ABOVE: JASON MULGREW. IMAGE COURTESY OF NICOLE GODDARD
Jason Mulgrew is an expert at playing awkward. In his book 236 Pounds of Class Vice President: A Memoir of Teenage Insecurity, Obesity, and Virginity (Harper Perennial), he chronicles his hilariously dorky childhood. We've all been there, yet Mulgrew adds a caustic edge. From the experience of being a broke boy transferred to a rich Philadelphia prep school, to his hard-drinking family, Mulgrew describes a world fraught with feeling, yet also funny. In high school, he turns class clown into class act—diving into richer friends' swimming pools without forgetting his blue-collar upbringing and chubby body through his dumbly privileged pals' eyes. A perennial outsider, he proves that laughing hardest and loudest at yourself is the road to redemption. We spoke with Mulgrew about high school, money, and the lessons he has for his newborn child.
ROYAL YOUNG: Let's talk about feeling out of place without money.
JASON MULGREW: What a pick-me-up. That was part of the culture shock. But the other side of the coin was these people, their parents don't curse in front of them, and it's certainly a different environment. I remember one time—where I grew up, we all knew each other's parents by their first name—and I met a friend's dad and I said, "Oh, you must be Joe." And he said, "Call me Mister."
YOUNG: It's also harder when you're a kid. When you're an adult in a room full of rich people, you can believe in family, love, true connection. But when you're a kid, you're so blinded by it.
MULGREW: Oh totally. Freshman year, going to my friend's house, they were rich. And I'm not saying they owned horses, but still going where they had a basketball court and a freaking pool and property. I didn't even have a backyard. It's an alley I don't go down, because there are strange perverts in the yard.
YOUNG: I can completely relate to being the poor kid at the party.
MULGREW: It became—I don't want to use the term weapon in my arsenal because that is cliché, but it helped me get through. Making fun of myself was like, I'm already nerdy, and I'm a poor kid.
YOUNG: Let's count up the awful things about you. You were fat, nerdy, poor, and horribly bored.
MULGREW: Yes, yes.
YOUNG: So what got you to take the power back into your court, take your weaknesses and mine them for comedic potential?
MULGREW: It has to be the way that I grew up. Coming from a big, loud, Irish Catholic family, everybody was such a ball-buster, and you got points for being loud and funny. It was me trying to stand out against the din of the drinking and laughing and uncles and all that stuff. Before I realized I had faults, I was already joking about it, to get attention. By the time I went to high school, I had a pretty practiced routine down.
YOUNG: You must have been pretty good at it.
MULGREW: The first rule of PR is to get out in front of the story, and I think I was practicing that. It was also a weapon. I was also fortunate, despite being fat and nerdy, that I was never bullied. I could jump out in front, I was like, "Before you call me fat, do you have any extra mayonnaise?"
YOUNG: [laughs] I do love mayonnaise.
MULGREW: It's wonderful.
YOUNG: I once just dipped potato chips in mayonnaise, and it was so good.
MULGREW: I'm near a pub that has fries with garlic mayonnaise, and after a few drinks, I asked to buy the motherload. Name your price. Write it down on a napkin. Slide it over.
YOUNG: Were there ways that growing up around hard drinkers and smokers changed you?
MULGREW: I didn't get drunk until college. As much as I could be self-deprecating, I took a lot of pride in my nerdship. It made me be like, "Oh okay, there is uncle Joey peeing next to a car in the middle of the day." I love that. This is my family, but at the same time, I'm going to try to persevere and be straight-edge. Then the first time I got drunk, I was a freshman in college, and then I got laid for the first time three months later. And I was like, I can't fucking believe I'm late to this party. If they had told me I could have sex after having a couple of drinks, then it might be a different story.
YOUNG: Absolutely. That's great. I grew up in a very teetotaler family, and I was getting drunk very early on.
MULGREW: So that made you want to drink?
MULGREW: See, my parents wouldn't have given a shit if I drank, so I didn't.
YOUNG: Which is so cool. That makes me feel like I can drink a ton around my children, when I have them, and it will make them not want to be alcoholics.
MULGREW: Yes, there you go! My wife is actually due four days from now. Maybe I can put that into practice. I had friends that would come home drunk and fistfight with their dads. Just be smart about it.
YOUNG: Is acceptance still important for you?
MULGREW: I had a need for it back when I was in high school and college, when I was younger. But now, being a grown-ass man and having done all that, it's less important for me. I'm very content going somewhere quiet with my friends or my wife. I don't crave that sort of acceptance or attention as much as I used to.
YOUNG: What changed for you? Was it having a family of your own and a more secure place in the world?
MULGREW: I think so. I think you just get to a certain age where things like that don't matter to you anymore. If you're comfortable with yourself and surrounded by people you love and who love you, you're all good. Don't get me wrong, I will still dance for nickels in front of a crowd. I love doing readings. But it's nothing like it was when I was 13 and overweight and going to this private prep school.
YOUNG: That's good. Thank God we have people who never reach that place. There would be no reality television without them.
MULGREW: Exactly. I'm more boring now, but what are you gonna do?
236 POUNDS OF CLASS VICE PRESIDENT IS OUT NOW.