But even if you’ve never chuckled at the “Alot”—an imaginary creature that appears whenever someone fails to acknowledge the space between “a” and “lot”—or retweeted her revised pain chart for hospital emergency rooms (it goes up to “Blood is going to explode out of my face at any moment”), you’ve probably heard some variation on this: “Clean ALL the things!”
It comes from a cartoon panel in Brosh’s 2010 post called, “This Is Why I’ll Never Be an Adult.” The 28-year-old’s long-suffering avatar—a stick figure in a pink dress with a blond shock of hair jutting out of its head like a permanently attached party hat—shouts the line as she defiantly raises a broom and commits to being a “real adult” (spoiler: She fails). That panel took on a life of its own, reposted, altered and satirized all over the social Web, until finally breaking free of the digital world and just becoming something people say in real life. “Buy ALL the things!” “Drink ALL the beer!”
Brosh says this happens to her a lot.
“It’s so weird. It’s so weird,” she says over the phone. “Sometimes I’ll hear people use it in real life. I’ll meet somebody and they’ll say that. They don’t know that I’m me, and they’ll say this thing. I just have this quiet moment where I enjoy it to myself.”
Although her face may not be recognizable on the street, Allie Brosh is a name people know. When she started Hyperbole and a Half as a hobby four years ago, it wasn’t the most likely viral sensation. The site is like the anti-Oatmeal: a generic Blogger template, a dot-blogspot domain; and long, sporadically posted autobiographical stories peppered with drawings that look like they were done in MS Paint. There are no ads and no “buy this as a poster!” banners. She took down the site’s short-lived donation button because “it just felt weird to me.”
And yet, Brosh very rapidly developed a huge online following; her sharp wit and ability to capture complex emotions in simple mouse-drawn cartoon characters turning short anecdotes about childhood misadventures and her “slightly retarded” dog into astute short stories. “Draw-writing,” as Brosh calls it, quickly became her full-time job, and a book deal followed.
Then she all but disappeared from the Internet for two years.
In mid-2011, Brosh developed a sudden, crippling depression. Her site, pulling in 5 million hits a month, and Twitter and Facebook accounts, with hundreds of thousands of followers, plunged into radio silence, as Brosh battled her illness and attempted to finish the book. She worried that her still-blossoming career would fade into obscurity along with her, but ultimately, she says, she didn’t see much of a choice.
“I talked to my editor about it and it just came down to, I need to take a mental-health break,” she says. “I would’ve just run myself into the ground if I just kept trying to push and push and keep myself in the public eye.”
But, if anything, Brosh’s popularity grew in her absence. During this period, she wrote just two posts, which would become some of her most widely shared work. Self-deprecating humor and honesty had always been a trademark, but in “Adventures in Depression” and “Depression Part Two,” Brosh laid bare both the crushing helplessness and dark absurdity she experienced.
“I think it was sort of my way of owning it,” she says, “of taking this horrible, scary thing—the worst thing that has ever happened to me in my entire life—and sort of deconstructing it publicly; just showing how absurd it is to everyone.” There was 18 months of silence between the two posts. When Brosh dropped “Depression Part Two” last May, the Internet gave all the clicks.
Five months later, Brosh is back online and she’s posting again—albeit as irregularly as she ever did—and that book is finally being released. Hyperbole and a Half is still using a free domain, and is ad-free, save for an orange square where she’s scrawled the word “BOOK” and a smiley face.
But big publishing companies expect authors to go out on the road and promote their products, which means Brosh is finally having to put a public face to that name—and that saying.
“I’ve gone to a couple of book signings where people have come to meet me,” she says. “It’s still so strange for me to see; these people are excited to meet me because I’m me? It’s just a weird thing to adjust to.”
GO: Allie Brosh reads at Powell’s City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St., on Saturday, Nov. 2. 4 pm. Free.