Lena Dunham's headlining act at JFL42 at first seemed like the odd event out -- it's not a stand-up act, and frankly a lot of the topics Lena deals with aren't all that funny. But that didn't stop people from coming out in droves to see her read from her new book. And it didn't stop the evening from being entertaining, heartwarming and funny, after all.
Dunham's show wasn't technically comedy, but she kept the crowd steadily laughing over the course of the two hour event. After making some quips about her Canadian snacking habits -- three bags of ketchup chips and two Timbits -- she started the evening with a reading from her new book, "Not That Kind of Girl," set to be released October 7.
The essay she chose to share was about summer camp, and was full of anecdotes that painted a picture of a young, neurotic Dunham trying to make friends and navigate puberty. As you can imagine, young Dunham felt homesick her first year at camp, despite the many wonderful memories her mother had of the experience, which drove her there to begin with. She spent a lot of time on tearful phone calls with her parents, and suddenly developed "an allergy to wood." But by her third summer, she had friends and was comfortable enough to make observations like, "our bunk was intact, and so was my hymen."
The chapter was funny and cute, and a portal into a different side of Dunham's mind. The book promises to be relatable, is sure to be a hit with the "GIRLS"-loving audience, and maybe even a younger generation of women who aren't quite old enough to watch the show yet.
After the reading she settled in for a sit-down with Q's Jian Ghomeshi, the two already friendly from radio interview earlier that day. They covered everything from Nora Ephron (whom Dunham called "An encyclopedia on how to live well as a woman"), our obsession with social media ("It's...probably stopping us from curing cancer"), and how a once-friendless Dunham is now surrounded by thousands of people who want to be her friend ("[creating GIRLS] created a sense of community in my life").
Of course gender politics came up and Dunham didn't shy away. Oversharing, she said, seems to be something only women suffer from. Another chapter in her book deals with body image, where she shares an old food diary she kept while trying to lose weight for her show. "It's a wonder it doesn't end in a suicide," she said, about the diet that included things like "a handful of almonds -- and I spit them out."
She also poignantly discussed the criticism that her show gets, perhaps because it is the first of its kind to focus on young women today.
"Walter White is a meth dealer who kills children. Tony Soprano whacks his relatives. These are our most beloved TV icons. This girl is a bitch to her friends," she says about her character, Hannah. And people say "I can't watch this show anymore."
This was her first time reading from the finished book -- and her first time in Toronto -- and like everything Dunham does, it was big. It's not often that a reading of a debut book brings out an audience of thousands, but it's a testament to the lasting impression Dunham has made on culture today.
While the audience seemed unsure of what to expect of a book reading at a comedy festival, the crowd walked away with lots to ponder and discuss, and with Dunham's motto for Toronto to bolster them -- "Great snacks. Nice people."