Excerpts from The Oral History of Girls

Origins

Lena Dunham: In 2010, I threw a party to celebrate my dear friend Eclipso finding a very a large box of very colorful, very smooth stones.

Eclipso Smothers: I was walking out of a bodega in Greenpoint and right there, by the exit, was a large plastic box filled with smooth stones. I watched as a child deposited a simple silver disk into a slot on the box, causing a single stone to drop into the child’s hand. I was an anthropology major at Oberlin for two and a half semesters, so I know a lot about Gods and rituals. Clearly this was an important discovery.

Lena Dunham: We had the very large box of very colorful, very smooth stones set up on a table and as we feasted on roasted pheasant, we speculated on what the significance of the box might be. My dear friend Sclerosis Jones-Taylor thought perhaps the very smooth stones were eggs, and thinking about eggs is what gave me the idea.

Eclipso Smothers: Suddenly Lena spits a mouthful of roasted pheasant into the fire and says, “what if there were a thing called “women?”

Lena Dunham: The ideas were coming almost as fast as I could shout them out.

Sclerosis Jones-Taylor: It was amazing. Out of nowhere she was coming up with this entirely new gender. I’ll say this, though—Lena originally described women as having long, thin penises with a sort of elbow-like hinge in the middle. But then she was explaining skirts and dresses, and how those would work, and it occurred to me that a long, thin penis would hang below the bottom of a skirt or dress, so I said, “how about no penises?”

Lena Dunham: Sclerosis said that?

Eclipso Smothers: Menstruation was my idea.

Lena Dunham: Menstruation wasn’t anyone’s idea as much as it was something we couldn’t get around. I had a general idea of how I wanted the fertilization process to work, but I couldn’t figure out how to get everything cycling. For a while we thought maybe we’d have the uterine lining become steam that would then vent through ports in the woman’s head, but ultimately I thought that would make women look too much like angry cartoon characters.

Sclerosis Jones-Taylor: Lena posted a video explaining what women were and how to be one to her Youtube channel and within six days women were everywhere.

Lena Dunham: It was crazy, okay? It was like—I remember when I was a little kid, one day no one had heard of snap bracelets, and the next day suddenly like everyone, everywhere had snap bracelets. It was like that, but instead of snap bracelets it was this new gender I invented.

Eclipso Smothers: But right away there was a problem.

Lena Dunham: Some men—not all men, but some—were taking the women and explaining Michael Mann’s influence on Christopher Nolan’s Batman films to them, even after the women made it clear they already knew or didn’t care.

Judd Apatow: I’ll admit it, the first time I met a woman I cornered her and explained that Christopher Nolan screened Heat for the department heads working on The Dark Knight when they were in pre-production.

Lena Dunham: So right away women went from being this cool, trendy new thing to something no one wanted to be, because who wants total strangers coming up to them all day talking about how the bank heist in The Dark Knight owes a lot to the bank heist in Heat? The whole thing was falling apart, but that’s when I had my second great idea. A TV show about women, specifically pointing out that they didn’t need men to explain the debt Christopher Nolan owes Michael Mann.

Judd Apatow: When Lena came to me with the idea of doing a show all about how women don’t need men explaining the debt Christopher Nolan owes Michael Mann, I wasn’t that into it. I didn’t see the problem.

Lena Dunham: Judd took some convincing.

Judd Apatow: The day after I met Lena, I went to my daughter’s softball game. She hit a homerun in the 3rd inning, and as she rounded the bases I started shouting about how Nolan filmed Gotham City very similarly to the way Mann shot Los Angeles in Heat, lots of lingering overhead shots, focusing on the city as this impersonal web of winding, eerily empty streets. After the game, my daughter was furious. That’s when I knew Lena was onto something.

 

The Cast Comes Together

Lena Dunham: People are always asking me how I came up with the characters on the show, and I tell them all the same thing: God appeared to me in a dream and filled my heart and mind with perfect knowledge and inspiration.

Allison Williams: One of the first things Lena told me about my character [Marnie] was that she never, ever allowed anyone to talk about ghosts in front of her, and I really took that to heart because my nanny always used to talk about ghosts in front of me, and I hated it.

Selma Borgnine: I was Allison’s nanny from when she was four years old until she was 23 and I’ll admit it, I mentioned ghosts in front of that bitch every chance I got.

Zosia Mamet: For my 20th birthday I asked for one of those mole people from The Descent as a pet, so my dad went out to trap one and came back with Adam Driver in a cage.

Adam Driver: The script for the first episode actually went through a few permutations before God came to Lena and filled her heart with perfect knowledge and inspiration. My character was originally written as a blind, ravenous mole person, and at the time I was very invested in method acting. I’d been living full-time as a mole person for two weeks when David Mamet caught and caged me.

Zosia Mamet: I was so mad at my father when I realized he’d brought me a man playing a mole person and not a real one that I went into his private peppercorn closet and licked all the peppercorns he was saving for his birthday.

Adam Driver: The word “permutation” is one of many words I use often and correctly.

Lena Dunham: I accompanied HBO’s security forces when they used the tracking chip in Adam Driver’s neck to locate him at the Mamet residence. God had told me there would be a character called Shoshanna on the show, and when Zosia came out with this pursed look on her face—apparently because she’d been licking peppercorns all day—I knew she was just what we’d been waiting for.

 

Coming to a Close

Lena Dunham: At the season five wrap party, Alex Karpovsky [Ray Ploshansky] came over to me and mentioned that the notion that a human can’t touch a baby bird because then the mother will smell the human on the baby and ignore it is a myth. Apparently birds don’t have a good sense of smell at all. This pretty much blew my entire plan for season six.

Adam Driver: Plumage is another word I often find myself casually, and correctly, using in conversation.

Judd Apatow: When Lena told me the baby bird storyline wasn’t happening, I suggested we pivot and do a whole season about ghosts.

Allison Williams: When I renewed my contract for seasons five and six, I stipulated that under no circumstances could any character on the show reference ghosts, ever.

Lena Dunham: At that point I was like, fuck it. Let’s end the show.

Judd Apatow: I don’t want to be one of those people who talk about how important something they worked on was to the larger culture, but before this show human life was defined largely by its fleeting nature, and now human life is meaningful in and of itself.

Lena Dunham: People are always telling me how this show changed their life, or the way they think, or that watching certain episodes of the show cured their diabetes or whatever… it’s certainly flattering. I just set out to make a show that proved women didn’t want or need men explaining the impact Michael Mann had on Christopher Nolan to them, you know? And when I’m dead and gone, when every man, woman and child on Earth lines up and passes my bleached skull in a circle around the globe, each of them taking a moment to reflect on what my life meant to them, I hope that’s what they reflect on.

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