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Jennette McCurdy Speaks at ZotTalks Event

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Editor’s Note: This article contains sensitive language pertaining to abuse and eating disorders. 

Jennette McCurdy, author of the New York Times best-selling memoir “I’m Glad My Mom Died,” spoke as a guest at the ASUCI Speakers Commission’s event ZotTalks on April 26. Two Speakers Commission interns, Antonio Lee and Celina Tiqui, moderated the discussion and asked questions about McCurdy’s career transition from acting to writing, as well as her relationship with her mother. 

McCurdy, who is originally from Garden Grove, is known for playing Sam Puckett, a character notorious for her comedic relief and a strong appetite for food on the Nickelodeon show “iCarly,” which ran from 2007 to 2012. While discussing her time on “iCarly,” McCurdy revealed her struggle with eating disorders and fans’ interest in her television persona rather than herself, which contributed to her resentment towards acting.  

“Every time someone saw me on the street, they’d be like, ‘Hey, Sam, where’s the fried chicken?’ And I wanted be like, ‘F**k you, I’m bulimic. The chicken’s in the toilet,’” McCurdy said. “Fame has its privileges financially, but not psychologically.”

The former actress, now a writer and producer, reflected on years of “pretending for a living” during her time on Nickelodeon. 

“You’re so much more fun [as] Sam,” McCurdy said, referring to a fan’s reaction to her in real life. “They [liked] Sam more than me, so I’d be Sam when people were disappointed. No matter how publicly seen [you are], you are deeply unseen.”

Reflecting on her time as a child actor, McCurdy criticized harmful people in the industry for conditioning young actors to be “yes men” — to not question the decisions of their directors or superiors, but blindly follow them. According to McCurdy, there were times when she didn’t want to say certain lines that directors wanted her to perform, but as a child actor she feared being “difficult.”

McCurdy said these experiences at a young age led her to make decisions based on other people’s expectations. This included her former acting career, which she described as something she “never wanted to do” and “her mother’s dream.” McCurdy told the audience that her true passion was writing, but her mother, Debra McCurdy — whom Jennette described having a “codependent” and “abusive” relationship with —  discouraged her from pursuing writing as a career. 

“My mom told me [that] ‘writers get fat and dress frumpy.’ So, as a form of rebellion, I bought a frump brown cardigan with brown pom-poms,” McCurdy said, joking that it was “so ugly.”

McCurdy said she felt pressured to please her mom in every aspect of her life, from what she ate to how she acted.

“I felt like I was performing in front of my mom just as much as I was performing on TV,” she said.

Debra controlled and violated her daughter’s autonomy to extreme extents. McCurdy said Debra wouldn’t even let her shower by herself, which is further detailed in the memoir. 

Outside her home life, she would use humor as a coping mechanism while living with an abusive mother.  According to McCurdy, she was always a “serious kid,” but found relief in “funny Jewish men” on Saturday night television.  

“I was using humor to keep the reality of my life further away from me,” McCurdy said. 

Debra passed away when McCurdy was 21 years old, which left her grief-stricken. Although she expressed anger toward her mother for how she treated her, McCurdy explained that she was in denial about the severity of her harmful behavior. She even quit initial therapy sessions when a therapist told her Debra was abusive. Over time, McCurdy realized her mother wasn’t who she thought she was, but she still grieved her. 

“There was no relief. I was completely devastated,” McCurdy said. “I didn’t know what to eat because she dictated it. I felt like I was three years old again.”            

After going through therapy sessions during her early and mid 20s, McCurdy, who is now 30, reached a point where she was comfortable talking about the complicated relationship with her mother and pursuing her passion of writing. 

“Now grief has become simple again. I’m able to just miss her,” McCurdy said. “I take full responsibility for that grief. That’s not [something] she gave me.”        

She also addressed a common misconception regarding the title of her book, “I’m Glad My Mom Died.” Although McCurdy said she resented her mother for abusing her, she was still attached to her due to their mutual codependency and a desire to please her. 

“The problem wasn’t that I hated my mom and wanted [her] to die,” McCurdy said. “It was that I loved her too much.”                                                                                                                                

Now, McCurdy is pursuing a career in writing and is currently working on a movie. 

“I hope you pursue the thing you want to do,” McCurdy said to the audience. “The opportunities you get will be more suited toward you.” 

Caitlin Tongson, a first-year business economics and film and media studies student, reflected on McCurdy’s talk. Tongson related to McCurdy’s desire to pursue a career that she wanted rather than what others wished for her. 

“I liked her insight, if [something] doesn’t make you completely happy, it’s [not] fulfilling,” Tongson said. “I relate to that because I want to do more [in] film rather than economics.”

Elisa Ulloa, a second-year undeclared student, expressed gratitude for the opportunity to hear from a celebrity she admired.

“When I came in, I knew about [McCurdy’s] book,” Ulloa said. “It was very surreal when she actually talked about it. It’s crazy to see someone I looked up to as a child and relate to her.” 

Before McCurdy bid farewell to UCI students at the conclusion of the talk, she hinted at some upcoming projects that are in the works. Updates about McCurdy’s projects can be found on her website.

Helena San Roque is a Campus News Staff Writer. She can be reached at msanroqu@uci.edu.