Talking to Gaby Dunn About ‘Bad With Money,’ Financial Shame, and Protecting Your Work
“When money was my biggest issue, I didn’t want to talk about it.”
I know you probably know about Gaby Dunn’s new podcast Bad With Money—and if you’re not listening, you should be.
Bad With Money’s approachable description sums it up best:
So much of our identity and self-worth is caught up in how much money we have (or don’t have), how hard it is to get it, and even harder to keep it. Money makes us freak out, cry, and do wildly inappropriate things. So how come nobody ever talks about it? Join Gaby for conversations with comedians, artists, musicians, actors, her parents, a financial psychologist, her boyfriend, and many others about the ways that money makes us feel confused, hopeless, and terrified. This is a safe space to admit that you have no idea what you’re doing either.
See what Dunn has to say about hard conversations around money, and why people are more likely to open up about their sex lives than they are to admit the current balance of their bank account.
I was so excited to see you were launching this podcast! I listened to the first episode and knew right away it would be up the alley of The Billfold. Do you feel like you got the hard part out of the way with your pilot’s conversation with your parents about how they managed money when you were a kid?
I know! I feel like I can only disappoint people now, I think. It started off so strong. I think it was good that we started so personal with my parents, and then with my business partner, Allison. But the next episode is me and this financial psychologist, and I didn’t know him. His job was telling me why I do what I do, and how money [can be tied to] mental health. That’s followed by a conversation with my younger sister. I’m hoping the mix of informative and educational with personal [perspectives] serves the show well.
My contract is for 24 episodes for the first season and we have 20, but we are still booking. I’m just gonna keep booking until they tell me to stop. They are so many angles to money, it touches everything.
In your first episode you also had a really interesting bit where you asked strangers two questions: 1) their favorite sexual position, and 2) how much money was in their bank account. The results were fascinating. Why do you think money is so hard for people to talk about?
My producer Sam and I knew people would readily tell us their favorite sex position and not how much money they have. I think there’s been a lot of work and revolution put into talking about sex. It’s cooler, maybe? It’s easier to learn about. There’s shame associated with sex, definitely, but with money, people are afraid of looking stupid. I hate looking dumb. When money was my biggest issue, I didn’t want to talk about it. [If someone told me something smart about money] I’d be like, yeah of course I knew that. I was lying! I didn’t want to look dumb. Sure, people judge you for sex stuff, but you can brush that off. With money, you’re like, I’m a special kind of dumb dumb. Because I don’t get this, I am stupid and bad. You don’t want to be judged.
You’ve talked a lot online about the importance of empowering freelancers to strike out and make their own content while maintaining ownership of that property. Will you go into those ideas as well on the show and maybe interview others who have maybe been exploited by large content companies for their art?
We have a big episode where I talk to a lot of YouTubers, like Brittany Ashley, who was fired at BuzzFeed to sort of an uproar that I caused, maybe? She was let go for doing independent work. My NDA with BuzzFeed had expired but she was still under [the terms of] hers. So we interviewed her about what went on there, plus other YouTubers, about how they can be taken advantage of. You have to protect yourself as an independent creator, even with big companies. We talked to Kevin Allison about his former sketch show The State, and how Viacom paid them so little that they went on unemployment when the show was in the off season. Their checks were the same as when their season was going on.
What kind of guests can we expect to hear from in the future? By the time this runs your second episode with a financial psychologist will have aired.
We have a lot of amazing people. I’m really excited about Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher, because they talk about how to not break up when you share money as business partners and also wives. My mom is a divorce attorney and she would always say, money makes people break up. We also talked to Yo Is This Racist podcast host Andrew Ti, and he talks about the interactions between race and money and the wage gap between races, about class and race. Another great one is with Carrie Wade, a disabilities writer for Autostraddle. She talks about disability checks and how you’re kind of disincentivized from getting married if you’re on disability. [Dunn also noted that Roxane Gay might be a possible future guest!]
I first found your YouTube series as a result of an article you wrote last year for Fusion about how strange it was at that time to have the level of fame where people recognized you, but not necessarily have the financial reward that is often perceived to go along with that. Did that article’s themes have any part in forming this eventual podcast?
It did! I knew Andrea at Panoply already. We had worked as bookers on a radio show years ago that was a live show at Upright Citizens Brigade. She reached out to me and was like, would you ever do this as a podcast? I wanted to do a podcast, but I knew I wanted to do a journalistic type one. My degree is in journalism. I was a journalist for years before doing YouTube. When I moved to LA, I worked as a reporter. And then I wrote that article and my fans were like, whoa, you write articles? And I was like, oh yeah, I guess you weren’t around for that.
So I wanted to do one like that, which this has ended up being. What an obvious marriage of talents. I was so angry when I wrote that Fusion article that I didn’t know it would blow up the way that it did. My editor on that, Nona Willis Aronowitz, is great. Sometimes I’ll write something big from her and then drop off for a year.
Has your Patreon for Just Between Us been a successful part of your strategy to monetize your work?
Well, we are bad at everything. We don’t offer incentives because we’re so busy doing the YouTube channel. For a channel that is visible and trends a lot, we don’t have a million subscribers. None of the benchmarks [for what’s considered a successful channel] are there. I always think we could be making more money on Patreon if we did it correctly, but we’ve never done anything correctly, like a call to action to help us grow. We’re just wrong. We’d be much more successful if we did it right.
I remember a very cathartic conversation a few years ago where I admitted to my boyfriend that I was, at that time, very much broke. Was there a moment for you where you just couldn’t take it anymore and had to tell someone about your financial concerns?
With Allison, definitely. I was crying — we’ve had a lot of moments where one of us was crying. I was crying about it at her house and just told her the whole thing. But she says on the [first episode of the podcast] that I had a lot of false bravado. I never said I didn’t have the money to do things. I was just lying. But it started up when we had costs for the channel, and we split those costs. It became apparent to her that I couldn’t split them. I didn’t have a way to hide that. She’d like, just Venmo me the money for this, and I would stand there right in front of her and have no way to lie.
I think she got hints from things I would say about my parents. She realized my side of the story. She told me, It would take me so long to figure out that you were just covering stuff up all the time. It was nice to finally talk about it. Her dad offered to give me money and that was like, a weird conversation. He explained the pros and cons of taking money from him and it was so lovely and sweet. We joke on the show that her dad was gonna give me a stipend for being her friend, that he’d get a pamphlet in the mail saying, here’s your white child you are now taking care of in L.A. I didn’t end up taking it, but you feel sort of great that people would do that for you. But I understand not talking about it because you feel awful.
Anything to add?
I hope the show makes people feel better! I love hearing people’s stories.
Support The Billfold