Travels, Trysts, and Tribulations: Comedian Kristen Van Nest’s Debut Memoir Has It All

Books Features Kristen Van Nest
Travels, Trysts, and Tribulations: Comedian Kristen Van Nest’s Debut Memoir Has It All

When she travels, comedian and author Kristen Van Nest always travels for pleasure—even when she means business. 

In her debut memoir, Where to Nest, Van Nest describes scraping together funds for far-flung ventures which include interviewing the government in Luxembourg on a Fulbright Scholarship, falling down a mountain in Switzerland because of an overzealous date, avoiding a threesome in Germany with her love interest’s sister and a stranger, accidentally visiting Thailand during a government coup, and much more. After spending three years in China, where she worked for a wine importer and cut her teeth doing stand-up, Van Nest returned to the U.S., moved to Los Angeles, and transitioned into comedy, acting, and writing.

On the publication day of Where to Nest, Kristen was kind enough to set away some time to answer a few questions for Paste.

Paste Magazine: When scheduling this [interview], I completely forgot today is your pub day!

Kristen Van Nest: I was like, “Let’s go. I’m on book duty all day—let’s just do it!”

Paste: So, how’s the pub day going?

Van Nest: It’s a very exciting time, and it just feels really good to have so many like amazing supportive people.The writing process is so personal and private—you’re just by yourself with all of these moments in your life that you’re reliving, some wonderful, some horrible, and it’s like really nice to finally be at the end of the tunnel. It feels kind of like my baby. I’ve been working on this for, let’s see, I wrote the proposal four years ago, at the beginning of COVID. So it’s really a long process and now my baby’s going to college. And I have to let it go out into the world and discover its own way, which is so exciting and terrifying at the same time.

Paste: I wanted to touch on what you said about “some good moments or bad.” I really liked how in this memoir, your attitude throughout the whole thing is really positive, even in all of these stressful situations during really pivotal, worldwide events. And you’re like, “Well, this is kind of shitty, but we’re doing the best we can!” Were you conscious of that while you were writing?

Van Nest: Yeah, it was really fascinating writing it because you’re really sitting in pivotal moments in your life again—and that is a very strange experience. For the more positive chapters, it was an absolute delight—it was like opening up a piece of candy and just revisiting this absolutely fun, exciting moment. For the more difficult chapters….revising a book takes so many rounds of edits. So, you know, they say being tortured in Hell is experiencing the same thing over and over again. I’d say, for some of the darker chapters, it definitely felt like that. 

When I thought about what I wanted the book to be and what I wanted to include in the book—the world is really dark right now, so I wanted the book to really be something that’s uplifting and escapism from the struggles of every day. So that was very much my intention. But I wanted to have one or two very serious chapters in there because I very much believe in “a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.” Personally, I don’t have the emotional capacity to read an entire sad book right now. The world is so sad. So I wanted the book to be uplifting, uplifting and joyful and fun for people to escape from that, but I also wanted to talk about some important things that have happened to me that usually people don’t feel comfortable talking about.

Paste: I also noticed, similar to the memoirist Elissa Bassist whom Paste has interviewed before, you had a bunch of footnotes in [your memoir] citing your sources. You had one that said women-owned businesses performed three times better than the S&P 500—gentlemen, take note. So, what led you to including those?

Van Nest: I’m a Fulbright Scholar—I come from an academic background. So, when writing memoir, it’s based on both: When writing nonfiction, it’s based on data. When writing memoir, it’s based on memory. Your memory is not always 100% accurate. It changes over time. But for me, I wanted to make sure that if I am making statements, they are accurate or proof-driven. 

In the past, I worked on a book called Innovating Women: The Changing Face of Technology, and while working on that book—I was researching editorial director—I interviewed over 300 female founders and women in STEM. Listening to all of those stories was wild. This was pre-Me Too, but I also don’t think much has changed since Me Too. Me Too has made people more aware of what’s appropriate and not appropriate, but that doesn’t mean the psychological and psychographic views behind that acknowledgement aren’t there. This book talks a lot about how people think they’re more progressive than they are. As we look at women’s issues and women’s rights, it’s like, “Oh, well, women are fine now.” And it’s like, “Are they?” I don’t think that’s actually true if you look at the numbers.

Paste: Yeah, there’s almost been a clapback since Me Too.

Van Nest: Yeah, I had a video go viral on Instagram that was about how we always hear Gen Z being progressive, but actually Gen Z women are significantly more progressive, and Gen Z men are more conservative than Boomers. So, you have this sudden widening gap in the philosophy of women’s roles. And when we think about dating, when we think about the workplace, when we think about how that reverberates outward as they get older, this is going to become a bigger and bigger problem in our country. That’s just around like gender identity alone.

Paste: [Your memoir] wasn’t only about feminism and the “battle of the sexes.” In another chapter about Thailand, you’re there during a government coup—I believe you even had a line saying, “There’s a government coup but all the drama I’m experiencing is me and my old friend, and our new positions in life.” Do you mind speaking a bit about how this book isn’t just talking about global affairs but navigating relationships that you have with people back home and abroad?

Van Nest: We always hear about romantic breakups. But friend breakups can oftentimes be more debilitating than breaking up with a romantic partner. I wanted to write about that experience of being best friends with someone and then realizing you are both changing and going in different directions. And I personally view myself as the villain in that chapter because I was being difficult, and I wasn’t going with the flow with my host. Sometimes, as you grow older, you just realize that you’re not the same person anymore. Friendship breakups are difficult to go through.

If you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with, you start changing. In this case, I was changing because I had a new five people I was spending all my time with in Shanghai, and she was discovering who her new people were. When you decide to live abroad, at first you’re like, “Oh my god, this is so amazing.” And then you get into your apartment and you’re like, “Wow, I know no one here.” Suddenly, you don’t have a support network. It really forces you to grow as a person. And so she was going through that, and I was going through that because I had only moved to Shanghai a couple months earlier. Both of us were like, “We’re in this new place. We don’t know anything. We don’t know anyone. Who are we now?” And who we [each] were was going in opposite directions.

Paste: That was another theme throughout the memoir—finding community and networking with new groups of people with really different backgrounds—like your old friend you met up with in Nairobi saying you were really good at networking. Would you say your ability to form relationships and find community in these different spaces has helped you develop and grow both professionally and as a person?

Van Nest: Absolutely. I felt very out of place in my hometown, just because my income situation was different than all my friends. When we’re growing up, we’re told like you have to go to college, you have to get a good job, you have to be loyal to that company. And if you don’t follow the rules, something terrible is gonna happen to you. 

But when I went abroad, I was like, “Oh, these people follow none of the rules that I was told and they have an amazing life.” Seeing that over and over again made me realize how important it was to ignore the advice of people who haven’t done what I want to do. It instilled in me the view of, “Mind your business, and if they’re not hurting anyone, why does it matter if they live differently than you?” I became someone who was very open and non judgmental when meeting people. 

Paste: When you move to Koreatown in L.A. [at the end of the memoir], you’re doing comedy and applying like all these lessons you learned before—it’s not explicitly mentioned, but is this when you were on The Chunky Zeta and Buzzfeed?

Van Nest:  I started doing a lot of acting and performing—I was in commercials, a show on Amazon. I loved performing—I love doing it. Right now, I’m kind of focused on writing for obvious reasons. [laughs] But for me, coming to L.A. is fascinating because this industry is completely nonlinear in how you have success. There’s no playbook.

Paste: So, what can we expect next from Kristen Van Nest?

Van Nest: My publisher actually bought two books. So, I’m working on book two right now called Get Paid to Do What You Love: Turn Your Side Hustle into your Main Hustle, which is about starting your own business. I want to focus on working smarter to live better. ‘How do you get more out of the life you’re given?’ Time is so precious—that is the one thing we will never be able to control. And with my social [media], I’m making funny videos that are about traveling, enjoying travel, and traveling better, but also living better—in a way that’s right for you.

Kristen Van Nest’s memoir Where to Nest is available wherever books are sold.

Brooke Knisley is a freelance journalist and comedy writer. She has balance issues. Let her harass you on Twitter @BrookeKnisley.

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