Kurt Vonnegut Radio
Kurt Vonnegut Radio with Gabe Hudson
Why Alex Dobrenko can't stop telling the truth

Why Alex Dobrenko can't stop telling the truth

Gabe Hudson interviews the writer about how he uses techniques from improv, stand-up comedy, and acting to write his humorous and vulnerable essays on Substack
Alex Dobrenko / Photo: Alex Dobrenko

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Hey People,

Welcome to Kurt Vonnegut Radio #30. Today I’m super excited because we've gone an amazing writer on the show,

, who writes the Substack, . Alex writes about his life as a new father and being a sorta hopeful Millennial in a dying empire. His work is hilarious, but it’s also shot through with real grace and vulnerability. In Vonnegutspeak, his writing is nice nice very nice.

On the page, Alex’s heart is frequently in conflict with itself. Thus the title of his Substack, Both Are True. Alex’s conflicted heart is the engine that drives his stories. He desperately wants to be a good father, a good husband, a good friend, and he’s really really trying: but let’s just say it’s a journey. He’s like a millennial David Sedaris, or Larry David.

Before we get into my convo with the fabulous Alex Dobrenko, some quick announcements:

  • New Regular Publishing Schedule: we’ll publish new KVR episode every Tuesday morning. Future guests: Maggie Smith, Dave Eggers, Mike Snoden, A.M. Homes + more

I want to thank our newest paid subscribers to Kurt Vonnegut Radio, because the paid subscribers let me buy groceries. These people are my heroes:

, , , You all are my ride or die peeps.

ALSO: I want thank our newest Founding Member subscriber,

. After quick Google search, I learned Julia Whitehead is a former Marine and the founder and CEO of the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library in Indianapolis. (I’m a former Marine and the humble founder of Kurt Vonnegut Radio. So that practically makes us sister and brother.)

The Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library

I haven’t corresponded with with Julia Whitehead, but I’ve known about the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library forever. (I was born in Muncie, Indiana.) The Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library’s mission is to champion the legacy of Kurt Vonnegut and the values of free expression and common decency.

Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library

Kurt Vonnegut wrote some of the most banned books in America. Julia Whitehead and her colleagues at the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library are on the front lines of the book banning battles across America. THIS is truly the lord’s work. And we at Kurt Vonnegut Radio, humbly salute you Julia Whitehead. And we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Now let’s dive into my interview with the amazing Alex Dobrenko.

What writing on Substack has in common with stand-up comedy

Alex: I decided, What if I just do stand-up on Substack? And I started and something clicked, Oh, I'm not censoring nearly as much as I used to. Then I looked at a lot of my older standup that I had written. And I was like, Oh no, that was an essay. I've been doing this. I just didn't know it. It's all there already.

Gabe: What I love about standup is you have to listen to the audience. Because they tell you who you are. I do think there's something special about writing on Substack. Because we get the quick response and we can engage with readers.

Alex: You need feedback as a comedian. These people are really reading it. And they gave me the confidence to do more.

On using using improv rules for writing

Alex: It is the “yes, and” thing of improv. I just started saying “yes, and” to a lot more of what came out onto the page. I've always been such a critic of my own stuff. And so the hardest work for me is to minimize the gap between when I have an idea and when I put it out there.

On being paid for your writing on Substack

Alex: I'm thinking a lot about paid strategy. Because this is my job this is how I make money. And people do it. People on Substack make a living.

Gabe: They really do. I'm still so new at this when people sign up for a paid subscription…I might have to edit this out. But I'm like, Damn, that was cool. Didn’t see that coming.

Alex: Why would you edit that?

Gabe: No. You're right. It incentivizes you to work harder.

Alex recommends 3 writers on Substack

Alex: The first is

who writes . She is just so funny. It's gonzo reporting on New York. But with a really good heart.

The second is

. He writes . We both exist in the personal humorous memoir universe. I was like, Oh man I'm so jealous of how good he is.

The last one is

. So she writes . And it's interviews with writers. I just love her writing. I think she was friends with Ram Dass. I'm just like, Wait, what? Jane, you're very fucking cool.

Then probably my favorite writer on Substack,

. She writes and . That's the epitome of comedy. Pathos.

*Thanks for questions:

Hi, I’m Gabe Hudson, and this is Kurt Vonnegut Radio, my Substack. It’s free and for the people, but it’s also how I buy groceries. So please consider upgrading to a paid subscription: just $5/month or $50/year. You can also receive my eternal love by becoming a Lifetime Member at $150.

Show Notes

Subscribe to

’s Substack

Read Alex’s i think my son hates me

Read Alex’s Beautiful Disasters

Read Alex’s First to die

Follow Alex on Twitter and Instagram

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