The Internet features more than its share of negativity and snark—sometimes you’ve just gotta vent. But there’s plenty of room for love, too. With Fan Up, we ask pop-culture people we admire to tell us about something they really, really like.
The fan: A writer for Parks And Recreation and author of the new parody textbook Science…For Her!, Megan Amram rose to relative fame on Twitter, where she’s responsible for some of the most off-color and left-field comments. The comedian has also written for the Academy Awards and is friendly enough with Nick Offerman to get him to appear all sweaty and greased up in her book trailer. Amram is also a massive fan of the Cheesecake Factory, something The A.V. Club had to ask her about.
The A.V. Club: What do you like so much about the Cheesecake Factory?
Megan Amram: I have so many reasons, I’m going to have to bullet point them in my head. On a very visceral level, I love malls, because there’s something very comforting about being anonymous in a sea of human bodies. There’s something that’s always comforting to me about physically being in a packed restaurant or mall, just because everyone else is there, trying to have a good time. And I really love the faux happiness of certain malls—Disneyland is the perfect example of fake prescribed happiness. It is telling you, “We are a clean nice place. You are going to have a good time.” I feel like malls and the Cheesecake Factory are like autistic hug machines, where they’re just forcing you to feel good and relaxed.
AVC: New malls all look like those like little towns, too.
MA: I truly wish I could walk you around the Americana. It’s in Glendale, near Los Angeles. It’s my favorite place—definitely in Los Angeles, and maybe the whole world. It’s looks like Main Street, USA, in Disneyland. A lot of the buildings have these cutesy facades that look like just any old American town and there’s a big dancing fountain and there’s a trolley that goes from the Cheesecake Factory to Nordstrom—the only two places that I ever need to go. It’s been a dream of mine to be the Americana’s resident hobo that rides the rails of the trolley and carves hobo signs into the kiosks.
But that’s what’s so crazy to me. If you have a bad trip at a mall, it means you’re going to interpret it as, “There’s no real culture anymore.” Everything is a chain that has been calculated to present humans with happiness. But if you just give into it, sucker, you realize how you feel like a little kid again, and it appears that someone else knows how to take care of everything. There’s just some grand master who’s saying, “It’s all going to be okay.” And for me that’s not God, that’s whoever created the Americana.
You also can live at the Americana. There are condos called the Excelsior. I think they are mostly homes that are drug trafficking sites, based on the fact that no one is ever in them. But, I so badly want to live at the Americana because I hear you can get the Cheesecake Factory delivered.
AVC: There’s a mall by my parents that’s like that, and I think that everybody who lives there is a professional athlete.
MA: Oh, that makes total sense. I’m from Portland, Oregon. And they didn’t build a Cheesecake Factory there until I was in high school. And my mom and my brother and I would go all the time and wait for an hour and we saw multiple Portland Trail Blazers there. I didn’t know this, but apparently basketball players are obsessed with the Cheesecake Factory.
If I had billions of dollars, all I would want is to make my house vaguely look like the Cheesecake Factory. Mediterranean with sponge-painted ceilings.
Anyway, I think my love of the Cheesecake Factory started as a little kid, when it was a special thing that we’d go to in Seattle or San Francisco when we’d travel. And then it came to Portland, which was huge.
I have a twin brother who might love it more than me. Anytime we visit each other, we go. We’ve been to so many different ones. The most salient feature of my brother, who is a doctor, is that for the past maybe four years, he’s been trying to eat his way through the entire Cheesecake Factory menu, which is—I don’t know—30 pages long? And he’s doing really well. He has a Google Document where he keeps a record of every food he’s eaten, what date, what location, how it tasted, other fun facts, and he gives it a star rating. It’s so crazy. And he’s not doing it for a blog or anything. He’s doing it for himself.
AVC: The Cheesecake Factory’s menu is absurdly large. It always makes me wonder about the kitchen.
MA: They’ve mastered every cuisine.
There’s this article that Atul Gawande wrote for the New Yorker a couple years ago, and it’s so good. I’ve sent it to so many people because everyone knows I’m so obsessed with this place. He basically describes the uniformness of each Cheesecake Factory in every location and really praises the Cheesecake Factory on its management over all of its franchises and says that hospitals should be more like the Cheesecake Factory. There should be very strict regulations, but there should be a lot of different specialties, and they should all be treated in the same way. It’s so interesting. It really does praise the way that the Cheesecake Factory is able to make all these different dishes but not have a lot of money lost on too much food or waste or other things restaurants have to deal with.
I’m really proud of the Cheesecake Factory for having such a good business model.
MA: I eat off the SkinnyLicious a lot. It still tastes good. My brother does not consider it canon, though.
Oh, the other thing about what he’s doing is that his self-imposed rule is that he has to eat over half of the dish for it to count as something he’s eaten. I mean, the dishes are huge. That also was very alluring to me as a child, because I was very overweight as a kid and used to just eat a whole tub of pasta with three chicken breasts and wouldn’t bat an eye. So I try not to eat so much food when I go to the Cheesecake Factory now. But there’s that part of you that’s like, “All I want to do is eat everything that’s here.”
AVC: Or you’re like, “I’ll just get this ahi carpaccio and then I’ll get some cheesecake for dessert.”
MA: Honestly, the ahi carpaccio is great.
I don’t get cheesecake every time I go. I’ve also had the diet cheesecake, and it’s pretty good. But I also went for my birthday and got Adam’s Peanut Butter Cup Fudge Ripple cheesecake, which is just cheesecake with Halloween candy in it—which is unbelievably good.
I’ve memorized most of the dishes at the Cheesecake Factory. There’s a dish called bang-bang chicken and shrimp. And there’s that song now by Ariana Grande and Jessie J. and Nicki Minaj that goes, “bang, bang, into your room.” But every time I hear it, I can only hear, “bang-bang chicken and shrimp,” and I need to somehow sell this to the Cheesecake Factory.
AVC: Maybe this is your chance. Have you tried to get sponsored by the Cheesecake Factory or have you reached out to them at all?
MA: No, I haven’t. Joe Mande, a writer and a comic who I work with, has done some very funny things on official sponsorships over the past year. He basically kept saying LaCroix sponsored him. They liked it first and then they sent him a cease and desist letter. So that was very funny.
I stayed away from Cheesecake Factory a little bit. Maybe I could get a legitimate sponsorship. I’m obviously raving about them.
AVC: Or maybe they’d just send you a $100 gift card in the mail. That’s something.
MA: My brother and I are twins, so we have the same birthday. We always try to out-joke-present each other on our birthday, and a lot of those birthday gifts end up being Cheesecake Factory related. I once got him like a gallon of ranch dressing from the Cheesecake Factory, which you can just buy. They have a lot of fun gifts up at the front. And this year for our birthday I got him a very rare item, which is a black denim jacket that says “Cheesecake Factory five-year employee” on the back. I bought it off eBay and it said you could only get that if you worked there for five years.
I’m pretty sure I’ll get married at the Cheesecake Factory, or at least they’ll cater my wedding.
AVC: You’d at least have your bachelorette party there.
MA: Yeah, I’d have a bachelorette party and go “Cheesecake hopping” and go to like four different locations.
AVC: Have you ever had anything bad at the Cheesecake Factory?
MA: I have personally never had anything bad. I think Alex, my brother, has written down a few, like some egg dish maybe, on the brunch menu, that wasn’t great.
But if you get a Glamburger, you’re going to be happy. I also think Glamburger is one of the funniest nouns. You’re a glamorous movie star ordering a macaroni and cheese Glamburger from the Cheesecake Factory. I also like that it’s called a factory—the least appealing place you could get food.
AVC: The Cheesecake Factory restaurants launched in Beverly Hills, which doesn’t seem like a good place for a factory.
MA: I’ve been to the O.G.—that stands for the “Olive Garden Cheesecake Factory.” No, if that existed, I would poop my pants.
AVC: Have you seen the menu for the original Cheesecake Factory? It’s on the website. It seems very 1978 L.A.
MA: They should offer cleanses. Like a juice cleanse, but a cheesecake cleanse. You could buy a five-day cheesecake cleanse.
Cheesecake is also not something that most people usually want very much. I don’t know, I feel like it’s a delicious dessert, but I’m never really just craving cheesecake. So it’s funny thing to have 40 of on a menu.
AVC: It’s hard to eat a whole piece of cheesecake, especially as you get older.
MA: It’s very rich. I mean, I used to get an Alfredo pasta plus a slice of cheesecake. Basically that’s a savory cheesecake and a sweet cheesecake and that’s why I was 250 pounds in high school.
AVC: But Cheesecake Factory is kind of about excess in a way. And you pay for it.
MA: I go with some friends who will shame you if you get SkinnyLicious. We’re hardcore.
Oh, so my birthday was a couple of months ago and I went, obviously, to the Cheesecake Factory with one of my friends, and I said casually that it’s been a dream of mine for years to get one of the buzzers that they give you when you put your name in to wait for a table. And to steal it and use it as a smartphone when I’m out in cool Hollywood areas. And the waiter, who was very cool, just said, “I think we’re going to make this dream come true.” And then he just gave me a buzzer. So now I own a buzzer from the Cheesecake Factory that I can use as a smartphone.
AVC: Do you actually have it in your bag?
MA: Yes. I have it in my purse, ready to whip out when ever I need a little comedy moment.
AVC: Are they the same buzzers that you get from a TGI Fridays or is there something special about the Cheesecake Factory’s?
MA: It’s like a long rectangle, but it’s a similar deal. It says “Cheesecake Factory” on it, but if you’re looking from far away, it kind of looks like an iPhone.
AVC: I’m looking at the Cheesecake Factory menu and they have this category, “specialties.” Usually when a restaurant does that, there are four things in there, but on here it’s like 25 items, and it’s all over the place. Bang-bang chicken and shrimp. Indian food. Shepherd’s pie. Fish.
MA: Cheesecake Factory is a microcosm of America. It’s inherently trashy with this sheen that makes it look really classy, or at least that it’s trying to be so. It has no real take on anything. It’s all very basic. I think it’s a microcosm of basically Las Vegas, but also America as a whole.
AVC: I think that Disney comparison was kind of good. Everything in excess and everything looks nice, but behind the scenes, who knows what’s going on? It’s a well-oiled machine.
MA: The kitsch comes from how seriously it takes itself. As someone who’s pretty obsessed with all forms of things that think they’re fancier than they are, I think about this all the time.
AVC: What else thinks it’s fancier than it is?
MA: It’s stuff like Disney. Vegas. You go to Vegas and there’s a lot of like trashy stuff, like topless shows and everything. The parts of Vegas that I like are like the Bellagio, which is a nice hotel and it’s expensive, but also it’s not classy because it’s in Vegas and there’s a casino in it and it’s telling you to go outside and watch a water fountain.
I mean that in a non-snobby way. I really genuinely love all this stuff. It’s a very suburban form of going out on the town.
AVC: It seems like a manufactured kind of classiness. They didn’t earn that classiness.
MA: The Cheesecake Factory is new money.
AVC: Cruise ships are like that, too.
MA: If the Cheesecake Factory did a cruise ship, I would give them all my money.
AVC: They used to have an outlet at Disney World, I think.
MA: I wonder if I’ve been. I went to Disney World when I was a little kid. I don’t know if I went to a Cheesecake Factory there, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I had.
AVC: The Cheesecake Factory also runs the Grand Lux cafe, which we actually have in Chicago pretty close to the office.
MA: Oh, I’ve been. I went to Vegas last year with my best girlfriend from college. We went to see Celine Dion, which—she’s a huge fan of Celine Dion and was embarrassed to tell anyone that she was going, so now I’m outing her. And we went to see Celine Dion and ate at the Grand Lux Cafe four times in two days.
AVC: Every meal? Lunch and dinner?
MA: I’m a piece of trash.
AVC: I had a friend that worked at the Grand Lux Cafe in Chicago, and it seemed like he did pretty well working there.
MA: That’s great. I want to know that they all have good jobs and that no one is mistreated in the Factory or the Cafe.
AVC: Would you want to own a Cheesecake Factory? You said you’d want to live in one.
MA: I kind of don’t want to see behind the curtain. I don’t really want to work at one or own one. I want them to just wait on me. It’s like, I don’t want to know how you do magic tricks. I’m perfectly content with just having the experience wash over me. I’m the same way about the Cheesecake Factory.
When I was in college and was having a stressful day or something, I would go by myself to the Cheesecake Factory in Boston. I still do that now. Every once in a while you just need to take a one-on-one. Just you and a piece of cheesecake, chilling out. I think it will always be a part of me.