Thoughts from a Thought Catalog Editor: An Interview with Gaby Dunn

Gaby Dunn has accomplished a lot for only being 24-years-old. I first heard about her on Thought Catalog, (where is an editor) a website dedicated to personal essays about current issues in the lives of 20-somethings. Her comedic and honest voice was one I could really relate to. After trying to find out more about her, I learned that she's worked for the Boston Globe, currently writes for The New York Times and is a stand-up comedian. She's written about her experiences with addiction, sexuality and anxiety through an introspective lens. Her most impressive undertaking has been her project 100 interviews. She created a list of 100 people, from an abortion protestor, heroin addict, twins and a porn star, to interview about their lives within the course of a year. She did this for no money, all for the accomplishment of being able to say that she completed it, as well as the opportunity to meet people from so many different walks of life. Her willingness to tell the truth in such an open forum as well as her tenacity and drive for information make her someone I really admire and wanted to know more about. I reached out to Gaby to find out more about her writing career as well as all of the new things she's doing in the comedy world. Check out the interview below!

What or who inspired you to begin writing? "I was kind of always a writer, even when I was a real little kid. I used to joke that April from “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” got me into writing because she was the first journalist I ever saw on TV, but April was a broadcast reporter and only owned one yellow jumpsuit so maybe she’s not the best role model. I really liked The Babysitter’s Club and Nancy Drew books when I was akid. My parents saw I was writing short stories and were very supportive. I had a teacher when I was in 2nd grade who submitted my short stories to this contest and I won a ribbon, so that was encouraging."

What was the most important thing you learned from your time at the Boston Globe? "That people hate journalists? The whole experience I think was a nice rollercoaster of highs and lows. I think it mostly taught me that journalism is a thankless job and those that are dedicated to it are truly saints for dealing with all the BS you have to deal with on a daily basis. There’s no time for yourself, no “off” hours in journalism. And first and foremost you’re dealing with real people and real stories. The sensitivity mixed with thirst for the truth and the stones to stick with it are really a delicate balance."

100 Interviews was a huge undertaking. It definitely proved that you are dedicated and self-motivated. What inspired you to take on such an intimidating project? Were there ever moments where you thought you wouldn’t complete it? "My dad did. I wanted to write stories but I wasn’t hired to do any long-form journalism and I didn’t have any connections in New York media. I wanted to break in and have something unique I could tell people I met -- editors, other writers -- about. I have this sort of delusional naivete which I think has served me well, in the sense that it never occurred to me that would be difficult or that I’d be unable to finish. Not really. I certainly worried about making my deadline or finding people but I always thought I’d get it done somehow. And not to say it wasn’t hard. It was one of the more difficult and stressful years of my life. But I think anyone who does anything cool needs to have a bit of that unflappable delusion."

The issue of journalistic integrity and ethics have been a popular topic as of late that you’ve touched on recently. As an aspiring writer, I’d love to know how you handled those moments when you weren’t sure if what was right for your job was right for you? "Sure. When I was younger, I tended to put the job above people, because I liked the superiority I felt as a journalist. I loved leveraging the power of the pen -- or the power of the Globe’s wide audience. But through 100 Interviews, I realized the people involved often have very complicated backstories and it’s important to take that into consideration. The story might not come first -- which maybe is why I stopped doing the daily news cycle. It’s tough to remember that when you have to be so fast and ruthless. (I don’t blame those people either. It’s their job. Civilians generally have such a terrible understanding of the media too.)"

Your writing on Thought Catalog covers topics as universal as your TV crushes to themes as personal as sexuality and mental illness. Did putting so much personal, albeit beautifully written, information online ever worry you from a personal or professional standpoint? "It doesn’t worry me. I have to trust that people get writing in the sense that I’m a writer and I have to share with my audience or I have to write this idea that’s been pounding on my skull. I want to share even the ugly parts of my life because those seem to be the stories that help people the most or that people feel most connected to. I just resigned myself to my parents and friends knowing every detail of my life and that’s weird, but I just have to sort of deal with it. So many people tell me they’d be writers if they knew their parents or boss wouldn’t see it and that’s a really sad roadblock you’ve set up for yourself. I don’t think I’d be a very good writer if I was holding back all the time. You can’t really hold back."

Which comedians inspired you growing up? How do you think they influenced your style of performing? "I really enjoyed Mitch Hedberg, Demetri Martin, Mike Birbiglia and Maria Bamford. Someone recently pointed out to me that Birbigs is a story-teller and what I do is also tell stories, albeit in a different format. That delighted me because I wanted to think the people I grew up admiring had had some lasting impact and it turns out they have in ways I never realized. I also think Bamford made me realize it was okay to be a total weirdo. That people will enjoy the stranger aspects of your thought process."

What is the hardest part about being a female in comedy? "Comedy is hard for everybody so I find it better not to focus on being a “female in comedy” but rather on being a comedian who has to work hard and try to gain respect and be funny on a consistent basis, which is something every comedian has to do. It’s not a profession for the sensitive or weak-hearted."

What advice would you give to students interested in getting involved in comedy? "Don’t overthink it. The funniest things are often what you’re doing when you’re just being yourself. I spent a lot of time trying to cultivate something and in the end, people laugh the most when I’m just being honest. Just be as honestly you as you can be. That being said, if you’re a comedy writer or a stand-up, you have to commit to writing which may not be the most fun part. It takes work. You can’t just get up there and futz around because that wastes everyone’s time. Be kind and respectful to the comics that have been doing it longer than you and listen to their advice. If you’re at school, join up with some friends who are also funny and try to make stuff. Join a troupe. Start your own troupe. Whatever. The internet is your oyster. But also step outside of school and see what the local comedy scene is like, too."

You’ve accomplished so much at such a young age. What’s next for you? Do you have any projects you’d like to promote? "I am going to be working on a couple books soon. One fiction, one non-fiction. Which is crazy. I’m turning my attentions toward TV writing as well and working on specs and pilot scripts. So we’ll see. I don’t really know what’s next for me. Oh! I have an article coming out in the March issue of Cosmo so everyone should get that and then read about 25 ways to please your man and also my article, which will not be about that!"

For more updates of Gaby, check her out on Twitter!