Saturday Lunch Keynote | Mayim Bialik and Lucy McBath


Speakers: Samantha Skey and Mayim Bialik

Samantha: Everyone's excited to hear from you, especially about Grok Nation. It's a year old, a fully loaded website. What motivated you to create it?

Mayim: I don't want to say I'm a reluctant creator, but honestly, it was scary. I don't think of myself as a celebrity. I'm a mom and a scientist. I was writing for Kveller. I'd been writing for them for years, and I learned through them to not be afraid to tell the truth, especially about being a woman and a mom -- and a frustrated one at that. I found that there were more things I wanted to talk about. Starting my own site gave me the possibility of doing more, pulling in other writers. My plan was to create Grok to eventually serve as a charity platform: collecting thoughts, not things. We don't talk about all the products I use. We're different from a lot of celebrity sites. We're a three-woman organization, and I have a friend who's my brand consultant. We are writing what we hope are thoughtful articles that people will really think about.

Samantha: You have powerful contributors. A lot is written by you, but others, too. How do you find people?

Mayim: If I had a lot of celeb friends, I'd ask them, but I don't. But I don't want to collect celebs for you to read. But Ricki Lake just wrote something great. Then Avital Nathman (Mama Festo) is writing, and honestly, we have a broad reach and have started taking submissions. We pore over them one by one. It's really us. We get a lot of new writers, which I love. We get women who have never written before. We feel like a lot of other shinier, sparklier sites have too many rules. When we first started, we were asked what our demographic was. I said I think about so many things. I don't have to pick. I don't have to choose between celebrity site, fashion site, etc. This is just who I am.

Samantha: So how has Grok evolved so far?

Mayim: I was shocked that we're already at a year. I don't pay attention to stats because that's not where my brain lives. I did those in grad school! Some people on our team are trying to track what people like. I posted a piece about incest. If this gets one like from one person that needed to read it, then that's all I need. And it got much more than one like! When we decide about our content, we want it to inspire. It is exhausting to write lots of blog posts. We do have content from Kveller we can repurpose. We've added contributors and have added merchandising, but that's not a huge venture. It's enjoyable because it helps create community. I'm starting my first charity for National Alliance for Mental Illness. Rolling out our version of a larger charity campaign. Those charity things are an opportunity to educate young readers and writers. We're still growing, and I've been told our site could use some "lightening up" because we're a little serious. I haven't known how to do that since I was about six years old. I have also started doing some YouTube videos.

Samantha: How can we get more Mayim to people that would benefit from her?

Mayim: Grok is a good model and appeals to me because they are geeks. For the videos, we take the most interesting topics. A wall of nerdy tchotchkes sits behind me, and I learned to put on my own false eyelashes. I wear geeky t-shirts, and it's pretty much me. The Shopping for Passover video with my children was shot with an iPhone in the supermarket. Super simple!

Samantha: Back to Grok's long term consideration, would you be interested in monetizing with brands?

Mayim: I contemplate it a lot. It was a big conversation at first. I feel fortunate that making money doesn't have to be the focus of the site. For me, I wanted to let the site evolve as a thoughtful, cerebral place for ideas to live before I started thinking about that. No disrespect to those who do that. But, for me, it always feels weird to consider placing money where I wouldn't normally place it on my site. I can honestly say I don't know what's going to happen. People get upset when you post ads, so I'm careful about that. I'm a crunchy, hippy granola mom, so what I'm interested in is... homemade sanitary napkins. But that's not what sells ad space. There are some exceptions. I even use a Droid. No one knows what to do with me!

Samantha: Many bloggers draw a hard line between working with brands for money and reach, etc. while also maintaining their authenticity.

Mayim: I don't get paid to post certain stuff. I don't want to live my life like that – I didn't even know you could have 78 million followers like Kim Kardashian. Many of you think I'm the most fantastic person, but they go for the shinier lady. I went from being an awkward child to being an awkward teen to an awkward adult. My mom says, "Why can't you be the face of Louis Vuitton?" I should keep a list of the people my mom says #prettierthan.

Samantha: Many here might not know what Grok means. Can you explain it?

Mayim: It's from Stranger in a Strange Land, a sci-fi novel written in the 60s. It means to understand something on a very deep level.

Smanatha: The audience knows you well. You're a scientist, and it's a big part of your material, etc. But STEM advocacy – why is it important for young people who aren't typically recruited?

Mayim: Some of the fastest growing fields and opportunities are those where women are typically underrepresented. And there are interesting reasons for that. I love being a public face and the idea is to NOT to make science sexy because a feminist in science rubs me the wrong way. Science is for everyone, particularly for girls to see a female face on STEM fields is important. One of the most important things is to show them the people who LIVE it. Don't just tell them they can be a scientist, too. You have to show them the faces of women who are scientists. I get to meet others who dedicate their lives to this. Those are the inspiring women breaking down barriers. It's amazing to be part of that.

Samantha: Jumping to the geek thing... science. It's amazing you play Amy on Big Bang because that character is so awesome. How did that happen? How did that character advance?

Mayim: I was on Blossom from 14-19 years old, then took time off to get my PhD and had kids. My life as a scientist looked like teaching. Then I returned to acting because I was out of health insurance. But I'd never acted as an adult. When I auditioned for The Big Bang, I thought it was a game show. My manager was like, "Why do I represent you? You don't know anything?" (LOL) I was cast in season three. I became a regular in season four. Many of our writers are smart and are also in the science field. It's a happy coincidence. All the other actors on our show are just normal actors. She's the only one who knows what everyone's minds mean.

Samantha: How are you different from Amy?

Mayim: I have people tell me what to wear. Amy is based on a couple female professors in my life, and there's a church-lady quality to her. There are things that are similar in terms of her social awkwardness and her logical/rational brain. I'm definitely a socially awkward person. I was a late bloomer, and I really enjoyed depicting that on the show.

Samantha: Why do you think the show resonates so much? The heroes are different.

Mayim: Our show is about how the other half lives, about underdogs. We don't talk about changing the characters. Our show is about people who are different. Even the most attractive among us know that. Like, "This is what it feels like to be left out and to try and make it work anyway."

Samantha: Lots of us identify with that, with not fitting in, etc. Would you play a character you didn't like?

Mayim: Yes. As an actor, the answer has to be yes. Part of pretending to be someone else is about finding something that is accessible. I was told as a writing exercise once to write as someone I disagreed with. Because I'm a character actress, because of my voice, the way I look and am, I'm typically given quirky or unusual characters.

Samantha: It seems like all these different things weave together into a more macro theory or some kind of meaning you've been able to derive and express? Is that fair?

Mayim: Yes. I've been working with my assistant, Todd, for about nine months now. He said when he found out about working with me, he did some research, and he was excited because he heard I'm a good person. It didn't occur to me that the things I do become my reputation and who I am. It is a source of special-ness for me. Three of my four grandparents were immigrants. My parents were born during the war, and it was a mess. I was raised like a poor kid; I lived in a rented house with one bathroom and we never went out to eat. There are people with it far worse than me.

Life is amazing where it can take you. I was just a kid who liked being in school plays, being on stage. When you get to be an actor as a kid and... where does all this lead? I wasn't put on this earth to win an Emmy. What are we all here for? What does it mean to have a platform? What does it mean to be a positive role model? What does it mean when young girls look at me and think they can be a scientist? My purpose isn't to look pretty on a carpet or put on false lashes, but to be able to spread valuable information. I'm a known liberal but social conservative. I don't need or want everyone to be like me. I try to be consistent about that. In all seriousness, we have an opportunity because of the internet. The world gets really really big, and really really small as time goes on. Everyone has a purpose here. Everything we struggle through is not so I can hold up a trophy. I wake up every morning thinking about my kids. Do they need to eat? How long have I been on my phone? How many people have I touched? We have a group of people here... we know how to prioritize. We get things done. We have a group of women, we run a machine, and we're always looking for charity opportunities. These are the people I choose to surround myself with.

Samantha: Your work feels authentic. I think it's a unique position you're in.

Mayim: We have a social media lady trying to help me come into the 21st century. There was a No Makeup Day. Every day for me is No Makeup Day! It was so much fun. I don't need a filter. I always look like that. It's important when you talk about authenticity. I do my things, I do my life, I share where I think it's appropriate. But it's not my job to vomit all the things in my head all over you.

Samantha: In your own home, you are raising two sons. It's hard, messy, fun. How do you raise good boys? I'm using "good" to indicate they're feminists...

Mayim: To me, raising kids is an opportunity for a feminist experience. The feminist movement has been powered by women -- exploring all the inequalities, injustices we see, POC, different gender identities, etc. Women empowering people regardless of race, gender, sexuality etc. IS feminism. It's important to point out to my kids the people who work in hotels, restaurants, and the places we go. It's important to address those people. Be sensitive to race, class, and gender. Their dad is a feminist. It means exploring all the confusing things we see in the media. It's funny because I posted for Kveller when my son saw an Ariana Grande billboard with her in her underwear. My son asked, "Why is she in her underwear?" That's how pervasive it is. A child KNOWS. My kid said, "If she's a singer, why is she in her underwear?" I do have those conversations with my kids. I don't want them to grow up afraid of women's bodies. Their dad and I are careful and protective about what they watch. I don't have a tv, they don't see ads, but we do have conversations. What does it mean when we're told boys don't cry? I want to raise boys freely crying at the drop of a hat. Male and female brains are different. Sometimes they don't want to talk.

Samantha: Any parenting failures you would like to share? We are embracing and talking about #fails that lead to success because that makes us far less fearful. Any stories?

Mayim: So many we could be here all day! It's interesting because I have a lot of amazing moments with my kids when I feel confident. I also have really bad moments, and the experience of being a parent -- especially if you are a professional woman out in the world -- a lot of conflict arises. We had an experience that was horrible recently. It's bad, but it's also good. It could've been worse. No one got hit!

I was driving back from visiting my ex-mother-in-law, driving down the 5 freeway. There were not a lot of places to eat. I saw a Baja Fresh. Beans and rice in a tortilla means happy kids. Burritos seemed like a great idea. It turned out it was near the state prison. There was a very urban quality to this Baja Fresh, to the market attached to it. I grew up in LA, so I have no problem with that. But my kids are more cloistered. A lot of things went wrong that led to my bad moment. A TV screen was on, COPS was on, and there was a very graphic image. I did not know my son was seeing it until I saw his face fall. The scene was bloody and horrible. Everything was going wrong! I speak Spanish, so I ordered in Spanish. I should've given my kids a heads up. All signs were leading toward them NOT eating the burritos even though they eat the same thing all the time. So we sit down. They will not eat. They look nauseous. My mama retrospective brain was telling me, "We need to eat, get back on the road, you better eat your burritos!" I didn't think about the image my son saw being enough to turn his stomach. Instead, I was like, "Do you only eat burritos in white suburban Baja Fresh?"

I sat there, ate mine and said "THIS IS DELICIOUS." Hashtag OVER! They got a granola bar, everything was fine. But my
learning moment happened once my blood pressure came down. When you get ragey, it's a neurological thing. It taught me to always say you're sorry. It's never too late. I said, "It was wrong of mama to say that thing about white suburban Baja Fresh. There was a lot going on, and I was speaking Spanish. It was a lot of different stuff for you to deal with." Otherwise you hold in and feel more entitled to be lenient. But I can apologize.

Samantha: We love the idea of the moments of fail, rage, behaving badly instead of jumping on the defensive. Instead you can just put it out there and whoops! No big deal. Now onto your last few books. I've learned so much about veganism, parenting, etc. What will you fall on next?

Mayim: I was hoping the contract would be finalized so I could announce it here, but it's not. I get asked to put my face on a lot of things. I've waited and held out for what felt like a great way to use these parts of my brain. I am working on a book targeted for girls.