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Gaby Dunn on Life in Quarantine, Buzzfeed and Just Between Us

One of the first outwardly queer individuals I was exposed to as a young kid was Youtube personality and writer Gaby Dunn. Her online success, sprouted from her channel Just Between Us shared with her best friend Alison Raskin, and her appearances on the Buzzfeed Youtube channel has expanded her career as a writer into podcast work, and even a few books. Gaby is truly the perfect example of the power of Youtube and self made content and where an online career can take creatives in the modern age. Her dual ended audience, some following Gaby from her Buzzfeed videos and some following her from her Just Between Us channel or other personal mediums like her books or her podcast, invite Gaby to explore different types of content without inhibiting her creativity or discouraging her from new passions or projects. We were fortunate enough to be able to talk to Gaby about how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected her as a Youtube creator, the journey of the Just Between Us channel, and her time at Buzzfeed.

Where are you from initially?

I'm from South Florida, so the Fort Lauderdale area basically.

So you obviously initially started your YouTube career working through Buzzfeed and appearing in videos with Alison, but what specifically did you do behind the scenes at Buzzfeed?

I was brought on as a writer, Alison and I had Just Between Us already. And then there was like a day where they wanted to make a video about best friends so I brought Alison on. Then they wanted to make more scripted content so we just writing scripts and participating in like the taste tests and stuff like that. A lot of what they wanted was stuff that had a storyline or stuff that was scripted. So there was a balance of really intense scripted stuff and then two seconds later we were on camera drinking fire whiskey. Then it's hard because you're working in an office with people but you're also acting with them. And then you're also like drunk at noon. It's a very strange workplace.

It's interesting how the cast members can get so famous through Buzzfeed, but they're like also working full time office jobs.

Yeah, when I was there in 2015, they were not prepared for that at all. They didn't assume that anyone was going to care about the cast members individually. But if you start showing up a lot as a cast member, people start to get interested in knowing who you are and wanting to follow you. And then they're trying to figure out what's real and what's not. Who we're dating and who we're not dating. And there's a blurry line where in some videos you're with your actual partner, and then in some videos you're with someone else and acting. And the audience wants to decide who we have good chemistry with and dig into our love life.

Alison and I were friends in real life, but then in another video we were acting and someone else was playing my friend. I just don't think they were prepared back then for what the internet would do with all of the cast members. Which now, there are all kinds of channels like that and they're hyper aware and wanting to push that dynamic with the audience. It was definitely not meant to happen. And you're getting payed office job numbers, not celebrity numbers. You're not even getting payed for your on camera work.

Why did you eventually decide to leave Buzzfeed?

Alison and I had other opportunities coming to us. We had people contacting us about wanting to do a TV show and we had met with a production company. Buzzfeed just wasn't prepared. And they didn't understand that we wanted to have management and do bigger things. It was sort of like a taboo thing to be auditioning and doing stuff outside of Buzzfeed. And I'm very bad at following rules so I would go on auditions and do whatever I wanted. Then they kind of found out and they didn't want me auditioning for and MTV show because it's like taking a job interview somewhere else. But if I spent three days shooting a show and then came back to work, I would just take three sick days. But there was conflict. So Alison and I sold the television show to MTV and then we quit. We shot the pilot for the show, which didn't end up airing. Then we were able to get management and other opportunities from the show and Just Between Us.

Do you find that a lot of the fans of Just Between Us found you through Buzzfeed?

There actually seems to be some sort of disconnect between Buzzfeed and Just Between Us fans. It's almost like existing in two worlds where some people are "surprised that the Buzzfeed girl wrote a book" and others are like "she was on Buzzfeed?" Alison and I didn't know each other that well when we started the channel. We had known each other for a very short amount of time. I had tried to do an internet show with another friend of mine, but we started doing our thing and people really enjoyed it because we had such an odd couple dynamic and we were so different from each other. It was so strange because we were almost getting to know each other and becoming friends on camera. We had to figure out how to work together while it was already successful and we both have talked about how if we were just normal friends and not doing the channel, our friendship might be non - existent.

That kind of is like the same dynamic with Trixie and Katya because when they had initially started the show, they only knew each other from Drag Race because they were on the same season. But when they were but together for UNhhhh, they got to really become best friends on camera and in that environment of having a show together. So that's an interesting parallel.

When I started watching them, which was maybe like a year ago, I was like, oh man. This is very familiar. I was like, oh this is our show but done better by two drag queens. I think I had even said something on JBU recommending it to Alison. And she was like "so it's our show but funnier and by better people,"and I was like "yup pretty much!"

Well both shows are great in my opinion. I remember watching so much Just Between Us when I was younger. I always thought it was so funny. So this is quite the full circle moment for me.

Aw thank you! Once I said I liked their show, everyone was asking "but which one are you?" I was like "I fully can't believe you have to ask." Okay. Haha. Like have you watched the show?

Ya "Alison is most definitely Katya" they probably haven't watched the show. You've previously said your podcast, "Bad With Money" serves as a platform where queer individuals, people of color, and those that you normally wouldn't hear talk about money now have the ability to discuss finance. Why did you choose a podcast as your medium and what made you want to start a podcast about finance?

Well, we can have more people on the show cause they can call in and you can also get people from all different parts of the world. So we've been able to not only have people from coastal elite cities. One of my favorite guests is my friend's dad who lives in the Midwest. We just talked to him while he was like on break from his construction job with like a very thick Midwestern accent. It was wonderful. We a Buddhist monk on JBU last season and it was his first time ever being on a podcast. Like that's the type of person I would rather have on, so podcasting is a better medium for that. I think it also makes people less nervous rather than being on camera. So we can just show up to work in sweatpants. But it's also a money show so people can find that boring. But you can always have a podcast on in the background and you don't have to focus 100% of your attention on it. So it does take people a while to get to the show but then eventually they're kind of hooked. And I do understand the anxiety approaching a podcast about finance. That is scary and totally understandable.

Well during this time podcasts are such a great medium because you're able to record from anywhere. You're not being put at a great disadvantage right now because you can't go to the studio.

Yeah. I'm doing it from home right now. The first three seasons of the podcast we did from my living room so it isn't too much of an adjustment. We got a studio for last last two seasons and we got all fancy. Then the pandemic was like... you got too big for your britches. Now you're recording in your house again.

Do you feel that as an online creator, the quarantine has kind of given you an edge up because you now have more time to do creative work or expand your online content? How have you used the time creatively?

There's stuff that I thought people would be too busy to do or watch that I've always wanted to create. I've been doing these queer live reads where we read a script of a movie and I recast it with different friends of mine who are queer. I started doing it just with friends and I thought nobody was going to want to participate. But then I've had legit actors who I'm friends with messaging me and asking why they haven't been cast. But I just thought that it was beneath them and they'd never want to do it. So now I'm able to bring all these people together that might not know each other and are all performers. We did 10 Things I Hate About You, Clue, Alien, Ocean's 11. And I also want to give people the chance to play roles they would normally never get cast as. There's no rules. We have a queer Latina who is going to play George Clooney's character. Why not? So it's been such a fun creative outlet where I've turned full high school drama teacher. Now I get to create all this gay stuff. And it's been so cool to go to the digital drag shows and see what everyone else is creating.

And for people our age, it's so much more accessible to just the drag artists and to see drag from all the world. I would never be able to create close connections with drag queens from Spain if the pandemic wasn't happening and I wouldn't have the opportunity to showcase so many talents in our twitch show. I really hope that we can upkeep the digital shows after all of this.

My partner is a trans musician and they're making money doing Crowdcast. So many people were coming to it. Normally a lot of people might be too socially anxious to go to a club, or maybe they're disabled or underage. Maybe they live in Lithuania and they're not going to ever be able to see you live. It's really important.

You've written multiple books and although your journey as an author has kind of been unconventional and you've had YouTube to give you a platform as a writer, do you feel that writing is your greatest passion, or fulfills you more than any of your other creative mediums? And if not writing, what do you feel most passionate about?

It's writing. I always say I'm a writer as a shorthand for what I do. I mean I've been a writer since the second grade when I wrote a novel in a notebook and I was like... well I've written The Great American Masterpiece. This is it. I'm 8 years old.

That must feel quite fulfilling for you to outwardly be labeled as an author on your Wikipedia and such. That's pretty awesome.

Ya, I've always been a writer you know? That's just who I am.

You've served as a queer voice on YouTube for several years. What was your coming out story?

I never really came out on the internet. I was just out the whole time. God I should have monetized it.... that's a joke. I could have had a video that had 2 million hits! What was I thinking? Haha but I'm just glad I was out the whole time. It wasn't a big deal and it was just like who I was. Some people will say that I come across very very queer. Like people must know and then other times people stay I'm straight passing. So I'm like it's such a privilege that I'm straight passing, and then friends of mine will be like "oh no you're not." Okay. I don't know. Maybe cause I have long hair now. Who knows? But I mean I had a few friends in middle school that I told and I didn't really say anything in high school. But Emerson, my college, is like a very gay school. So the first week of college people were like "what are you?" cause that's how they interacted with each other. It seems crazy that I didn't really say anything because I'm so outwardly queer now and I always talk about it. But you get used to saying it more and more the more times you come out to people. So now it's like nothing. I mean unless I'm wearing a shirt that says bisexual, which sometimes I do, it's not like a thing.

Why do you think it's so dire, now more than ever, that we come together to support drag artists and the queer community?

I think a lot of us, like you said, make money performing. I was thinking about how much gay life is going to events or to shows or bars or safe spaces. Even in LA I would go to Flaming Saddles, and like now I miss Flaming Saddles so much. You don't realize what you have until it's gone. I would love to go to the Abbey and complain about being at the Abbey. You don't realize how many people are being supported by those spaces. The bartenders, the gogo dancers. You go there and you meet up with your friends and you're going to run into three people from Tinder, some Youtubers you don't like but what a joy. What a blessing. I didn't realize how much of our gay hangouts are just gathering in these groups. And so then if you think about it, how much of us make money that way? So once you shut down those industries, the people that suffer the most are queer people, people of color, etc...

How have you personally been affected by the pandemic? I know you do mostly stationary work because you are an online creator, but how has it negatively impacted you and the direct circle of people around you?

Well, my partner can't tour. So that's really bad. They were about to do South by Southwest which got canceled. Then they were going to tour with a podcast called Welcome to Night Vale, so that's canceled. I work in entertainment, so right now I'm in the writing stage of a TV show, but even part of me is wondering if it will ever get made. What does that look like? I mean online people are saying "well, Hollywood's over" and it's scary! And then I have friends of mine who are dancers or sex workers and the ones that I've spoke to, no judgment, are still seeing clients or still putting themselves at risk in some way. I mean they don't have a choice. They need to make money. And we had to re record the entire season of Bad With Money that's coming out now because so much of what we recorded was before the pandemic hit and none of that is relevant. When we started recording it it was right when the pandemic was starting. So there's audio of me reading the news about the pandemic on my phone and being like "That's crazy. Ok so - " and that's so crazy hearing myself. But I've been really trying to support the people around me. I've been buying up cameos which is great. I have so much merch from people now that I would never have owned otherwise. Buying merch is a great way to support artists. And also, a lot of artists put their Venmo in their bio and that goes directly towards them. People feel shame asking for money but I mean right now they have to. Also, if they're providing entertainment, they should be getting tipped anyways like in a normal show.

And do you have any upcoming projects that you want to plug?

Yeah! I'm on twitter @gabydunn and I do giveaways every so often. Someone will send me money and I'lll give it out to people in need on twitter. And of course the Bad with Money podcast and Just Between Us!

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