. There are four of them, sharing a Hollywood home with him and his wife. I’m introduced to each.
Tim is the only boy, and the only black cat. Sally just likes to sleep and eat. The sweetheart is Louise, she’s everyone’s favorite. And Billie, who was quite shy at first, “is somewhere hiding, I would assume,” he said, looking up the stairs. “Billie is a girl,” he clarified. “William, we gave her a boy’s name.” His face warmed, like a proud parent.
Showalter is best known for his roles on Wet Hot American Summer, and the TV series Stella, but he moved to Los Angeles from New York two months ago to write on Rebel Wilson’s new show, Super Fun Night. He agreed to meet with me before setting off to the writer’s room. I wanted to talk about his upcoming book, Guys Can Be Cat Ladies Too. It’s not his first published book; in 2012 he published Mr. Funny Pants: A Memoir of False Starts. But this is the first book that deals exclusively with his love of cats — and his secret life as a closeted cat lady.
“We flew all of them with us,” his eyes widened at the memory. “You put them under the seat — each of them in their own separate carrier — and you store them underneath your seat. We bought four tickets. So we had four seats on the plane for us, and our four dumb cats.”
“I think people are creeped out by how many [cats] there are, myself included,” he laughed. “I’m in denial about it.”
There are four cats in Los Angeles, and four more at Showalter’s home in Brooklyn. He started taking care of stray cats behind his house, and they just sort of…stayed. Then he built them houses when winter hit, and outfitted those with electrical heating pads to keep them warm.
“It gets really cold,” he explained. The cats are currently being cared for by a group of Showalter’s former New York University students, where he taught classes at the Tisch School of the Arts.
“Sometimes, when I pet them, I pet too aggressively,” he admitted. “My wife is always screaming at me. Because they’ll get in bed with us, and then I’ll be too cuddly with them, and she’s like, ‘Stop! They’re going to run away.’ And then they run away. Like I’m a big brute. I scare them away.”
“Cuddling has to be involved,” he said. “Good food has to be involved — for me, maybe some pasta, some salad. For them, some canned food, of the cat food variety. Or of the anything variety.”
He paused, then admitted, “Last night I had a chicken sandwich, and I let Louise eat some of it.”
What was the impetus for writing this book?
Michael Showalter: It started with, “I want to make a book that’s just a fun book,” as opposed to the first book that I’d done, which was sort of memoir-y and kind of like, essay-ish. I wanted to do something that was just like the kind of book you just read and have fun, because when I was a kid, this is the kind of book I would have dog-eared when I was a kid. I would have just read it and reread it, because it’s so silly.
How did you come up with all of the illustrations?
MS: We wrote the book, and then had a list of like, “Here’s the written part, and here’s what the illustration should be.” And then we had this illustrator, this guy Son of Alan. He’s just a guy, but he calls himself the Son of Alan. He’s sort of like those bands, like Bright Eyes. Like, it’s just a guy, but he has this very sort of like hipster-minimalist, manual way of drawing. Which I loved.
Why should men buy this book?
MS: Even though it’s a book about how to be a better cat owner, what it really is is a book about how to be a better guy.
What kind of research did you do for this book?
MS: I spent months in the New York Public Library, um, researching archives of cat history. No. The kind of research that I had to do was googling cat facts. Pretty easy.
What’s the coolest thing you found out while writing this book?
MS: The most interesting thing I learned was that cats sleep 70% of the time, on average. Which means if you’ve have a cat for 10 years, it will have been asleep for seven years of those 10 years. Seven years. Out of 10.
The book almost reads like a manual of how to deal with being a guy who likes cats, with chapters like, “Cat Lady Guy Fundamentals” and “How to Bromance a Cat.” But it’s also for anyone who just wants to read something smart and funny.
It’s a quick 176 pages, and mixes humor, personal stories, and illustrations that cover everything from how to care for your cat to what exactly it is that cats can do. (Hint: They CAN sleep.)
The videos, a four-part series, are much like the tone of the book. Very tongue-in-cheek, very fuzzy, and very funny.
Do you feel like you’ve become full-blown crazy cat person?
MS: Yeah. Yeah. Once I started doing the rescuing stuff, that’s when I became crazy full-blown. I’m a certified TNR person, which means I can go trap a stray cat and take it to the vet. I can’t do surgery on it, but I went to the ASPCA and I took a class, and got a little certificate. I got very intense about it.
Are they all shelter cats?
MS: Yeah, yeah.
When did you get all of them?
MS: Sally was my wife’s cat, she had Sally. Tim and Louise were my cats. Sally we think is 6 or 7. Tim and Louise are 4. And Billie, the youngest and the brattiest. I was at an event in Brooklyn, and getting something done with one of them. And one of the assistants walks out with this kitten, and is like, “They adopted every other cat in the litter.” And she’s, like, holding it out. “It’s so sad, because they adopted every other cat in the litter.” And I was like, “All right, give me the fucking cat.”
For the holidays with your cats, do you do anything special?
MS: We do a Christmas card. It’s hard to really assemble them all together, for a photo, so we just photoshop a picture together.
What’s the weirdest place your cats have hidden?
MS: They’ll hide in any form of bag, box. Any sort of opening of any kind they will immediately crawl into. We’ve found them in handbags and stuff. It’ll be hanging on a doorknob, and we’ll be like, “Where’s so-and-so?” And then you open up the bag, and they’re in there. And they’ve heard you calling their name for hours, freaking out, and they don’t do anything about it. That’s the magical allure of a cat, it’s that dogs would never do that. Dogs would come. If you called a dog, a dog would come. Cats will sometimes come, and then sometimes won’t. Which is very funny.
If you could be any kind of cat, what would you be?
MS: I’d be an American shorthair. Because they don’t shed, and that’s what all my cats are. Or I’d be a naked cat. A hairless cat. I love those cats. I want one of those cats.
Who’s your favorite internet cat?
MS: I judged a cat video contest for Friskies. They did an online cat video contest. I don’t know what the winner got, but I was one of the judges. And the cat that won the contest — which was not my choice only, but we all chose this one, and we saw dozens of videos — was this cat named Oskar, who’s blind. And the video is of him playing with his first toy, and he’s blind, and he’s sort of like huddled in the corner, and then they roll a toy out to him. And he can hear it. At first, he’s sort of scared, but then he starts playing with it, and he’s just going by what he hears.
Have you been able to convince anyone to be a cat person?
MS: Yeah. Michael Black will deny this till the day he dies, but I think Michael Black likes cats because of me. Michael Black now has a cat, yes. And I do believe he really likes the cat. And I think that some part of him would admit that I have something to do with that. I think I, in my own small way, contributed to making cats more awesome.
How has having cats changed you?
MS: They’re very entertaining. They’re really fun to watch. To just watch their behavior. To watch them play with each other. To watch them sleep. For some reason, watching a cat sleep is the cutest thing in the world. All they’re doing is sleeping, but it’s so cute.
They’re very loving, you know, they’re very cuddly, and then it’s always good to have a responsibility. You know, I sort of take care of them, I feed them and I scoop their litter box, and all this stuff. And it’s good to have that routine. I get up at 5 o’clock in the morning, and feed them every day. That’s when they want to eat. And I do it without complaining. I just get up and do it.