“You forgot your gift bag!”
I was already riding up the escalator to the BAMCafé, but a woman in the lobby was shouting to me: “Wait! Wait!”
I turned around to walk down the escalator so that I could grab the little satchel from her outstretched arm, but before I got within her reach, she tossed it up to me. I wish I could say I caught it. After I picked it up from the escalator step, I opened it up immediately (as one does with anything free, right?) and an assortment of condoms (male and female, the latter of which, I admit, I’d never actually seen in the wild), some lube, and a slew of information about Planned Parenthood. This, I was pretty sure, was an auspicious sign of what was to come.
Following the release of her memoir, Not That Kind of Girl, Lena Dunham commenced a 12-stop national book tour. Last night’s reading at BAM was its culmination, and was part of “Unbound,” a book launch series sponsored in partnership by BAM and Greenlight Bookstore. (Future Unbound events will feature Herbie Hancock and John Cleese.) Not having been at any of the other 11 stops (which Dunham said felt like forever to her, but probably would’ve been nothing for KISS), I can’t really speak to what they were like, but last night’s event felt intimate and convivial in that specific way where, I don’t know, a relatively small audience (~200 people) is made up entirely of family, close friends, and the kind of rabid fans who bought tickets so fast that this reading sold out in minutes. (Oh, and a few members of the press!) All of which is to say, there was a lot of laughter and positive energy and talk about the importance of the mid-term elections. Here’s a rundown of the night’s most memorable moments:
Mike Birbiglia warned us all about the dangers of toxoplasmosis: Comedian and friend of Lena, Mike Birbiglia, opened up the night with a short bit about cats and marriage and mice and the relative hilarity of animal-based puns. I’d actually heard this before (at BAM, no less), but it’s never not funny to hear about parasitic mice who aren’t afraid of cats or humans and so enjoy watching The Bachelor with you.
Jack Antonoff is the embodiment of a specific type of Brooklyn resident: Dunham’s boyfriend, Jack Antonoff (fun., Bleachers) played three songs before Dunham came on stage. He also spoke of recently becoming a Brooklyn resident, saying, “I used to live in Manhattan, so I used to say all the things people said about Brooklyn, but also, I’m from New Jersey.” This, I think, is the experience of countless other Brooklyn residents, especially those living in Brooklyn Heights.
Lena Dunham is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a wonderful reader: Obviously Dunham is also an actress, so it makes sense that she’d be at home on the stage, reading from her book. And this was the last stop on the tour, so she’d had plenty of time to warm up. But also, she was just really easy to listen to, and had an easy rapport with the audience, and frequently stopped reading to do things like assure her front-row sitting mother that just because she talked about being home alone in her book, it was “not an indictment of your parenting. It’s just that you had places to go and I think that’s good!”
Dunham and Zadie Smith talked about everything from Amy Schumer to Cosmo articles about anal sex to Knausgaard: It was pretty clear from the outset of their conversation that Dunham and Smith have a real friendship, based on a mutual respect for each others work, as well as a love for pop culture. Their conversation tackled everything from how the characters Dunham creates get attacked incessantly for being “unlikable,” despite not being “Tony Soprano or Walter White,” and that Smith think that has to do with the “double scandal” of not falling victim to the trope of the typical female character who “looks good, but we know she hates herself inside.” They also spoke of the toxicity of the idea that “girls be and men do,” and how the best thing about having a romantic partner is that, in Smith’s words, “everything bad in your life is somebody else’s fault; that’s the big sacrifice.” Plus, we found out that Dunham is reading Karl Ove Knausgaard at Smith’s suggestion, but that she’s also looking to read “stuff [she]’d be having a more fast-paced experience with.”
Life lessons from Dunham, Smith, and Jemima Kirke: The evening ended with these three ladies taking questions from the audience, one of which was the big one of what was the most important lesson they’d learned in life. Dunham spoke of the “power of saying no,” and claimed that this was one of the hardest but most valuable things she’s implemented in her life. (She wrote about this in her book, and it’s well-worth a read.) And both Kirke and Smith said that they thought “listening to your children”—even when they’re boring and being little shits—was a really worthwhile thing to do. Which, really, we can’t argue with that.
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