Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
All <i>Camgirl </i>author Isa Mazzei needs in life is flat soda, stuffing, and a clean mouth

In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.

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If you don’t know Isa Mazzei’s name yet, you will soon. She broke into the film scene in 2018 with Cam, which The A.V. Club described as a “brilliantly inverted techno-thriller” about Alice (Madeline Brewer), a.k.a. Lola_Lola, a cam girl who is thrown into the ultimate digital-age nightmare when an inhuman entity steals her online identity, putting her at risk in the real world. Mazzei is the latest in a line of writers, from Gloria Steinem to Diablo Cody, who have used their experiences in the sex industry to inspire their work: Cam is loosely based on Mazzei’s own career as a cam girl, a period she illuminated in more detail in her memoir Camgirl, published last fall.

The A.V. Club was supposed to meet up with Mazzei at SXSW to ask our 11 Questions connected to her lecture, “From Camgirl To Screenwriter: The Labor Of Sex Work,” at the multimedia festival. Thanks to global events we assume we don’t really need to explain here, that didn’t happen. And so we chatted with Mazzei by phone from our homes in Chicago and Denver, respectively, a conversation that—again, for reasons—kept returning to the topic of comfort, and ways to find it in uneasy times.


1. If you made a candle, what would it smell like?

Isa Mazzei: If I made a candle, it would smell like stuffing, like on Thanksgiving or Christmas. If I could make my entire house smell like stuffing when I woke up in the winter and it was cozy, it would be so incredible. Although, now that I’m thinking about it, it might be kind of gross to have your house smell like a food that isn’t actually in it.

AVC: There are lots of candles that smell like sugar cookies or gingerbread or whatever.

IM: I would pick stuffing, then. I love the smell of stuffing.

AVC: Would it be the box stuffing, or would it be homemade?

IM: Box stuffing all the way. I will smell the boxes in the grocery store when they go on sale. I’m like, “I know it’s only September, but…”

AVC: Box stuffing does have its own smell. It’s a very specific smell.

IM: It does! It reminds me of my childhood. It reminds me of having people over for dinner and being cozy. It’s just a really comforting smell.


2. What’s your favorite album from high school?

IM: This one’s actually really easy. My absolute favorite album from high school was this band called Electric President. They had a self-titled album, and it was my jam.

First of all, I thought it was really cool because my friend who I met online [told me about it]. She was my first real internet friend, and I thought it was so cool. She lived in Nova Scotia, and I barely even knew what that was. And then she gave me all this cool indie music that I had never heard of before, and one of them was this band Electric President. And I was obsessed with that album. I used to make little drawings to go along with the songs.

AVC: I am so sorry, but I don’t know this band. What kind of band are they?

IM: I mean, that’s why I felt so cool. I was like, “You haven’t heard of Electric President? Well, let me tell you, they’re really big up in Nova Scotia.” [Laughs]
I’m trying to think how I would classify it. It’s mostly just indie, it’s a little bit electronic, a little bit folk. The lead singer is now in another band called Radical Face.

AVC: Being able to say, “Oh, you’ve never heard of them,” is key when you’re a teenager.

IM: You feel so cool. But I really did like them. Some of their lyrics really nailed how I was feeling about things at that time.


3. What conspiracy theory do you think is the most plausible?

IM: I don’t know how I feel about aliens, but I’m really into reading about aliens. I think that all of the conspiracy theories around aliens visiting Earth and all of that are just fascinating. I don’t know how much I believe of it, but it’s something that I really love thinking about and reading about.

AVC: What do you think of the idea that aliens came to Earth in the 1940s, and then the government covered it up, and now we’re using all their tech?

IM: I don’t know if I believe that we’re using their tech, because have you seen our technology? [Laughs.] But I definitely think the idea of aliens having visited Earth is really interesting.

And I think from a larger, slightly more scientific perspective, the idea of life originating not on Earth is really fascinating. There are all these theories that the original microbes that eventually turned into us came from elsewhere. I was even reading some theory that viruses didn’t originate on Earth—something with their structure. I don’t remember all the details. But anyway, things like that are really interesting to me, because the universe is so vast, and sometimes I take life way too seriously. And then when I think about how vast the universe is, it really calms me down.


4. What’s the first time you were disillusioned by politics?

IM: Oh, this is kind of a sad story. I was really young—I can’t give you an exact age, maybe 6 or 7—and I went to my first wedding. I was so excited. I wasn’t the flower girl or anything; I wanted to be. Barely knew the couple, but they were really close friends of my parents. I just remember being so excited about the wedding, and what I was going to wear, and my mom had a beautiful dress. And it was a lesbian wedding.

I had no idea I was queer [at that point] but it was the first wedding that I saw, and I remembered learning shortly after that they couldn’t be legally married and that it was different from a legal marriage. And I remembered being so confused. I think I was too young to even understand what disillusionment meant, but I remember being really confused as to why their wedding was different from another type of wedding. I think that was the first time that I realized that—I knew that things were unfair, but that was one of the first times I realized that that type of thing could be unfair.

AVC: You mean beyond somebody getting more than you, say, on a one-to-one level? Unfairness at a societal level?

IM: Yeah, exactly. I thought of unfairness as, “Oh my God, you’re giving my sister an extra Christmas present?” Or, “Why does my friend get cooler jeans than me?” But these were grownups. They could buy their own things. They could live their own life. I didn’t understand what it really meant, but I understood that it was unfair.


5. Who would you call if you needed help burying a body?

IM: Like I would tell a journalist that! [Laughs.]

No, but really, I would definitely call [Cam director] Daniel Goldhaber. He’s my best friend. I don’t know if he would actually help me, but I think that would he would either have really good advice or make fun of me until I was able to feel a little better about whatever situation I was in.


6. What’s your favorite Halloween costume you’ve ever worn?

IM: I love Halloween. That’s something I would like to state for the official record. Halloween costumes are my jam.

So. My favorite one of all time. I found a vintage wedding dress at Goodwill, and really wanted to dye it black, but it didn’t work. I used one of those like washing machine dyes, which turned it purple. So I had this wedding dress with a crinoline and a hoop skirt and all this lace and a high neck, and I was like, “What am I going to do with this giant purple floofy dress?” So I thought, “I should be Little Bo Peep. No, that’s lame. I hate that.” And where I ended up was, I got a staff and a bonnet and a bunch of stuffed sheep, and I impaled the sheep on the staff and had blood dripping down the staff. And then I was Little Bo Peep who killed her sheep.

AVC: I have tried to dye so many things in buckets. And it comes out this dove gray purple color. It does not come out black.

IM: It doesn’t work! It’s hard to dye things that way!

AVC: That’s an awesome costume. What kind of makeup did you do with it? 

IM: My mom’s a makeup artist, so I actually had really good makeup. She made me really pale, but with really bright cheeks. Just creepy-cutesy, you know? Too much blush, and little eyelashes, and everything.

AVC: That’s a real making lemonade out of lemons situation. Well done.

IM: Thank you. Thank you.


7. If proximity to your industry was a moot point, where would you most like to live and why?

IM: Oh my gosh. Definitely a desert… I would say New Mexico. I love New Mexico, and I love the New Mexican desert. And there’s aliens out there, so it really covers all the bases for me. [Laughs.]

AVC: Is there any particular part of New Mexico you like the best?

IM: I really like northern New Mexico, north of Santa Fe. I like the areas around Santa Fe a lot. New Mexico makes me want to be away from people. Honestly, in recent days, I’ve been thinking maybe I should become one of those preppers out in the middle of the desert. Just me and five years’ worth of stuff. And maybe I would get a cat or a dog or something, so I wouldn’t be completely alone.


8. How did you learn about the birds and the bees?

IM: I remember the day so clearly. I went in to school one day, and there was this girl in my elementary school—she was sitting there, and she had a dictionary. And she just looked up and said [to me], “Do you know what the F-word actually means?” And I was like, “Um, no.” And I can’t remember what her explanation was, but I remember that it started this stirring in the class where we were all talking about what the F-word actually meant.

Luckily, I went to a really incredible elementary school that taught us sex education, a very, very PG version of sex ed, in fifth grade. So after that they sat us down and we learned about periods, and we learned about, you know, where babies come from. And that was the first time I got a real introduction to it all. This is so embarrassing, but I remember when they told us they were going to teach us sex ed, I wondered if they were going to have two people come in and actually have sex for us, to show us. That’s what I thought. I didn’t know! I was like, “Are these going to be actual adults having sex?”


9. What’s the pettiest hill you’re willing to die on?

IM: People are going to judge me for this… Soda is better flat.

AVC: What?

IM: I just genuinely think soda is better flat. I don’t drink soda a lot, but occasionally I’ll have a craving for a root beer or something, and I will open a root beer and put it in the fridge and come back the next day.

That is how I drink soda, and I think it’s better. And it’s not that I don’t like carbonation, because I actually think that carbonated water is better than flat water. I think maybe it has to do with the fact that when I was younger, I didn’t like carbonation, so if we were having a treat, my parents would give me a little bit of flat soda in a root beer float. So maybe it’s a nostalgia thing, but I genuinely think that flat soda is better.


10. What pop culture or art do you turn to when you’ve had a bad day?

IM: I’m really into Abby Jame. She makes these incredible drawings—they’re kind of like comics. But I find her drawings super comforting, they’re really cool. And so her Instagram is honestly really comforting to me.

Also, when I’m in a really bad mood, I really like reading old books. Dickens, George Eliot, a lot of Jane Austin. I just ordered The Age Of Innocence to read during the pandemic time. I find old society drama really comforting, BBC dramas, things like that. There are a lot of movies and things that I watch over and over and over again, because I find often watching things that are familiar is really comforting to me. Something where I know everything that’s going to happen can be really soothing.


11. If you could find out the day you’re going to die, would you?

IM: Mmm, I don’t think so.

AVC: Why not?

IM: I don’t think I would want to know the date I was going to die because I spend a lot of time trying to put my life into perspective and remind myself that, you know, I could die at any point. It’s important to focus on the things that bring you joy, and to live in the present. That’s a huge thing that I’m working on anyway. And I think that knowing the day I was going to die would either postpone that work, if the date was really late, or make me panic if the date was really early. And that would not be productive.

Also, there’s something very human about not knowing when we’re going to die. And this might sound weird, but I kind of like participating in the things that connect all of us. Uncertainty about death is something that every single human being has in common, and I wouldn’t want to be the only one that knows.


Bonus 12th question from Greg Proops: What object in your life can you not live without? 

IM: If my food and water were taken care of and I genuinely had no other objects except for the thing that I’m choosing right now, I would choose toothpaste. And I know that sounds weird, but there is nothing more annoying than the feeling of not having brushed your teeth. It drives me insane. I just did some [medical] tests where I had to fast, and they said, “Don’t even brush your teeth. Don’t even put liquid in your mouth before you do this test.” And so I spent the entire morning having not brushed my teeth, and that feeling drives me insane.

To be honest, I don’t really have any particular object that I feel like I would die if I didn’t have it. But I genuinely feel like if I were stranded on an island and I had nothing, I would want toothpaste just for my psychological health.

AVC: And what would you like to ask the next person we interview?

IM: If you could wake up and be fluent in one language other than the one(s) you already speak, what would it be and why?

AVC: That’s a good one. Which one would you pick?

IM: Oh gosh, I think I would choose Japanese. I have read a lot of Japanese books in translation, and I would really love to be able to read them in the original.

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