Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin first met on the LA comedy scene in their twenties before working together at Buzzfeed. The pair, who are not only business partners but close friends, would end up leaving the major media company to launch and work full-time on their YouTube channel “Just Between Us.” The channel eventually morphed into a podcast of the same name that saw the two friends hashing out everything from their latest bad decisions to mental health.
The pair began working on their own projects outside of their partnership, but released their first joint novel “I Hate Everyone But You” in 2017. The book focused on two best friends, Gen and Ava, as they made their way through their collegiate years. The sequel, entitled “Please Send Help,” was released this summer.
With topics ranging from metal health, to LGBTQ identity, to hating your job, Dunn and Raskin manage to craft a novel that perfectly combines the candidness of growing up with the humor of two extremely online gals. GO sat down with the pair to discuss friendship, their new book, and what it’s like being digital role models.
GO Magazine: So, I kind of want to start out by saying I’m a huge fans of you guys.
Allison Raskin: Really?
GO: Yeah, I actually have really fond memories of you all. I’ve been watching you since Buzzfeed. My best friend and I used to watch you guys all the time. You guys were like a cooler version of us! I want to ask you: Do you hear things like that a lot from people? What does it feel like to be role models for a lot of people in the digital generation like me?
AR: You know, I think it’s always surprising because, based on our numbers, we’re nowhere near the biggest channel. There’s so many people who we worked with such a bigger following and so a lot of times it feels like, ‘Oh, are we even succeeding at this?’ But then when we hear feedback from people we’re like, ‘We actually made genuine connections. Oh right, that’s why we’re doing all of this. That’s what makes it all worth it, and we should keep going.’
GO: Gaby, I grew up in a Southern city, and I’m a queer woman. I was already out, and it was so cool to be able to point to you as another person that people knew and that we all could relate to. What was it like kind of being specifically a queer role model? Was that always important to you to include that in everything that you do?
Gaby Dunn: Yeah! As a fellow queer from the South—hello!—I don’t think that there is a lot of representation of people who’ve made it out or who are continuing to thrive in the lower half of the 48 states. So not just made it out, but also thriving while there. I mean, it never occurred to me to not to be out. I always joke about all these people coming now that are monetizing their coming out. Like, if I just waited a couple of years, let people speculate, and then made like a big video announcement, I would be rich! But it never occurred to me. I was bi when I started doing stuff on the internet, and so of course, if we were going to talk about our lives, I would have to talk about that. So, I was never in [the closet]. I’m just happy that people connected to it, because I feel like it’s something that I was so ashamed of and I was told to not talk about, that now, because I have the ability to talk about it all the time and there’s no consequences—like my family will still love me, and I won’t be fired—I’m very privileged in that way. So, if I have the ability to do that, then why not?
GO: To open it back up to both of you, I’d love to kind of little bit about being open and candid in your work. I think that that’s something that really draws people to you all—the ability to truly talk about everything, both the good and the bad. Can you talk a bit about why that was such an important thing to include in your content across all the platforms you participate in?
AR: I think again it’s our nature. You know, Gaby loves to lie, but I have a hard time with it, and it’s just something I’ve never felt comfortable doing. So, I think from the get-go we were pretty open about stuff. Instead of appearing like we were so cool and we didn’t care about getting like followers and brand deals. Instead, we were like, ‘Please follow us! Please sponsor us!’ From there, it kind of went on into every aspect of our life. … Otherwise you know what are we doing, right? Why are we sharing if we’re not going to be honest about stuff?
GD: Like I said, we’re very lucky in that like our families will still love us, our lives will still be relatively the same. There’s nothing that’s going to be so bad if we’re open and honest about mental health or sexuality or like things going on in our lives, and that’s a privilege that not everyone has. We were like, ‘Well, you know, if we’re going to be sharing stuff from our lives, if we’re gonna be trying to impact people in any way, the first way that you can do that is with honesty and vulnerability.’ That’s the only way to get people to feel like they connect to your work. People can tell when things aren’t authentic; people can tell when you’re lying. I think people can tell when someone’s trying to put on a happy face and they’re not happy. We’ve had encounters with other people who are like, ‘Oh, we don’t share if we’re fighting.’ or ‘We don’t talk about if negative things are happening.’ But I would never want to portray me and Allison’s friendship as this flawless thing, like we’re female friends and we never fight and we’re perfect all the time. That’s not realistic, and all that does is make other people who are going through things that are perfectly normal feel bad or deficient in some way.
GD: This a weird roundabout thing but if someone comments on my Instagram and it’s like, ‘Oh my God, your skin is so good. Oh my God, your eyebrows!’ I’m always like, ‘It’s make-up!’ I would never—I wasn’t going to get my breast reduction, and then not tell people, and then have people be like, ‘Oh my God, you look so good in that top!’ and me not go ‘I paid money for my boobs!’ I feel like I don’t want anyone to ever feel like they have to live up to something that’s not real.
GO: Now, talking about your book “Please Send Help,” which I loved—I read it in a day flat. I thought it was a fantastically honest depiction of life and being young. So, considering how true you stuck to life, why did you two choose to write characters that were essentially you? Why fictionalize your own life, instead of going totally fictional?
AR: I think that Gaby and I are both kind of voracious readers, and we grew up loving novels and fiction. And when we had the opportunity to our first book together, we thought that we wouldn’t be allowed to do fiction, because normally YouTubers aren’t. Our agent at the time really believed in us, and our editor did as well. I think it was similar enough to what we had been doing with sketches on the show [on YouTube]—which was fictionalized and scripted— and then just kind of bring that to a different medium.
GD: It allows us to cover the topics we want to cover, especially with “Please Send Help.” Allison had the idea of covering STI stigma, and neither of us have Herpes. But we both were like, ‘Well we want to give a character Herpes and cover that.’ It was like fiction gave us the room to talk about the stuff that we wanted to talk about.
GO: There’s this storyline I thought was really interesting between Gen and this southern girl. Gen is a queer woman who basically believes that she’s going to get a girlfriend, and it turns out she’s just being used a little bit. As a queer women, it was relatable but honestly hurtful to read, because I think we’ve all been there. Could elaborate a little bit more about why that was such a big part of her storyline?
GD: Well, I think [in] first book we wanted—Gen was really having a great time at the queer paradise that is Emerson [College], and Ava was struggling a lot more. In this book, we wanted to switch it and have it be that Gen’s having a rougher time and Ava’s sort of actually doing really well in her job. With Gen and the girl, I mean I think it’s something that a lot of queer women have been through. I think also Gen has this like unflappable confidence, and I think it was also sort of important to show that she has feelings and she can be hurt. She’s not like, ‘It’s fine. Everything’s fine. I’m using her as well—blah blah blah.’ And, it’s like, you’re not, sweetie! You have feelings for this person and you’re upset. I think I’m the same way. I’m like, ‘I don’t even care anyway,’ but it’s like, ‘Yes you did!’
We wanted to kind of also have different experiences the queerness in the South. Like, Lyle is having his own experience and dealing with discrimination, and homelessness, and dealing with feeling sort of on the outs of society. Then Coralee—we don’t know what she’s going to end up being. She could end up being bisexual! There were plenty of girls that I quote-unquote dated in college or after college who where straight at the time and then identified as queer much later on. At the time, it was very frustrating for me, but they were on their own journey. But it is a journey that does hurt some people’s feelings and is imperfect and is relatable to a lot of people who have been queer longer, who have known who have been more certain of themselves longer.
GO: I also wanted to talk a little bit about the format of “Please Send Help.” For me, this was really reminiscent of books I used to read in the early-2000s because of their digital, back-and-forth nature. Was that intentional?
AR: I mean I don’t think we were like intentionally working in that style. We wanted it to feel more like a conversation than traditional prose, so you really get to know the girls. Also you get to have them be unreliable narrators to each other. There’s really no truth in these books; it’s just how they relate what happened. There’s no objective reality, which is how we experience the world. Our friends tell us how things happen, but who knows if they were right? Also, coming from a screenwriting background, it made a lot of sense; it was much closer to the stuff we had done before with traditional prose.
GO: What’s something you both individually want readers to take away from this book?
AR: Just that life is messy and that you’re going to make mistakes. Your first job isn’t your last job. You think maybe you know more because you’re out of school, but you don’t. There is a learning curve, and the best thing you can do is just make sure you have good people in your life who are there for you for the ups and the downs.
GD: That nothing is a catastrophe. Even something like what if Ava goes through, or even Gen thinking that she’s never going to find a job and she has no money—if you love each other, and you have support, and you have like a chosen family, nothing is like such a catastrophe. Everything is what you make of it and more. I’m so happy with how Ava’s storyline goes. Like, how she makes the best of everything. And Gen doesn’t just become defeatist. In the end, she does make her situation better and does decide that she doesn’t need to live where she lives. I just think like nothing’s permanent basically. And even things that are permanent are not the end of the world.
GO: Anything else you want your readers and fans to know about you or the book?
GD: We’re going on tour,… so we’re working in a bunch of different cities. One of my favorite parts of the whole book process is getting to tour and getting to meet everyone, because like Allison said, … you can live your day-to-day, and you don’t necessarily think about the people that you’re touching. Then when we get to go on tour and I actually get to see the fans, it’s like so much more real, and I’m always like, ‘Oh my God, you guuuuuuuys.’ That’s the only thing.