Meeting Lena Dunham IRL
Anyone that follows me on Twitter will probably have noticed that I named this week #LENAWEEK because she was in London and took over the media world (BBC 6 music, Graham Norton Show, Grimmy’s Radio 1 show, Woman’s Hour etc). I’ve practically been a Lena spam-bot, just mouthing off about how much I adore her at any possible moment, to any one who will listen to me.
The truth of the matter is, there is no one out there right now like Lena Dunham. She is a multi-tasking dream machine who, by having the rare bravery of being totally herself, has had the power to change women’s lives. It’s difficult not to be 75% more confident in Lena’s presence. Back in 2012 when I first discovered GIRLS it very quickly became my escapism. I felt like finally I was seeing someone like myself on TV, not something unattainable or intimidating. Hannah Horvath and co were like any other group of twenty-something girls trying to figure who they were, and suddenly we could all let out a big sigh of relief. Thanks to Lena, I genuinely began to think: I am going to be OK.
Having followed each other on Twitter for a while and conversed with sporadic messages, I plucked up the courage to ask if I could phone her for an interview. She replied saying she’d love to do one IRL and that we should meet when she was in London for the tour, and I was over the moon. On Tuesday I went along to meet her at a location in Soho and all my nerves instantly vanished. She was lovely, approachable, FUNNY, inspiring. “My twitter friend Emma! I love your blog!” she said, as I died, died died on the spot. For a few moments I forgot we were in a hotel reception, I felt like I was in a friend’s living room, just chit-chatting, bouncing ideas and opinions off each other. We just chatted and chatted and I felt so happy and grateful to have spent any time with her, one on one. Despite being so famous and busy and in-demand, she had a way of making everyone around her feel like a friend, like a someone. During the interview I lost count of how many of her friends, family, other women she would praise and celebrate their achievements; it was infectious.
On Wednesday I was so excited to have met Grace Dunham (Lena’s sister), bump into friends and meet other female journalists who loved the book. It was a lovely evening at Shoreditch House to celebrate the book and a chance to hear Fourth Estate (Lena’s publisher) talk about the book and Lena’s writing future: I felt excited for her because this is clearly the first of many book deals.
The crescendo was Friday night. Lena Dunham in conversation with Caitlin Moran at the Southbank centre. It was the Royal Festival Hall, but no gig, no band, no ‘act’: instead it was two hilarious and clever women talking about food, books, periods, feminism and general life, on a massive stage. A sold-out auditorium, full of excited audience members who couldn’t wait to listen to these two awesome women chat about every day girl “stuff”. That in itself, is an amazing thing. Real life feminist rockstars. It’s taken us until now for this type of empowering feminist conversation to actually have the air-time it deserves.
Caitlin had a huge applause. She is as funny and fabulous as she is in print, but she made the night not about her. She made it all about Lena. Watching the two of them together was glorious. Lena read a chapter from her book, whilst mentioning she had an ulcer in between paragraphs. Her imperfections making her so relatable, normal, lovely, endearing. It was Halloween and she reminisced about going to a party as Louis C.K and someone thinking her actual stomach was “padding” for the outfit. The audience howled with laughter. We’ve all had these cringe-inducing moments, but Lena’s just brave enough to a tell room of hundreds of people.
I loved her brashness. She questioned why women are judged to closely for being “role models” and questioned about how much money they get paid. Howard Stern once said that everyone is asked about pay, not just women. She disagreed. She called out the Daily Mail for writing about her “noticeably slimmer face” at her launch party but not managing to mention much about the book. She responded brilliantly and articulately about wanting to change the current representation of women on TV when asked about not having a woman of colour in GIRLS.
She laughed about how the media critique women’s dresses at award shows. How strange it is that people get angry when someone (like Lena) dresses for themselves, and not for the audience. (Sarah Millican got a special shout out who was in the audience, having faced similar treatment at the BAFTAs). She made a joke out of the backlash she got for her Emmy dress, that she felt great in it, and made a valid point that if you’re going to have sit around for six hours listening to quite a lot of boring stuff you might as well feel good in what you’re wearing. In a nutshell she had noticed that if you ever stray from the classic mermaid tail strapless dress and wear something a bit kooky “people think you are trying to troll the audience.. When I wore the pink dress to the Emmys people thought I had done it to ruin everyone’s day, but I thought “nailed it”. That’s the other thing about Lena, she is really, really funny. Another gem she said: “People love a Pygmalion story: “She came to Hollywood kooky and now look at her, she’s normal!”
She spoke about her anxiety, her habits. You can tell she reads heaps of books and she’s always referencing books. She spoke about the book Daily Rituals: How Great Minds Take Time, Find Inspiration, and Get to Work. It was interesting hearing her speak about routines, how she wrote her book, how she writes her scripts, how she keeps to deadlines. All the stuff that most people don’t bother talking about (or don’t want to share).
Caitlin Moran asked some seriously good questions. One of my favourite discussions from the evening was about the way GIRLS broke a taboo and showed period blood on Jessa’s hands, which meant she no longer had to go through with an abortion. Lena spoke about how this plot-line in GIRLS was based on a true story: a girl who had booked a flight to Puerto Rico to have an abortion but then had her period in the airport, and that feeling she had of not having to go ahead on the flight. It’s a massively important part of women’s lives, and yet we don’t see it much on television. Caitlin made the good point that we see blood everywhere on TV and movies, but more the gory kind, not menstrual. Isn’t that so bizarre that’s OK to show someone’s head being chopped off, but people still GASP at the sight of pre-abortion period blood?
Someone in the audience asked Lena if she could go back in time would she changed the ending of Tiny Furniture. She said that although she liked the ending, she did re-watch it two years ago and notice things that weren’t technically perfect and there were things she would tweak slightly in hindsight, with more experience. Then she said something really really lovely: “I think it’s really important to look back at your old work and revisit it and hug yourself for trying.”
All in all, I couldn’t have hoped for a better week. Seeing Lena three times in one week was an absolute DREAM and I didn’t think it was possible to like her any more than I already did. She. Is. Brilliant. xo
Read my full interview with Lena on The Debrief here.
“In love with Emma Gannon’s Ctrl Alt Delete. So funny & smart, and reminding me of some of my own cringe teen Internet exploits!”– Anna James, former literary editor of ELLE
"Funny, honest, and nostalgic!"– The Debrief
“Emma Gannon is a bright spark of light in the world. I seriously dig everything she makes”– Elizabeth Gilbert, bestselling author of Big Magic