New York Times Bestselling Author Jennette McCurdy Shares Struggles Behind Success
Photo by Stephanie S. Cordle
Jennette McCurdy did not come to the University of Maryland to sugarcoat the trauma of her youth. Before a packed audience last night in the Stamp Student Union’s Grand Ballroom, the former co-star of Nickelodeon hit “iCarly” said frankly, “When I turned 18, I thought, ‘Reality looks like this? It’s hideous and terrifying.’”
Her honesty and dark humor were exactly what drew students to this year’s Back to School Lecture, sponsored by Student Entertainment Events (SEE), where she was promoting her memoir, “I’m Glad My Mom Died,” now No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list.
The book chronicles McCurdy’s unwilling journey as a child actor, pushed into the industry when she was 6 years old by her abusive mother. Pressured to please her stage mom, she developed eating disorders and alcohol and drug addictions and wasn’t able to confront her problems until years after her mom died of breast cancer in 2013.
For students who were teens and tweens when they watched her during the height of her TV career on “iCarly” (2007-12) and spinoff “Sam and Cat” (2013-14), it was their first opportunity to understand the “real” McCurdy behind the chipper character she played for so many years. She read an excerpt from her book, then answered SEE and audience questions.
On exploring pain with humor
“Life is never just funny or just serious,” McCurdy said. But she sought to make her book humorous, despite tackling dark topics, to better tell her story and connect with broader audiences. “I’m so grateful to see it resonating with people,” she said. “It makes me feel like it was all worth something.”
On addressing parental abuse
McCurdy decided to write about her mother after realizing most portrayals of abuse were stereotypical: fathers beating their kids. Her mother’s abuse came by way of constant demands to perform, control of her diet and appearance, as well as name-calling and requests for money.
“Abuse has a lot of shapes,” said McCurdy, who sought to open up new discussions about the taboo topic.
On the benefits of therapy
When McCurdy said she was in therapy for six years before writing the book, she got a huge cheer from the audience. She had to explore the “murky, ugly” trauma privately before writing about it, she said. “Then I could focus on making the book funny.”
On how to protect child actors
Though she avoided responding directly to whether she believed child acting could ever be truly ethical, McCurdy laid out two ways to protect kids in Hollywood. She said that having a therapist on set to help kids “be themselves” was key, because she couldn’t always distinguish between herself and Sam, her wisecracking, food-obsessed character, when she was young. She also said that adding a person whose sole job was looking out for the well-being of the child actor could help catch the type of abuse she faced.
On being authentic
“Bet on yourself,” McCurdy told the audience. For too many years, she couldn’t think about her own goals because her life was consumed by what her mom—who dreamed of fame and success—wanted. She also felt whiplash from playing sunny roles on TV, and going home to the darkness that faced her there. Now, years after quitting acting, McCurdy is pursuing directing, writing and podcasting, and feeling fulfilled.
“I hope you become successful in the thing you want the first time around,” she said to the students.
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