Lena Dunham Emails Zadie Smith About Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj, Plus Other Revelations from the ‘Not That Kind of Girl’ Tour


Last night, Lena Dunham brought her 12-city book tour behind Not That Kind of Girl back home with a variety show of quirk, feminism, and friendship for Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Unbound series. The 90-minute event moved quickly, starting with cat-driven stand-up from Mike Birbiglia and a three-song set from Jack Antonoff of fun. and Bleachers (familiar to Not That Kind of Girl readers in the role of good-guy boyfriend). Dunham read two pieces from her nonfiction collection — an essay about her younger sister, Grace, and one of the book’s humorous lists of gaffes — to the intimate crowd, which included her mother Laurie Simmons and actor Jon Glaser (Parks and Recreation) sitting in the front row. Then the show really began.

Jack Antonoff, Mike Birbiglia, and Jemima Kirke in the crowd. (photo by Beowulf Sheehan, courtesy of BAM)

Zadie Smith served as Dunham’s foil, appearing as poised and private as Dunham appeared candid and uncensored. I wouldn’t necessarily watch a literary buddy comedy starring these two, who apparently trade emails about Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj on the reg (Smith *just* saw the “Anaconda” video — blame it on having kids — while Dunham shows it to her father weekly), but the conversation went in interesting places, eventually dropping off with a thud via bland audience questions administered to a trio rounded out by Girls‘ Jemima Kirke. There was, however, one inside-jokey question about Palestine and Israel that led Dunham down a path she seemed to almost instantly regret. Her comments were clearly said in jest, but out of context, they would be the kind of thing Dunham detractors would roll their eyes at: “I’ve been told I got HPV from an Israeli person… an Israeli strain of HPV.” Then, “I have no formal stance on the [Palestinian-Israeli] issue.” It was an odd way to end a night that felt surprisingly political via friendly female empowerment.

(Jillian Mapes for Flavorwire)

In the lobby, attendees were greeted by a table of Planned Parenthood volunteers, who gave out Lena-branded mini-satchels of contraceptives and literature on sexual health (see above). When Dunham initially took the stage, she made a heavy-hearted plea to the audience: vote in the midterm elections, for the sake of — if not yourself — the city’s abundance of women of color living below the poverty line. “As a New Yorker, I used to think all I had to do was vote for Obama, and go back to eating Cheetos and masturbating,” she said, expertly playing up female-rebel relatability, a fundamental in her arsenal.

Politicized talk extended well into Dunham’s conversation with Smith, who at one point noted that the hundreds of mentions of the word “vagina” in Not That Kind of Girl were slightly concerning to her. Both, however, agreed on being “radically offended” by the cutesy language used in women’s magazines to describe female sexuality. They also saw eye to eye on the troubling gender gap among unlikeable characters on TV, with Dunham name-checking Tony Soprano, Dexter, and Walter White as male favorites far more villainous than Dunham’s own Hannah Horvath.

(photo by Beowulf Sheehan, courtesy of BAM)

The most fascinating bit of conversation in this vein was something Dunham moved away from quickly: the notion that few truly understood what she was trying to do with her debut film, 2010’s Tiny Furniture. “No one seemed to think ‘Tiny Furniture’ was a critique of class,” she noted, adding that similarly class-tinged, Manhattan-set work by male filmmakers like Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale) are given the intellectual benefit of the doubt. “When you’re a 24-year-old woman, people want to say, ‘Could you be any more self-involved?”

(photo by Beowulf Sheehan, courtesy of BAM)

But if anything seemed to draw people to Dunham last night, it was her self-aware self-involvement. Even when she stumbled through a few phrases in her reading, she charmingly improvised commentary on it. She says things like, “I would love to be on Oprah’s Best Life Tour” and urges women to say no sometimes, to not compromise their flaw-filled personalities while in positions of authority. She was the living, breathing embodiment of exactly that at BAM, while surrounded by her inner circle — and the crowd was made to feel like a part of it.