First Draft Episode #109: Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin - Transcript
Date: September 26, 2017
Gaby Dunn and Alison Raskin, New York Times best-selling co-authors of I Hate Everyone But You, talk about the dangers of walking and reading, differentiating character from author, what REALLY makes readers uncomfortable, and writing a friendship rom-com.
The original post for this episode can be found here.
[Theme music plays]
Sarah Enni Welcome to First Draft with me Sarah Enni. This episode is brought to you by Modern Tarot by Michelle Tea which is one part memoir, two parts radical feminist’s take on one of the world’s oldest card games and forms of divination.
This week I’m talking to Gaby Dunn and Alison Raskin,, New York Times Best Selling co-authors of I Hate Everyone But You a coming-of-age novel told mostly in text messages, emails, scripts and articles. In 2014 the two women co-founded JUST BETWEEN US, a You Tube channel with three-quarters of a million subscribers where they perform original skits and answer fans questions. I first met Gaby and Allison in New York at Book Con, which was my first opportunity to read I HATE EVERYONE BUT YOU and ask some questions. Turns out we all live in Los Angeles, so as the summer wound down we got back together to talk about the writing process for the book and the channel, their not precious approach to a creative life, and why comedy is the best way to make people think.
So, hop in a Lyft bound for West Hollywood, don’t forget to text your best friend from high school, and enjoy the conversation.
Sarah Enni Alright, so how are you guys?
Allison Raskin Good!
Gaby Dunn Hey!
Sarah Enni So, how’s it going?
Allison Raskin Should we say who we are?
Gaby Dunn Such a casual intro, I love it.
Sarah Enni I know, we’re just here diving into it. Okay, so I would love for you to introduce yourselves please.
Gaby Dunn Okay! I’m Gaby Dunn.
Allison Raskin I’m Allison Raskin.
Sarah Enni Yay! And I’m Sarah Enni
Gaby Dunn Just so everyone knows our voices?
Sarah Enni Yes.
Gaby Dunn Okay perfect.
Sarah Enni Exactly.
Allison Raskin I worry a lot that our voices sound too similar.
Gaby Dunn Mine’s deeper than yours.
Allison Raskin Okay, chill out.
Sarah Enni I like to start the podcast by asking people where they were born and raised. So, Long Island? Is that right? [to Raskin]
Allison Raskin God no. Please. Never suggest that. Westchester, New York. Very different… not Long Island.
Gaby Dunn Oh boy. I’m from South Florida, outside Ft. Lauderdale, Hollywood Beach.
Sarah Enni Okay. White Sands.
Gaby Dunn Uh, no, kind of like trashy motels and a lot of airboats and that sort of, “Did you guys see The Waterboy?” It’s like that [laughing]
Allison Raskin Are there more alligators? Or, crocodiles?
Gaby Dunn Alligators.
Allison Raskin Oh, got it.
Gaby Dunn What a stupid question! No, it’s a very hard question. Yes, a lot of alligators. A lot of swamp stuff.
Sarah Enni Is it the Everglades?
Gaby Dunn The Everglades, yeah, I’m close to the Everglades.
Sarah Enni And the Everglades is the only place in the world where there’s both crocodiles and alligators.
Gaby Dunn Mm-hmm. I’ve seen um.
Allison Raskin Whoa, why does everyone know so much about this except me?
Gaby Dunn Have you visited the Everglades?
Sarah Enni No. I just read… it’s a Trivial Pursuit question, I think. And I just locked that one in. [laughs] I want to get the scope of where you guys are coming from and then we can talk about how you got into comedy and met. But, I’d love to hear how reading and writing were a part of growing up for you guys.
Gaby Dunn Oh, I was a huge reader. My parents mocked me at my own bat mitzvah for being too much of a reader. You know, you enter at your bat mitzvah, and everyone cheers for you at your party? The entrance joke was they were like, “Gaby… stuck in a book again. We hate it!” Mocking me at my own party.
Allison Raskin Who said that?
Gaby Dunn My parents! On the microphone!
Allison Raskin Did you walk out pretending to read a book?
Gaby Dunn Yes.
Allison Raskin Well, that’s a good bit.
Sarah Enni So, it was a whole staged thing?
Gaby Dunn Yeah.
Allison Raskin You’re in on it.
Gaby Dunn Yeah, but it’s still making [fun]. Like, “You’re a nerd!” Before I really knew what that meant.
Allison Raskin I would start reading the book on the way back from the library to my classroom, and walk into walls. So, that’s where I’m at… to this day.
Gaby Dunn You still read a lot.
Allison Raskin I read a lot, yeah.
Gaby Dunn You’ve a Kindle now though.
Allison Raskin Yeah, but I was one time walking down the street a couple of years ago in LA, and my friend was like, “What are you doing?” They were coming to pick me up and I was reading and walking.
Gaby Dunn You’ll also read and gasp and make noises to yourself.
Allison Raskin Oh, well, yeah!
Sarah Enni A responsive reader.
Allison Raskin Of course!
Sarah Enni I love that. Someone, the other day, was talking to me about crying while they read. And I very rarely cry…
Allison Raskin I normally cry.
Gaby Dunn I’ve gotten scared. I read Carrie and I was like, “Well, now I can’t sleep.” And I was like, “That’s so weird. I haven’t been this way about a movie in a long time.” But Carrie scared the crap out of me.
Sarah Enni He does that.
Gaby Dunn It’s very hit-or-miss.
Allison Raskin It will put me in moods. So, if I’m reading a book that’s kind of messed up or weird, and then I have to go socialize, that could be hard for me.
Gaby Dunn Oh yeah, cause you’re in your mind.
Allison Raskin I’m in this strange world and also, just in general, socializing is hard for me.
Sarah Enni I feel like I do that too. I even had trouble with magazines for a while. I’d read long magazine pieces, or I’d get a magazine and compulsively read it from front to end, and then look up and be like, “Ugh.” And it felt so weird, like I’d gotten sucked somewhere else. But it was also part of an escape protocol for me when I was in middle school.
Gaby Dunn What kind of magazines?
Sarah Enni Women’s magazines which I actually then had to stop reading.
Gaby Dunn Oh, that’s awful!
Sarah Enni Yeah, they made me feel horrible but I couldn’t stop. It was a very weird thing.
Gaby Dunn You were also a writer too when you were a kid, right? You were writing stuff?
Allison Raskin Yeah. I went to this summer program at Williams College when I was fifteen. And until then, I was like, “Oh. I have to be a lawyer, because that’s what people do.” And I took this writing workshop and my teacher was like, “Hey. You could just be a writer.” And I was like, “Oh?”
Then from that moment of being fifteen, I knew I would be a writer and never… I guess one time I was like, “I’ll be a shrink because nothing’s working out.” That was after already having gotten to school for screenwriting.
Gaby Dunn I had to stalk for attention as a child. In second grade the Broward County Fair would give out ribbons, awards, for writing. I was in second grade and I wrote a paragraph-long story about breaking my glasses. It was a tear-jerker, you guys. And it won first prize for Best Second Grade Writing. First prize! And I drew a picture to go with it, and everything, for extra flair.
And then it won and me and my family got to go down to the fair and see it displayed with the blue ribbon. And everyone was talking about me and so proud of me, and I was like, “Man, I want to keep this feeling going.”
Allison Raskin That honestly explain so much.
Gaby Dunn I was like, “How can I ride this wave?”
Sarah Enni That’s actually kind of [helpful]. For me the pull, and a lot of people I know, the pull to writing ends up being not public at all, right? It’s like you’re in a corner quietly writing for yourself and there’s almost no public output. Or, that was never the pull to it. But you guys are performers as well as writers. And that’s like a performative…
Gaby Dunn Oh, I stood next to it. I took pictures. I would just wait for other kids to walk by and be like, “That’s mine. I wrote that one. I don’t know if you can see.”
Sarah Enni Like, “Hey kid, what are you doing?”
Gaby Dunn Yeah, “This one’s me. It got a blue ribbon. No big deal.” I was like eight-years-old.
Sarah Enni That’s amazing!
Allison Raskin I feel like comedy breeds the most hybrids though. A lot of times you’re also doing standup, or you’re improvising, or you’re acting. I think that if you don’t have on-stage experience, it’s a lot harder to write dialogue. And it’s a lot harder to know about rhythm and pacing and all of that stuff.
Sarah Enni Yeah.
Gaby Dunn Because you don’t know the way people talk. That’s why it was easy to write this book in text and emails, because we just are so used to writing how people talk. Essentially, our entire lives have been with the internet around, so we grew up with that kind of stuff. So, it’s like a second…
Allison Raskin Talking? [laughs]
Gaby Dunn No! No. Texting and emailing. It’s like a second nature to write in that form.
Sarah Enni It is funny to hear whoever is the latest to jump on millennials and hate on them for whatever reason, talk about that millennials don’t read anymore. I have tons of people be like, “Do you think young adults read?” And I’m like, “They’re reading and writing all the time!”
If you saw an email from anyone born before 1975 you’d be horrified. Because now communication in this way - so much of text speak or memes - are plays on words. And you can’t do that until you have a really fundamental understanding of language in and of itself. So, to me, the internet has made people much better communicators in certain ways.
Gaby Dunn Also, there’s a lot more long-form stuff available. Not just video long-form. I went to school for journalism and a lot of the stuff that I like to read is the long-form, journalism stuff – these longer stories. They actually do make a difference. Like that one story that was in the Times that was about nail salons? A seven-part series? Riveting. Great reporting. And also, it was all people were talking about when that came out.
Sarah Enni I was in New York when that came out. And I was like, “Oh, my god.”
Gaby Dunn It was rattling the whole city.
Allison Raskin Didn’t people stop going to nail salons?
Gaby Dunn I think it brought a lot of politicians to try to make better work laws for the people that work there.
Sarah Enni It was like a regulatory lapse. It made my friends go like, “Oh. That ten-dollar manicure place that always seemed like it was too cheap?” It was too cheap. You know?
Gaby Dunn So, I think that a lot of those types of things, I don’t know, I don’t see it dying in that way. When I was in journalism school, people would go like, “Well, the newspaper is dying.” And I’d be like, “It’s dying in the form of a newspaper. But, I don’t think it’s dying in the terms of the content.”
Allison Raskin I think the problem is people are used to not paying for it.
Gaby Dunn Yes. The industry itself, yeah.
Allison Raskin Well? Solved it!
Sarah Enni Smarter minds than ours will have to address that problem. It’s interesting to me that early on you had someone say, “You know, you can be a writer.” Because that rarely happens. But also, did you know right away that comedy, or funny stuff, is what I want to be writing?
Allison Raskin Yeah. I’ve never not written comedy.
Gaby Dunn You wrote sci-fi.
Allison Raskin What are you talking about?
Gaby Dunn You like sci-fi. You’ve written sci-fi stuff.
Allison Raskin I guess, but always…
Gaby Dunn With a comedic twist.
Allison Raskin I’ve done different genres but all with comedy. My coping mechanism was always humor. And so, it never occurred to me to do anything other than comedy.
Sarah Enni Which is pretty cool.
Allison Raskin Is it? Or, was it so obnoxious for everyone around me?
Sarah Enni I will say, reading your book made me very happy, because I like comedy a lot. And in YA there are books that people say are funny, and they’re not funny.
Gaby Dunn In what way?
Sarah Enni I have a long rant about this so we won’t get into it here, but I think people don’t know what a joke is.
Gaby Dunn Oh. No. No idea.
Sarah Enni Yeah. So, I’d read books that everyone was like, “This book was hilarious.” And I was like, “No.” The characters were quirky and there were some situations that were unusual, but that doesn’t make it funny. So, anyway. When I was reading your book, I was actually laughing and it was great.
Gaby Dunn Oh, thank you. Thanks!
Sarah Enni Still leading to the book, I want to hear about how you guys got together and decided to do comedy together. A little bit of the path to working together.
Gaby Dunn It wasn’t very conscious. We met as friends doing standup, and then we started working on a channel together. And we were like, “What can we block-shoot? What can we do five episodes of in a day?” And so, we did this advice show. And then after we had done the advice show for a while, and after we had worked at Buzz Feed and gotten more ideas like, “Oh. What can short-form video be?” Then we left and started doing both the advice show on Monday, and then a full sitcom-y sketch on Thursday. And then that’s kind of been running… They’re not, not connected episodes. The episodes are sort of connected. There’s a canon, definitely.
Allison Raskin Yeah, they’re all stand alone, but it’s richer if you know the canon. There’s a lot of inside jokes.
Gaby Dunn But we were going with, “Now that we’ve left, let’s do this.” Allison is a screenwriter, I’m a journalist. We always wanted to be writing stuff, so the goal of the channel was to write. So, either that’s to write sketches for the channel, or to write for television, or other stuff. So, from the channel and other work, we’ve been able to sell a bunch of television shows that haven’t gotten made. So that’s exciting. [laughs]
Sarah Enni There you go! I want to back up really quick. Because to me, it’s really interesting that you must have met tons of people who are in the community. You guys met at an open mic, right?
Sarah Enni So, you meet a ton of people that way, but what made it feel like you guys could work together? It’s a different bond.
Allison Raskin I think we both just had time. We were both just willing to do it.
Gaby Dunn Yeah. I had just moved from the city – New York City – to LA. I think she and I were very different but we both have a similar ability to follow through. We just do it. There’s a lot of people that you meet that go, “Yeah, we should do something together.” And they never do it. But I think when either of us say that, we mean it. And it just so happened that two people who mean it, met each other.
Sarah Enni That’s actually more serendipitous than it should be.
Gaby Dunn Especially in entertainment. There’s always people who are like, “Yeah. We should do something.” But then they never actually make anything. Or they say, “I’m a writer.” And they never actually write anything. Or they say, “I’m a YouTuber.” And they make one video and they stop.
Allison Raskin Or, they make it and it’s never good enough so they never release it.
Gaby Dunn Right. She and I have never been - I don’t know if this is bad - I think we both are kind of like, “Nothing’s good… so here you go!” [laughs] We’re both like, “Who cares!” Not who cares, but we’re just making it. You have to make it the best you can be, and then you have to let it go. And I think she and I both have that in mind.
Sarah Enni I think I read an interview with you where you were talking about, “It doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to be done.” And I would say that doing this podcast has been the biggest…
Gaby Dunn Yeah, because you have to release it on time. That’s it. It’s gotta be out.
Allison Raskin It’s your job. I think so many people treat creativity as this thing that is magical and mystical and can come to you and leave you. And it’s like, “No. You have a deadline and you just have to do it.” Regardless of whether or not you feel in the mood.
Gaby Dunn And also, in terms of stepping stones in your career, you just have to get it done. I’ve been learning and reading and watching a lot more stuff by filmmakers who started – like Robert Rodriguez and Tarantino – and how they started in the past. I’ve always liked their work but I didn’t really know their story. And a lot of it is that they took a very small amount of money and were like, “Let’s make a movie. It will probably be a shitty movie, but we gotta make a movie.” Cause that was the only way they could advance.
And I was like, “Oh! It doesn’t have to be this huge production. You just have to have something to show.” So, the channel is like our huge resume and from that we use that resume to write books, to sell television shows, etc.
Sarah Enni So, it sounds like you’re both the kind of people who mean what they say and follow through. But also, two things…
Allison Raskin I’m actually a pathological liar.
Gaby Dunn [laughing]
Sarah Enni Good to know [laughs]. You also are driven.
Sarah Enni I think what I’m getting at is it seems like you work really well together.
Allison Raskin Ha-ha. We don’t.
Gaby Dunn We fight all the time.
Sarah Enni [laughing] But that doesn’t mean…
Gaby Dunn But we both understand that it’s gotta get done. It’s gotta get out. So, we argue all the time, but at the end of the day it’s gotta go up on Monday.
Sarah Enni Right. And arguing isn’t necessarily the indicator of a bad working relationship.
Allison Raskin It’s not like healthy arguing. I think now we work well together. But we didn’t for the majority of this…
Gaby Dunn Yeah, it was almost like a married-at-first-sight. Like, we got married and then everyone was like, “This is so great!” And we were like, “Is it?” And then we had to learn to love each other.
Allison Raskin Mm-hmm. Yeah.
Sarah Enni Do you think that you’ve changed each other’s comedy?
Gaby Dunn Mm-hmm. She went to school for screenwriting so there was a lot of structure, stuff that I came in not knowing. And I went to school for journalism, so I had a body of work and I had done freelancing, so I understood social media. I understood promo. I understood marketing yourself and that kind of thing. You always like to say that when we met, I had ten-thousand Twitter followers and you were so impressed.
Allison Raskin Yeah. I thought you were really famous.
Gaby Dunn Yes!
Allison Raskin And now I don’t think you’re famous at all, and you have like one-hundred-and-twenty.
Gaby Dunn Right. One-hundred-and-twenty-nine. But thanks. Maybe more by the time this comes out. But I’m just saying, you were like, “Why would I ever have Instagram?”
Allison Raskin Mm-hmm.
Gaby Dunn So, I think there were skills on either side.
Sarah Enni Yeah, well that’s a good combo. So, you got together. And you’re working together, and building this relationship. To me, it’s really striking that you’re talking about being two young women trying to… Not waiting for an invite; being really proactive about what you want to do. And where in there does writing a book come into it? Because that’s not aligned necessarily with the performance side of stuff that you both are doing.
Gaby Dunn We both have said this, that since we were kids, we wanted to write a book. I tried to write a book when I was in third grade, or second grade, and it was about a girl who wins a trip to soccer camp. That was it. That was the whole book. Nothing much happens.
Allison Raskin I think you’re using the very loose-term for book.
Gaby Dunn It filled a whole notebook Allison [shouts]. There were rich characters. She went to D.C.
Allison Raskin And how many words?
Gaby Dunn D.C., a place I had never been. I don’t know [in response to Raskin]. You know what’s interesting? I was always like, “Man, when I was eight, I just sat down and wrote a whole book.” But now it would take a long time. In my mind, when I was eight… [slaps hands together] … “Done! I’ve done it. I’m a genius.”
Sarah Enni [laughs] Yeah.
Allison Raskin We got very lucky from having the audience that we had, that we didn’t have to write the whole manuscript before selling it. And so that was very serendipitous. And we had a great agent. We pitched this idea that we had and we thought she would be like, “Actually. Could you just write a fake dating advice book for YouTubers?” And we thought that’s what we would have to do first. And then she was like, “No. We like the novel idea.”
Somehow, we got into a bidding war with multiple publishers off of a five-page treatment. And then after that, everyone was like, “This will never happen again.” [laughs] I guess you sold another book easily [to Dunn], but in terms of fiction they were like, “No, no, no. This was a one-time fluke.”
Gaby Dunn Yeah. I sold another book based off of the momentum of this first book. The other publisher that had lost the bidding war went ape-shit when they were like, “You could still have part of this duo.” And they were like, “We’ll take it!”
And also, we know that that’s a privilege. If we have this privilege of having this audience, and we have this privilege to make a dent even in the YA world? Any kind of dent. Where we can speak to the mental illness side of our fan base, or we can speak to the LGBTQ side of our fan base. Then we should do that through a medium that we actually care about which is fiction.
We both were like, “Let’s make this something that can go to a wider audience. That isn’t just a throw away. That isn’t just a comedy book. That’s us mocking dating advice.” Or, whatever it is. We were like, “No. We’re actual writers. We build worlds. We build stories. Let’s give our fans a gift that is…” If we have the opportunity to do it, let’s take it and go full throttle.
Sarah Enni Yeah, I like that.
Allison Raskin We had no idea how to write a book.
Gaby Dunn We didn’t. No.
Allison Raskin By-the-way.
Gaby Dunn Yeah.
Allison Raskin This book was primarily outlined around word count. We were just like, “We got in at sixty-thousand.” And then, that was how we wrote the book.
Sarah Enni By-the-way, you went at it with text messages. You went for the thing that has the least amount of words! [laughs]
Allison Raskin Oh yeah. I mean, what did we do? Who knows.
Gaby Dunn We sat down.
Allison Raskin It’s all a blur. There was a lot of candy.
Gaby Dunn Yeah. We had a lot of candy. Allison forced us to work from nine-to-five, three days a week which, I wanted to die. And then I had my computer open so we could take notes so we could remember what characters had done what. And what characters had which names.
Allison Raskin She was called Research and Development.
Gaby Dunn Yeah, research and development. Or, if we forgot… like we needed an example of something, I would be like, “Couples who broke up in 2009.” Or whatever. And then Allison had the Mac Book in front of her and she was typing and we were just coming up with like, “What would your person say?” Okay. Because my character’s in Boston, which is where I actually went to school, it was like, “Okay. What’s something in Boston that she would be excited to do?” And then I was like, “Duck Tours!”
And She [Allison] actually went to USC, which is where Ava goes, so she could tell from experience what the Greek System at USC is like. So, we each pulled from real life a bit.
Sarah Enni I’m curious about this. Because your characters do have similarities to you guys, and some of the dynamic is similar to the dynamic that people see you have on your videos, but neither of those are really you. It’s fascinating to me how you guys are personally playing with versions of yourselves in these different formats. You must have known right from the get-go that people were going to ascribe you personally to these characters?
Sarah Enni Isn’t that annoying? Right off the bat?
Allison Raskin No, I think that the “Write what you know” I’ve always been a very strong believer in that. It’s funny, there’d be moments where I would insert a detail about my own life into the book, and I’d be like, “Well this is really funny. Do I want to waste this here?” And I was like, “Yes Allison. This is your book!” [laughs] “This is the only place to waste it!”
So, yeah. It’s a mix. To me, the parts that are most uncomfortable is my family reading stuff and being like, “Did this really happen?” You know? And having to write a sex scene even though that parts not true, but then my grandma reading the book and probably thinking it was. But, whatever. Anything. As long as people are like, “We like it.” It’s like, “I’ll do it.” You know?
Gaby Dunn [laughing and exclaiming] You said your mom proofread something of yours once and she corrected the spelling of the word breast!
Allison Raskin Yeah, she was like, “This scene is good, you just misspelled breast.” And I was like, “Thanks mom. On to the next.”
Gaby Dunn What’s great is that they’re versions of us, but they’re also eighteen-year-olds. So, there’s room for them to not be smart, and to not be a hundred percent formed as people. So, for a lot of it, we got to play with Allison’s character not quite understanding the LGBT community. And my character not being so nice about mental illness. Each character is almost like - not a special episode - but you know what I mean? Almost like, “Oh, this is the thing that they can be dumb about. This is what they’ll learn.” And, “This is an opinion that isn’t a hundred percent correct.” But, they’re also eighteen.
Allison Raskin Well that’s what I’m starting to see already in some reviews is that some people don’t like that they’re not likeable. I don’t think this will be a universally liked Fault in Our Stars type book. In that these girls are super flawed. They’re annoying, and they’re immature, and they do shitty things to each other and to other people.
I think that there are some people who only want to read books where the protagonists are like heroes. We didn’t do that. And I think that maybe limits our audience, but I also think that the people it does resonate with, it will potentially resonate with them more. Because it’s how people actually are.
Sarah Enni I talk about this all the time with people writing YA. People wanting to see a sixteen-year-old magically know what to do in any given circumstance. And it’s like, “You all want to read really boring books where there’s no conflict and some weird, not real character, is at the center of it.” When I read your book, it was because I actually laughed. And then also, you guys were talking about shit that college kids really do. Drugs, parties, worry about being away from their family. It felt way, way, more real than a lot of… I mean, I read a lot of fantasy novels so… [laughs and indistinguishable] So, it was really refreshing and I wish there was more of it.
Gaby Dunn Thanks!
Allison Raskin Tell them to give us a sequel.
Gaby Dunn There’s also this fun twist where, because our characters are so different - or the characters that we were focused on were so different - I’ve seen some reviews where they’re like, “Ugh, the Gaby character, the Gen character, is such an SJW [social justice warrior] and she’s so over-the-top about…” whatever. Blah, blah, blah. And then there’s people who are like, “Well the Ava character doesn’t understand homophobia” or whatever. Each side is pissed about something.
Allison Raskin And I think it’s that interesting balance when you’re a writer, and this is in anything, where making it clear to the audience that the point of view of the character is not the point of view of the writer. And that’s a very difficult line to walk. And it also requires some smarts on the viewer or the reader.
Sarah Enni Some critical reading ability [pauses] which I also have more to say that I won’t. I’m like, “No. I can’t think of a good way to say [undistinguishable].
Gaby Dunn Is it that this type of pressure is only applied to women, people of color, and LGBTQ people? And male writers don’t face that at all?
Sarah Enni There is a degree of that… yeah, yeah.
Gaby Dunn A hundred percent. We have to be all things to all people. Allison has to speak for all of mental illness and I have to speak for the entire LGBTQ community, even though I’m only the B. I just saw a crazy thing where people were upset that Issa Rae doesn’t show her characters using condoms on her show, and how dare she show people of color not using condoms, or whatever it was.
Allison Raskin Are you serious?
Gaby Dunn Yes, correct. And she apologized. She said, “I’m so sorry. You’re right. We’ll do better next season.” And everyone was like, “Girl no. You do not have to apologize. You don’t have to be all things to all people. Do you know how many white shows don’t show people using condoms? Absolutely not.” She feels the pressure and I’m sure a lot of creators feel this pressure to represent all things to all people.
Sarah Enni Like an enemy of creativity.
Gaby Dunn Yeah, exactly.
Sarah Enni In a lot of real ways. Your book is set on a college campus. There is a degree to which almost all of your experiences in college are bumping up against things you thought were true. Or, experiences you thought were right, and then just learning how completely wrong you were or not thinking about a bunch of other things. College is the place to learn and come across things that turn your world upside down.
Gaby Dunn Yup!
Allison Raskin And I also think having Ava’s character not totally be woke is helpful. Because otherwise you’re just shouting things at your readers. That’s also why I like comedy because I feel the easiest way to teach someone, is to make them laugh. Versus very seriously being like [drops voice with serious quality] “And this is the way to talk about this.” So, seeing Gen correct Ava throughout the book, I feel, is a much better version than these two perfect girls talking about things from a point of complete knowledge.
Sarah Enni Yeah, right. Like, “We’re perfect.”
Allison Raskin Sometimes when you see a character, it’s hard when everything a character says is perfect, because what do you learn? But if you see a character say something that you maybe would have said, or that you have said, and then you see someone else’s reaction to that and then you go, “Oh.”
Sarah Enni And the other way of saying that is, “What do you learn?” But, “What do you relate to?” I think a lot of times people talk about unlikeable characters and, “This character should have done this and should have done that.” And that’s coming from a place of… you like to think that in this situation you would act this certain way.
Gaby Dunn Interesting.
Sarah Enni And making you feel uncomfortable to see a flawed person do flawed things. Even though we are constantly flawed people doing flawed things.
Gaby Dunn Yeah, it’s a mirror. Yeah, that’s right. Un-comfortability is a mirror to what you are worried about how you’ve done in the past.
Sarah Enni Or could do, or would do now. People want to think you’re gonna be Katniss, but… not.
Allison Raskin I have to say though, the one trope that I fucking hate is when someone kills someone by accident and doesn’t call the cops.
Sarah Enni Mm.
Allison Raskin Gaby wrote a whole movie about it and it’s my least favorite trope in the world because it makes no sense. Just call the cops. And whenever I read it in anything, and I see in anything, I just get very angry.
Gaby Dunn I think there’s a lot of reasons in 2017 why you wouldn’t call the police.
Sarah Enni That’s true.
Allison Raskin But in Desperate Housewives she killed her abusive step-father, and then they had a whole season of them all covering up this crime and moving the body. Just call the police and be like, “He broke into my home and we killed him.”
Gaby Dunn The cops are not a hundred percent reliable.
Allison Raskin This isn’t real-life! It’s…ugh… whatever. I don’t want to fight with you about this.
Sarah Enni [laughing] Well, it’s interesting that…
Allison Raskin Friday Night Lights did that, and that was bullshit for a whole season.
Sarah Enni That’s right. Oh yeah, that was a bad season.
Allison Raskin That was so stupid! It ruined the show.
Gaby Dunn I’ve never seen either of these shows.
Sarah Enni [choking on laughter] We’re getting a real reference here. I’m like, “Yeah, I’m with you on that.”
Allison Raskin [laughing] Right?! In both of those cases it was so dumb.
Sarah Enni It was not good.
Allison Raskin There’s no reason.
Sarah Enni Well, you have to have more of a mitigating factor, right? What we’re talking about is believability.
Allison Raskin Right.
Sarah Enni Listen, let’s talk about why you wouldn’t want to call the cops.
Allison Raskin There’s some situations for sure that make sense, obviously. But these were not.
Gaby Dunn Is this a football related death? They threw a football at his head and killed him? I’m assuming I know everything about Friday Night Lights [laughing].
Allison Raskin No!
Sarah Enni There’s so little football in Friday Night Lights that at some point it’s kind of hilarious.
Allison Raskin It’s like two white people and a guy was attacking the girl, so then the other guy got him off her and killed him in the process. Like, “Okay. Call the police.”
Gaby Dunn [Exaggerated] Ugh! Court is sooooo long.
Allison Raskin You’re just defensive about this because you have a project about it.
Gaby Dunn No! Because I have a project about it, in which they talk about calling the police the whole time. But there’s also reasons why you wouldn’t call the police.
Sarah Enni Right. If you’re addressing that then I feel that as a viewer, watcher, listener I’m like, “Yeah, okay.”
Gaby Dunn There are a lot of things where people act in ways they would never act to further plot.
Sarah Enni Yeah. And that’s what we’re saying. It’s like you have to have the conflict in the story that wouldn’t necessarily happen in real life.
Allison Raskin I feel a lot of times in these situations it feels so obvious. That it’s just there to be the conflict and not earned. And it’s such an easy source of story.
Sarah Enni I have a friend who says in any project, you only get one coincidence.
Gaby Dunn Oh, that’s interesting.
Sarah Enni And they’re like, “From there on the reader, listener, or viewer will follow you through one, but then you really have to build on everything else.”
Allison Raskin Yeah, that’s smart. Who’s your friend?
Allison Raskin Oh yeah! That’s awesome.
Sarah Enni She’s very smart. That was getting to something else I wanted to ask about. I love hearing you say that you, approaching the book, took a really serious approach to it. Wanting to write a fiction. A book where you could talk about messages that are important to you. And that you’re doing that through comedy I really love. I’d love to hear you talk about what gets across better through comedy than straight drama.
Allison Raskin Thank you so much for asking about my favorite topic.
Gaby Dunn I know.
Allison Raskin In the world.
Gaby Dunn There it is.
Allison Raskin I just think that it’s very easy to make people feel sad and it’s a lot harder to make people think. Laughter stays with you, I think, in a way. It can make you look at something from a new perspective. Obviously certain things are bad. You can show someone that a puppy is dying and they’ll cry. I think there’s a level of easiness and laziness to that in a lot of ways. With comedy, you have to accomplish every single thing that a drama does, and on top of it, add a sense of humor, add a point of view, approach it from a different angle.
Genre I find very appealing, and I find something that really resonates with me as a viewer and a reader, including sci-fi and horror. All of these things where you turn it on its head. But if you tell a story just sort of straight… I don’t know, it just doesn’t have the same effect on me.
Sarah Enni [addressing Gaby] Do you want to jump in there too?
Gaby Dunn Uh… no. [laughs]
Sarah Enni It’s interesting… I have a reporting background too, which is not funny.
Gaby Dunn Well… there were some headlines that we got to joke, and some fun leads that I got to write that you could “turn on a phrase” as it were.
Allison Raskin I think you see on Twitter even, there’ll be the headline and then there’ll be someone quoting it with a joke. And that’s what goes viral.
Sarah Enni I like what you’re saying about it’s harder to make people think. Because what is a laugh but an expression of surprise? And I think when you are surprised into something, that’s a feeling you don’t get from just swelling string music and Julia Robert’s single tear.
Allison Raskin Right. I also think that you can really dive into something without someone feeling that they’re being preached to. I think a lot of times it can be hard when you feel like, “Okay, we get it!” Like, “Slavery is bad.” Like, “Oppression is bad.” Obviously. But sometimes when you do it in a different way you can see more.
District 9 was so powerful to me. It’s about apartheid but it has aliens. But because it was about aliens instead of a straight drama about that, you saw angles of it that you were able to take in in a way where, if it was told regularly, it would have been like, “Yeah, no. Of course, it’s bad. That’s bad.” [nonchalantly] You know what I mean?
Sarah Enni Yeah. We’ve all heard it from the same angle over, to some extent that you just now [said], and you skip over it… your mind skips.
Gaby Dunn It’s easier for people to relate to robots and cartoons than it is for white people to believe that Black people are people. I think that’s a mistake, this type of… like the show Confederate that they’re trying to make. Putting marginalized people in these things where they have to make these very serious, very oppression-based works, and they’re not allowed to write sci-fi. If you make a project as a Black person, or if you make a project as an LGBTQ person - or both - that’s what it has to be about.
And that’s great, but also, we could use an all-Black Star Trek. Or, an entirely gay Legally Blonde, or whatever it is. There’s so many other stories you can tell that aren’t the like, “I’m tearfully coming out. And I’m sad about being queer. And I’m gay and my partner died.” Or whatever. It doesn’t always have to be this melodrama. And that helps to humanize people that aren’t white cis straight men too. Or, white cis straight women. It helps humanize the “other” because you see them out with their friends at the mall.
Putting Black people on television and having them just be the characters of Atlanta, the characters of Living Single or whatever it is. Putting them on television in a way that isn’t the slavery narrative over and over again. Or, putting queer people on television and having them have full lives with queer friends and they’re not just the side character. It’s been shown that it has an impact.
Sarah Enni Which is what you were trying to do in this book. Yes?
Gaby Dunn Yeah, definitely. Yeah. Absolutely.
Sarah Enni Which is awesome.
Gaby Dunn I didn’t want to give Gen this tearful coming-out. Her biggest problem is not that she’s bi-sexual. That’s not even close to her biggest problem.
Sarah Enni [laughing] There was an interview where you said her problem is that she’s maybe too arrogant?
Gaby Dunn Very arrogant, yeah! Super arrogant. A lot of hubris.
Sarah Enni Which I personally related to a lot. Going to college and feeling like you are… you’re a big fish in a small pond in high school, and then like, “Oh. People can’t wait to see what I’m gonna do in college.” And it’s like, “No.” There’s now twenty-thousand other people, just like you, who also got in.
And her [speaking to Allison about Ava] going to the school newspaper… I loved it.
Allison Raskin Thanks. That’s true. I was in my school newspaper. And we kept the name “Berkley Beacon”.
Sarah Enni Really? That’s great. You talked a little bit about it, but the format, I’m really interested [in this]. Did you guys have the format in mind? Did that come right along with the genesis of the idea of always knowing you wanted to do text messages, and articles, and…?
Allison Raskin That was sort of what the idea was.
Sarah Enni Okay, that’s like the heart of it.
Allison Raskin And then we were like, “Let’s now figure out some plot.”
Sarah Enni That’s interesting! So, format almost came first.
Allison Raskin Yeah.
Sarah Enni Why was it so important to you to tell this story in this other way?
Allison Raskin It just seemed easy. Writing prose is hard.
Gaby Dunn And we write scripts all the time. Like we said in the beginning, we know dialogue. So, writing in someone’s head even if it allowed for very unreliable narrators. Where they’re both telling this story, but who knows if they’re making themselves look better or telling the truth or exaggerating?
Allison Raskin I think Ava was telling the truth.
Gaby Dunn She’s exaggerating to make things worse for herself, I think.
Allison Raskin But it’s how she sees it, it’s not purposefully exaggerating. It’s her reality of it.
Gaby Dunn Yeah. I think you’re in their heads more.
Sarah Enni That’s a great way to have an unreliable narrator in a way that we are all familiar with. Who doesn’t get a text from their friend and are like, “I’m not hearing the whole story about how the date went.”
Gaby Dunn Yeah!
Allison Raskin I don’t think I’ve ever heard the whole story from Gaby.
Gaby Dunn Yeah, well, Gen too. Gen’s making it seem like Charlotte’s this great person, and then obviously she’s not.
Sarah Enni Right, the slow-reveal. That’s satisfying to me as a reader, or watcher too, when it’s the slow dawning of realizing that this person is not like, “I can’t buy everything that they’re saying a hundred percent.”
Gaby Dunn Mm-hmm.
Sarah Enni It’s very interesting to me that you chose to do college, which is this age that doesn’t really get covered in books all that much. It kind of gets skipped over. There’s high school, and then there’s chic-lit “rom-com”-y type of early-twenties type of stuff. But college, it’s weird that it’s unrepresented because it’s a time when so much happens.
Allison Raskin I don’t think we knew it was underrepresented.
Sarah Enni What made you want to set it in college?
Allison Raskin Just because you needed the distance.
Gaby Dunn And that was the reason for them to be apart.
Allison Raskin But also, it was a happy accident.
Gaby Dunn We wanted them to still be teenagers. I remember that was told to us, if we we’re gonna do college, it was important that they were still teens.
Allison Raskin It was always gonna be first semester.
Gaby Dunn Yeah, first semester. But I think there was some inkling - not inkling - I do remember hearing that for YA, high school is a better idea.
Sarah Enni People will take college stories and be like, “Just make it a boarding school.” Like a boarding school for high school.
Gaby Dunn Yes!
Sarah Enni That’s not the same.
Allison Raskin No that’s not the same at all. I think we got very lucky that we had people who supported it. For whatever reason, we didn’t have to fight that battle, which was great. And they were okay with it sort of being a crossover.
Sarah Enni That’s awesome. But what was the draw? Did you always know you wanted to write for a younger audience?
Gaby Dunn Our audience is fourteen to twenty-four, I would say.
Allison Raskin Mostly eighteen to twenty-one.
Gaby Dunn So, there was this idea that this will be for people who are going away to school. I can imagine a parent giving it to their kid in their senior year of high school, or someone in college giving it to their friend. You’re just kind of figuring out if your gonna stay friends with the people from high school. Both Allison and I had the experience of not staying in touch with people from high school. I thought it was interesting to see two people who are trying really hard to make it work.
It’s a romantic friendship in the sense that they’re, as my therapist would say, their “primary partner”. A lot of it is that you’re gonna leave high school and will you stay with your boyfriend? Or will you stay with your girlfriend? We wanted to do a friendship rom-com.
Sarah Enni I love that! I really responded to Ava, and to some degree to Gen, getting to college and it isn’t what you thought it was gonna be. I think a lot of my friends have had experiences like that. It’s built up like you’re gonna find your real self, and then what you find is that it’s kind of a lot of the same.
Allison Raskin It’s terrible. I am just such a proponent of sometimes, the best time in your life, comes way later than it’s supposed to – or that it’s advertised as. Because I definitely didn’t enjoy high school or college or early twenties or yesterday… you know?
Sarah Enni Your best time is ahead of you.
Allison Raskin I feel that it’s so much better to know that your best time is ahead. To know that you’ll grow and that you’ll find your people and that these stereotypical experiences that you’re supposed to have… not everybody has them. I didn’t have a lot of them in a way, but does it mean that I could not connect with people now? That I’m still a weird outsider? No. I figured out what type of people I actually like. What kind of experiences I actually want to have instead of living in the past.
Gaby Dunn It’s interesting because young people are always like, “Oh, I wish I had a friendship like you guys.” But we didn’t meet each other until we were twenty-five. I mean, “What do you mean you wish you had a friendship like us when you’re eighteen?” It’s like, “We didn’t meet until we were twenty-five. Don’t rush it. Don’t worry about it.”
Sarah Enni I think this is tapping [in] on something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, which is what you think life is gonna be like when you are younger. I think there’s a lack of positive reinforcement about getting older. And you don’t have to do everything right this moment, or have all of the answers. I definitely felt pressure to be doing all the right things, and felt I was already behind in this really weird way.
I think what you guys are doing with your channel, and what YouTube is doing largely for the generation of people just below me, is showing a lot more of the flaws and the benefit of getting older, and learning and not putting so much pressure on yourself. Which is an unbelievably nice message to be sending to young people. Like, “Give yourself a break.”
Gaby Dunn Yeah Gen, in the whole book, is trying to be an adult in some way. She’s drinking the whole time. She’s going to restaurants and drinking. She wants to be in a relationship with this older woman. She’s trying to posture as this thing that she’s not, instead of allowing herself to grow up.
Sarah Enni In the book, and that time of life, is a lot of what you think you’re supposed to be doing, or how you’re supposed to feel or look. Sorority taps on that too. Ava’s doing a bit of a dance and maybe even uncomfortable in how much she does buy into it.
Allison Raskin Definitely. There was an interesting article a couple of years ago about the shift from the “cool older sister” figure to the “awkward older sister” figure and how now people look to an Amy Schumer and Jennifer Lawrence… I mean, Jennifer Lawrence is a weird example because she’s so beautiful and cool, but someone who falls down on the way to get their Oscar. Like Issa Rae in Insecure, that’s much more the relatable girl now, which is very refreshing.
Gaby Dunn [whispers loudly] We were mentioned in that article! [Then out loud] We were mentioned in that article. [laughing]
Sarah Enni I’ll link to it. I do show notes where I link to everything we talk about.
Allison Raskin It was about wanting awkward older sisters and it mentioned YouTube too, Grace Helbig and us.
Sarah Enni This is what we’re talking about; relatable, in not unlikeable, but relatable.
Gaby Dunn It’s not aspirational, it’s relatable. Which is more of a relief because a lot of times, almost all the time, you have good qualities too. You don’t have all good qualities. So, in someone like that you see your good self, and you see your bad self. You see what you need to work on and you see what you should be proud of.
Sarah Enni The audience for young adult, I think they’re pretty ruthlessly in search of authenticity. I think that’s why I’m so hung up on the idea that you guys played with versions of yourselves. Because so much of You Tube is like, “Literally show your zits.” You know? Which, there’s a place for that. But you guys are definitely trying to do something different, because you are writers, and you’re actually making something that isn’t just a confessional video series. But I think it’s funny that it all gets blended in together. Like the reason people think that you’re really those characters, is because there’s so much of people just unvarnishing-ly putting themselves on the internet.
Allison Raskin I’m interested in, as I said before, there’s this aversion to the characters being flawed. But it is mostly older readers. And I am curious, once more teenagers and college kids start reading the book, if they’ll feel that way too, or if they’ll appreciate that.
Gaby Dunn Because they are used to seeing warts and all. And on our channel too, we’re able to do the Monday shows, which exist in a different universe let’s say then the Thursday shows. I’m always surprised when people think something in the Thursday show was real because that’s very clearly a scripted thing.
Allison Raskin I’m surprised that people we actually know think that we’re roommates.
Gaby Dunn I know!
Allison Raskin That’s very weird to me.
Gaby Dunn Right? Because the internet’s real. Everyone thinks it’s real.
Allison Raskin But if you actually know us at all, you know that I would have murdered you… night three.
Gaby Dunn [chuckles]
Sarah Enni And then when you get into fiction, and you’re very obviously constructing these fictional characters… But what I’m obviously mentally working through, and probably will end up writing in some way into a book, is this weird separation from reality. Or, everything is real or nothing is real. We’re sort of looping around on that in this odd way.
Allison Raskin But [if] anyone would write a book - it just so happens that people know things about us so they think it’s real - but [if] anyone in the world writes a book, it’s [gonna be] based on some true stuff and some not true stuff.
Sarah Enni And my best friend is like, “Which character is me?” And I’m like, “No.”
Gaby Dunn Yeah! Even if it’s sci-fi, you’re still like, “Oh. Maybe there’s a feeling someone gave me in real-life that I put on this alien character.” Or whatever. But because they know us, and we did make the characters G and A, then they’re like, “What’s real, what’s not?” And it’s like, “A lot of it is and a lot of it isn’t.” But any book is that way.
Sarah Enni It’s almost a little bit Easter egg-y for the fan. The really true-blue fans for you guys.
Gaby Dunn Yes, definitely.
Allison Raskin We mention the YouTube channel in the book.
Gaby Dunn Yup!
Allison Raskin It’s like so masturbatory.
Sarah Enni Which is great! You’ve earned it. The idea that you guys are building a canon to your work too, I think is sort of delightful. I love that kind of shit.
Gaby Dunn That Ava and Gen exist in a world where she and I also exist?
Sarah Enni Yes.
Gaby Dunn Whoa.
Sarah Enni It’s very Marvel Universe of you guys.
Gaby Dunn Yeah!
Allison Raskin We’re just trying every day to be more and more like the Marvel Universe.
Gaby Dunn Oh, my god. She’s joking, but I’m not!
Allison Raskin I’m not joking.
Gaby Dunn Okay great.
Sarah Enni Talking about Marvel Universe and what you guys are building, I was reading a bunch of articles with you guys, and all of the stuff you’re working on is so interesting. But you’re very driven, professional women who are building something. It’s refreshing.
Allison Raskin Can I just say, I can’t believe you did so much research, and I’m very impressed! Most podcasts are like, “Who are you?”
Sarah Enni I’m in it. And that’s the reporting background. I would never show up without doing…
Allison Raskin I appreciate it.
Sarah Enni I try to talk about this on the podcast as much as possible because there is a degree to which creative people… it’s like, [people think] you’re just supposed to wait for the muse. And if it happens, you have to be self-deprecating about it. And especially for young women it’s like, “Fuck that.” We’re working really hard. We’re trying to build something and we’re constantly hustling. And I want to talk more about that, and how you approach that, and how you’re thinking about where to go from here. Books are just a part of a lot of different things that you have going on right now.
Gaby Dunn Yeah, we’d love the book to be a movie. We’d love for it to be a TV show. We always think of stuff in terms of IP – intellectual property – so what’s the next step for this? Or, “Okay we wrote it as a movie script. Is there a digital aspect?” I think a lot of times I see friends of mine or people be like, “It can only be this.” And it’s like, “Naw man. It’s an idea.” Now what is it? How does it look this way? How does it look this way? And also, there’s a lot of failure.
I used to say this when I freelanced, people would be like, “Wow! You got an article in Cosmo.” And I’d be like, “Yes. I got one article in Cosmo. And you didn’t see the fifteen pitches I did to other publications that got rejected.” And it took a long time for me to be like, “Oh. I’m allowed to be excited about the one that got accepted.” Except I would not even experience the joy of what got accepted because I knew. Whatever, “Everyone is happy for me, but I’m a fraud because fourteen pitches got rejected.” But, you just have to keep moving on the stuff that is actually happening. And not what happened in the past.
Allison Raskin I also think it’s so important to have multiple things. If you have one idea, and that’s your idea, and you work on it for years like, “Oh, my god.” Devastation of that not moving forward. We’re always moving on to the next thing by the time the first thing’s rejected. Which is most of the time. [laughs]
Like right now we have the channel. We have the book coming out. I have two half-hours that are being developed and sold at some level. I’ve a narrative podcast, and a web series, and a feature that I’m trying to ge, and a short film. Every single one is a totally, completely different project, and I’d be so happy if any of them led anywhere. But, oh my god, imagine if I just had one. That’s terrifying.
Gaby Dunn I love going back and looking at a script and being like, “What’s this?” Like, “When did I write this? What was this?” Because you need to finish it and then immediately forget about it.
Sarah Enni Right and not be married to it in this way. What’s the adage? “If you have an idea, you have to be able to sell it three different ways.” And that’s how you can make a living as a freelance artist. So, looking at one project or one idea and being like, “What are all of the different variances that can spin off of that?” Or, “What am I interested in that’s the heart of this?” And, “How can that be something else?”
Gaby Dunn I worked for multiple publications, full-time jobs at these blogs, where you had to produce three articles a day. You had to. Did you have three ideas? Are they all good? It doesn’t matter. I would have long-form pieces that I would be working on and then I would go, “Okay. That’s a long-form piece. It’s going up. That’s amazing.” At the end of the day, I’ve still got to have two more articles. And a lot of them are trash.
There’s one I wrote that was really good, in the year that I worked there, and people still Tweet at me about it, and re-blog it. And I’m like, “Yeah. That’s the most I could hope for.” Out of a year of just vomiting articles onto the internet, that one super-resonates with people and after five years still does? I’m like, “Great. That’s the best I can fucking hope for.” [laughs] So, anything that you do. Not just the one idea. She’s right about having just a billion ideas.
Sarah Enni There’s two thoughts I have based on that as well. It relates back to what you’re saying about, “It doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be finished.” Starting something and failing and abandoning it and moving on… [for] some people, that’s like death.
Allison Raskin You can’t have that approach. You’re not meant to do this if you can’t handle that. I cry all the time. I’ll be at dinner and find out that our FX show is dead and just keep eating dinner. At the beginning, it was much harder and the first blows hit you so much harder, and then you build up a thicker skin.
Gaby Dunn I was at Disneyland when I found out.
Allison Raskin We found out about the MTV show at Disneyland and the FX show at Disneyland.
Gaby Dunn Both at Disneyland.
Sarah Enni Oh no!
Allison Raskin Stop going to Disneyland!
Sarah Enni You can’t go to Disneyland anymore!
Gaby Dunn But both times I had to stay at Disneyland so as not to be a buzzkill to other people. And you just put on a… what do we always talk about? That Katy Perry documentary where she’s hysterically crying and then she rises up the stage and immediately starts performing.
Sarah Enni Whoa.
Gaby Dunn Yup!
Allison Raskin I can’t think of a more powerful image and I actually never saw the documentary.
Gaby Dunn Really?
Allison Raskin Yeah. Just hearing about that I’m like, “That’s the most powerful thing I’ve ever not seen.”
Sarah Enni The other thought I had based on that, was specifically because you both have grown up in Improv comedy developing. I am really fascinated by Improv, I love watching it. And something about that is really creatively energizing to me. But I think it’s partly because it’s fly by-the-seat-of-your-pants. Don’t get married to any idea. Move along with [someone]. Read the room and don’t cling to something that’s failing. A lot of these lessons are ingrained.
Allison Raskin That’s what I was saying, in that every type of comedy I do helps with basic writing. With improv, it’s like exploring and being more creative and the element of surprise. And with stand-up it’s like word count and how to get to the joke the fastest, and how to know when people have lost interest. And also, what is actually interesting to you. What’s your voice?
Gaby Dunn For me, when I did improv in New York, it was just something that held me accountable. I had to be at a certain place on Wednesday at 8 pm. If I was tired from work? Whatever. I had to. And then you had rehearsal on Sundays. So, Sunday, Wednesday [pauses] carved out. You had to perform even if you weren’t in the mood to perform.
Sarah Enni Right. Creativity because it’s…
Gaby Dunn Because you have to. If you don’t feel funny that day? You still have to do it.
Sarah Enni This is making me think about in writing the book… voice. And developing the voices you wanted to explore. Did you split up the characters? Were you both writing both characters? How did you edit in that process? I definitely do want to know some of the nitty-gritty about it.
Allison Raskin I typed the whole book and Gaby sat next to me during the whole thing.
Gaby Dunn Mm-hm. And we just talked over what we wanted to happen next. What we wanted to do. We didn’t go back and forth. We didn’t do like, “Oh, I wrote this part and then she wrote that part.” We were just sitting next to each other and eating candy and listening to that song Summer in the City over and over again.
Sarah Enni Amazing.
Gaby Dunn And also, we write for each other all of the time. We write each other’s voices on the channel. So, I have to write jokes in Allison’s voice. Allison has to write jokes in my voice… all the time. So, we kind of have each other’s voices in our heads, weirdly.
Sarah Enni That’s very interesting.
Gaby Dunn Yeah. And she knows my flaws and I know her flaws. If she was writing something for Gen, she knew that Gen’s whole thing was arrogance.
[background: dog growls and then barks]
Gaby Dunn She’s mad about people outside!
Allison Raskin She’s mad about Gen’s arrogance.
Sarah Enni So, that’s not very different from how it is to write the show together?
Allison Raskin We’ve never written together until the book, really. I’d say.
Gaby Dunn A lot of the sketches we’ll write independently. Or, we’ll write it and send it to the other one. And then the other one will give notes, or whatever. So, we hadn’t sat down next to each other and written something until the book.
Sarah Enni So, this was new. And for eight hours at a time? Which is very intense.
Allison Raskin It was horrible.
Gaby Dunn I haven’t been in school in a long time, so I don’t like doing anything for eight hours. As Gen’s character, I mean, neither of them really liked going to class, actually. [laughs]
Sarah Enni That’s an interesting process. I’ve been talking to a lot of people lately who are co-writing and every partnership is different and they do things in a different way.
Allison Raskin I guess in the book we’re co-writers, but in everything else we’re not. We write separately.
Sarah Enni For the channel?
Gaby Dunn We’ll write separately for the channel and then give each other ideas. Or we’ll brainstorm. I’ll be like, “Is this a good sketch idea?” And Allison will be like, “No. What about this?” Also, for writing in terms of TV shows and scripts and movies, we have our own projects. Allison has her own feature script, I have my own feature script. We each have our own TV show stuff. And then the shows we’ve done together a lot of it is - story by us - and then Allison writes the actual show.
Sarah Enni And this is something I see a lot in the comedy community and what I’ve been talking to my writer friends about, is the idea that in some cases, you find people who make you funnier, or who you write with and it enhances what you’re doing. Like improv troupes, right? [They] will rise up together and be doing their individual stuff. But if it gets shots, then everyone helps. It’s sort of this community rising-tide principal that I think is really awesome. And I try to advocate for it with my friends. Let’s all fucking do stuff together and…
Gaby Dunn Yeah, and give someone a quote for their book, or make a little video promoting somebody’s web series. Everybody knows the game and the deal.
Sarah Enni And it’s building community. And it is other people who are gonna be interested in your work, or want to help you, or think of you when they have something cool that they’re doing. It’s not as intuitive as I thought it was for other people.
Gaby Dunn Stephanie Beatriz who’s an actress friend of mine who’s on Brooklyn 99, she has this Gif that’s pinned on her Twitter that’s just ladies helping other ladies. It’s just a never-ending GIF of different women lifting each other up, and then they get lifted up and then they lift someone else up and they lift someone else up. It’s so cute. It’s a little cartoon. And I love it.
Allison Raskin Oh, that’s great.
Sarah Enni Thank you guys so much. We wrap up with advice. So, I did want to ask just a little bit about writing advice. You [to Allison] recently put on your Twitter this really awesome text chain [laughing] sending advice to someone. But it was really good. Just to summarize, it was like, “Time and pain does not necessarily mean that it’s good. And that being precious doesn’t pay off.” Which I thought were two pretty great pieces of advice.
Allison Raskin Yeah, thank you. I stand by those. I think there’s this belief that it has to take you fucking forever to do anything for it to be any good. And I can guarantee that you never see those extra hours on the page. Sometimes you do, but the majority of the time… no. I’ll turn in pilots that I’ll write in two days and they’re like, “Cool. Good. Here’s your notes.”
Honestly, sometimes I’ve held on to things so people don’t realize how fast I wrote it. Because there’s this big misconception that it should be strenuous and hard. There are projects where it is really hard, and it takes fucking forever, and that’s like the worst thing I’ve done. I think it’s quantity over quality… seventy percent of the time.
Sarah Enni Doing and finishing anything is going to help you improve, right?
Allison Raskin Absolutely.
Sarah Enni Starting the great American novel seven hundred times and never finishing it, is not gonna help anyone.
Allison Raskin And your first few scripts are gonna be terrible. So, I’m really glad I got rid of those early.
Gaby Dunn I was so stressed and so worried when I was in my early twenties, because all of my friends were getting Urban Outfitter book deals and I was the only one in my group of friends who didn’t have one. And I would cry about it, and rage about it, and I was so upset and I felt so maligned. Now, I’m like, “Oh my god.” I had no idea that I would have this big platform.
And anything that I wrote in the past? It would have been horrible. It would have been embarrassing. It probably would have not been social justice in a way that I care about now. I would have to go to every bookstore and burn it! In a way, it was such a blessing, because I wasn’t ready. I used to get so worried about aging, now I’m just like, “My thirties are gonna be dope!” There’s no rush to make the first thing you write the best thing.
Sarah Enni I love that. Do you guys have any advice for people writing comedy, or trying to be funny in book form? Which is not actually that easy.
Gaby Dunn Punch up! Punch up!
Allison Raskin [makes a scoffing sound] We didn’t do that.
Gaby Dunn What do you mean? Yes, we did. We don’t make fun of people who are marginalized in our book.
Allison Raskin Oh, I thought you mean “Punch Up” like do a pass where you are punching.
Gaby Dunn No! I mean punch up instead of punch down for comedy.
Sarah Enni Wait. Can you define? Because I don’t know that everyone knows what this term means.
Allison Raskin Oh, “Punch Up” is like when you go through and do a whole pass where you’re doing alt jokes to make it funnier. I thought that’s what you meant.
Gaby Dunn You thought of it in a script way and I thought of it in a social justice way.
Allison Raskin I’m shocked!
Gaby Dunn I know.
Sarah Enni [giggling] That is pretty perfect. I love that. You guys, this was so great. Thank you so much.
Allison Raskin and Gaby Dunn Thank you for having us!
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Every Tuesday, I speak to storytellers like Veronica Roth, author of Divergent; Linda Holmes, author and host of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast; Jonny Sun, internet superstar, illustrator of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Gmorning, Gnight! and author and illustrator of Everyone’s an Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too; Michael Dante DiMartino, co-creator of Avatar: The Last Airbender; John August, screenwriter of Big Fish, Charlie’s Angels, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; or Rhett Miller, musician and frontman for The Old 97s. Together, we take deep dives on their careers and creative works.
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