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Marilyn Monroe Changed Gaby Dunn’s Idea of Feminism

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Gaby Dunn does it all: She teaches you about money; she cares deeply about prison reform and social justice; and she makes you laugh. Bad With Money — also the name of her best-selling book — is now going into its sixth season and explores the connection between life and money while existing in a system rooted in capitalism and greed. The comedian also often works with Reform L.A. Jails, and, true to character, has raised money for the initiative on Twitter by sharing embarrassing stories in exchange for donations. Below, Dunn shares the movies, books, and TV shows that have influenced her.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

I have a few very favorite movies. One of them is Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. I watch a lot of old movies, but I did not realize that the sexual politics of old movies were actually kind of progressive. Essentially, these two girls — Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe — are best friends. And Jane Russell’s whole thing is that she likes hunks and wants to find love, and she has a whole song where she’s with the water-polo team from some college, and she’s like, “I like them all!” And then Marilyn Monroe’s character’s like, “No, you’ve got to marry for money.” But it’s mostly about their friendship — female friendship. This is a movie about two women who have very different ideas of relationships, and neither of them feels the need to be overly prim and proper. So I was surprised, when I started watching a lot of old films, how the sexual politics of it wasn’t what you would expect from the 1940s or 1950s. I love Jane Russell, and I love Marilyn Monroe, and I think it was formative in some ways because I had this bare-bones idea of feminism and then I was like, Oh, Marilyn Monroe was actually smart. She has to be very smart to play comedy the way she does. I think I had this idea that women like that are not like me, but seeing her made me think that that’s some bullshit second-wave misconception.

Smallville and Law & Order: SVU

I very much enjoyed the comic-book shows like Smallville and all that kind of stuff. That was cool because there was a character who was a quirky journalist girl. And I wanted to work in journalism, so I was like, This is me! I also loved Law & Order: SVU, and I always thought it was a fantasy show. It’s kind of weird, at this moment in time, to realize that people watched it thinking that that’s how the cops really work. Like, the reason that we watch this is because it’s about as real as Game of Thrones.

Maureen From Rent

Maureen from Rent! I think I saw that show and then I was like, This is me, you know? I was 11, but I was like, Yes, this is what I am. I mean, I knew I was bisexual, and she kind of has this relationship with Mark and then is with Joanne, and I hadn’t really seen anything where a woman just dated a dude and then dated a woman. I had not seen anything like that. And she’s so extra, and I always felt really extra and loud. The fact that she owned that she was self-centered was also cool. I think I probably also had kind of a crush on Idina Menzel, but, really, I had never seen a queer woman portrayed like that in a way that wasn’t sad. So I really latched on to Maureen and also Idina Menzel. When I was a senior in high school, as a gift, my parents told me we were going to go to New York to see some shows. And we went to see The Daily Show, which I loved — I loved Jon Stewart — and then we went to see Wicked. The night we went, it was an understudy, and I was inconsolable! My parents should have been like, This child is gay, because this is way too much.

Magical Realism and The Night of the Gun

When I was in college, I very much enjoyed magical realism, which I kind of discovered at that time. I really liked Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, and Love in the Time of Cholera — just all these kinds of nonlinear, magical-realism books. And with Murakami’s book, for example, it’s so mundane until, like, something happens, and I remember reading a lot of those in college. And then another book I read in college, which is kind of funny because I’m friends with the author’s daughter now, is The Night of the Gun, by David Carr. My father’s an alcoholic, and David Carr was an alcoholic and a journalist. In the book, he basically wakes up from a blackout and he has a gun, so he journalistically traces how this happened and investigates himself. And the daughters are toddlers in the book. I got to meet him briefly before he passed away and then much later I met his daughter — she’s an amazing documentarian — and befriended her.

Female Pop Vocalists

I love a female pop vocal. My partner is a musician, and my Spotify end-of-year playlist was like Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, Charli XCX, and my partner. In high school, I liked Oasis a lot. I was very much into classic rock — I have an Eric Clapton tattoo, which is a whole other thing to unpack — but, yeah, I was very into my mom and dad’s stuff. So it was the Stones, the Who, a lot of Beach Boys, the Beatles … and then my mom loved Motown. So I loved the Four Tops, the Supremes, and the Ronettes — “Be My Baby” is one of my favorite songs. But now, as I’ve gotten older, it’s a lot of female pop vocals. Like, I just have Chromatica on replay now and Dua Lipa and all that kind of stuff, which is just, like, gay culture, I guess.

Ms. Broekhuizen

I did a whole post on Instagram about my second-grade teacher named Ms. Broekhuizen. Basically, she submitted one of my stories in second grade or first grade to the Broward County Fair. So then I was like, I’ve got to be a writer forever now. I was thinking about how much teachers can basically steer your entire career path, so that was huge. My mom is still in touch with her, but, I mean, moms love to do that. It was a huge turning point for me when I was younger, so I was, like, thinking about her a lot and wanted to post a thing about how if you’re a teacher, you should know how much power you have. Even like an offhand comment can really shape a kid. I mean, my math teacher hated me, but maybe if she had been more accommodating I would be a NASA scientist today. So who knows?

Marilyn Monroe Changed Gaby Dunn’s Idea of Feminism