Together Mallory Ortberg and Nicole Cliffe run The Toast, a website that’s taken the ‘net by storm in the last year and a half. Ortberg, who’d previously contributed to The Hairpin, Gawker and The Awl, writes pieces that are part feminist critique, part silliness. They blend high and low, total absurdity and total seriousness, captioning unhappy mothers in Western art, for example, or providing unpunctuated, terse dirtbag summaries of characters from history, fiction and myth. Two recent favorites: “Track Listing from a Decemberists Album Where Nobody Gets Murdered” (which includes “Just An Ordinary Riverboat Captain Who’s Only Had Consensual Sex”) and “As A Father of Daughters, I Think We Should Treat All Women Like My Daughters.” She’s garnered a considerable fandom and her first book, Texts from Jane Eyre And Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters, has just published. Ortberg emailed with Wag’s Revue managing editor Sandra Allen.
Sandra Allen, Wag’s Revue: I realize you’ve told it before, but I’d like to hear the origin story of The Toast, which you founded last summer and which frankly sounds a bit unbelievable. You and Nicole had met online and then there was an attorney, Nicholas Pavich, who’d read and enjoyed your stuff online and said basically if you ever wanted to start a website, he’d fund it, and then you did? What’s this guy’s deal?
Mallory Ortberg: Nick is a genius who recognizes a good thing when he sees it. He was a big Awl commenter back in the early days (what a weird sentence), so he and I were literally just friends from commenting on the same website (also weird). He thought I was funny, and that Nicole was funny, and he’d been looking to become a publisher to a worthwhile team, and we all talked on the phone a lot, and then I quit my job and so did he and we started a business together.