Jon Ronson & Maeve Higgins: 'He often tells me he wants to make more friends, but I don't really think he does'

The journalist and the comedian became firm friends when Ronson moved to New York three-and-a-half years ago

Nick Duerden
Friday 22 January 2016 18:31 GMT
Ronson says: 'Everyone falls for her: Amy Schumer is a huge fan. It's wonderful to watch a city fall in love with her'
Ronson says: 'Everyone falls for her: Amy Schumer is a huge fan. It's wonderful to watch a city fall in love with her' (Kim Haughton)

Jon Ronson, 48

A journalist, Ronson has also written bestselling works of non-fiction including 'The Men who Stare at Goats' and 'The Psychopath Test'. He lives in New York with his wife and son

I moved to New York from London three-and-a-half years ago. We'd been living in Highgate [in north London], and you know what Highgate is like: all I saw out of my window were trees, and I found it a bit rarefied and isolated. Also, I've always had this idea that I'd regret never having lived in New York, so we went. But my first year was very discombobulating. I was miserable, thought I might be depressed, but was just homesick. I remember standing in Central Park one day, thinking: "I am just a man standing in a park. Nothing I have ever done or will ever do means anything." Shortly after that, I became friends with Maeve – and she really cheered me up.

We'd met before that, briefly, at a podcast festival in California; I was doing a reading, she was doing stand-up. I was amazed at how funny she was. A while later, back in London, I brought her in to audition for a silent film I was directing for Sky. The audition involved her having to mime a blowjob, and I don't think she really wanted to do it. When we reconnected in New York, she reminded me about the blowjob. I'd forgotten, but it was clearly lodged in her memory.

A promoter in Brooklyn then asked the two of us to put on a monthly arts night: comedy, spoken word, a bit of music. It changed everything. We became really good friends, and it made me fall in love with the city at last.

We see each other several times a month, for tea, or we go to a show together. I took her to see Cabaret, but I don't think she liked it as much as I did. It's a play for Jews, really. Everybody dies in the Holocaust at the end.

I've seen her do stand-up many times now. She never does the same set twice, which is incredibly diligent, and I don't think I know anyone funnier. She is also the most incredibly generous person. The moment she has even a tiny bit of money in the bank, she starts giving it away. She is also generous with her time, and mentors new writers.

And of course she is so good at making friends. I find it difficult being around people: it's stressful and I'm introverted. I've only made three or four friends since moving to New York. Maeve has millions. But then, she is so much more functional than I am. We went to see a Mia Farrow play recently because somehow she knows Mia Farrow. Everyone falls for her: Amy Schumer is a huge fan. It's wonderful to watch a city fall in love with her.

We're open with each other, though she is quite self-reliant, and I sense she doesn't want people to rely on her too much. I wouldn't emotionally splurge on her, but I don't need to. It's just nice knowing she is there.

Maeve Higgins, 34

Born in County Cork, Higgins is a comedian and writer who starred in two TV shows in her native Ireland and published the critically acclaimed book of essays 'We Have a Good Time, Don't We?'. She now lives and works in New York, and has appeared on TV shows including 'Inside Amy Schumer'

A few years ago I left Dublin for London, but hated it. I found all the clichés you hear about it to be true: sprawling, unfriendly. But in New York there is an openness and curiosity that I find really welcoming. If you are open and curious yourself, you can't not love it.

After meeting Jon at a podcast festival in LA, I stayed in touch with him a bit on Twitter. I had his book The Psychopath Test at home, but I didn't really know his work, to be honest. I just knew he was well-known. Then he came to London to make a short film and asked if I wanted to be in it. He hadn't explained that I'd have to audition. When I got there, I was required to perform – well, oral sex on a spoon. It was a jokey thing, but I was horrified. All I could think was: "Who is this guy?"

Our mutual friend [the comedian] Josie Long put us in touch in New York, and we had a nice afternoon together. I liked him then. And after we started doing the Brooklyn event, we became properly great friends. To look at him, you wouldn't think he's organised, but he really is. He is so disciplined. For me, as a younger writer, I find him incredibly inspiring.

Often, our conversations revolve around me reassuring him that he is funny on stage – because he is! – but other times when we talk, I just feel so incredibly listened to. Because I'm a comedian, I tend to skim over things, and I feel uncomfortable delving too deep. But after a conversation with him, I'm like: "Bloody hell, he got all sorts of things out of me!"

He often tells me he wants to meet more people and make more friends, but I don't really think he does. After our monthly shows, he hides behind the curtain. He took me to the premiere of Frank [the film about comic character Frank Sidebottom for which Ronson co-wrote the script], and Michael Fassbender [who played the lead] was there, and all these guys from The Wire. I wanted to talk to them but was too shy, but Jon was even worse! If I'm anxious, he's even more so.

But you know what, I really love his company, though it's true he doesn't have that much free time. He has his family, his dogs. He's settled, and incredibly focused on his work. I love that about him, and I really admire his journalistic instincts. If he has, say, a problem with someone, or a government even, he isn't afraid to go after them. That's amazing. I'm still figuring out how to say what I feel; even what to think in the first place.

'So You've Been Publicly Shamed' by Jon Ronson (£8.99, Picador) is out now. He performs 'The Jon Ronson Mysteries' for five nights at Leicester Square Theatre, London WC2, from 26 January. 'Off You Go: Away From Home and Loving it. Sort of' by Maeve Higgins (£12.99, Hachette) is out now

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