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Girls Producer Jenni Konner on the Critics, Judd Apatow, and Loving Lena Dunham

Jenni Konner
Jenni Konner. Photo: Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

You’ve heard a lot from Girls writer-creator-star Lena Dunham and producer Judd Apatow — but perhaps less so from its equally important other producer, the refreshingly honest Jenni Konner. She first worked with Apatow on Undeclared and became a Lena Dunham superfan the moment she saw Tiny Furniture. Here, she tells Vulture how she turned her love for Lena into an insanely hyped show, and what exactly she loves about the girl anyway.

How did you get involved with the show?
I got involved with the show because I got a copy of Tiny Furniture from [HBO president] Sue Naegle. Actually, [New Girl creator] Liz Meriwether told me about it and said, “Oh, there’s this great movie. This girl, she’s 23, she wrote, directed, and starred in it; she’s in her underwear the whole time.” And I was like, “I really don’t want to see that.” [Laughs.] And then she was like, “Oh, trust me, it’s great.” So Sue gave it to me just because she had it — this is before they had a deal with Lena or anything — and it really spoke to me. I became completely obsessed with it, and with her, and I was just like, There is something magical about this girl. She has this voice that is so truthful. She’s so brave. Not only does she have no fear, but she likes to show sort of the entitled, cringe-y side of herself, you know?

[Someone brings Konner coffee. She seems very, very happy.]

Anyway, I just became completely obsessed with her and I used to, like, give out copies of the movie. But I’d just broken up with my writing partner and couldn’t be less interested in the idea of supervising anybody. I really was like, “I’m going to find my voice, and be on my own.” And then they called me and they were like, “Oh, the Tiny Furniture girl is doing a show, do you want to supervise her?” And I was like, “Yes! One million percent. Sign me up. Totally onboard.”

So that’s how you met Lena? She didn’t get your fan letters?
Yeah, exactly. I know! All the e-mails. [Laughs.] No, um, that is how we met. We talked on the phone after that and fell in love.

You mentioned how Lena’s unafraid to show the entitled part of herself.  How do you respond to criticism that the show is about privileged white people? That there’s nobody of color?
Well, we’re actually addressing that this season and we get a little better at the end of the season. You’ll see. But, um, I would also say that we’re not trying to take on the world. We’re trying to show a very specific group of people. But we are, I would say, regretful about sort of the lack of diversity in our show. And it’s getting better. That’s what I’ll say. We’re working hard on it.

So that answers the question about people of color, but what about the socioeconomic status of people who are privileged enough to be able to live off their parents?
I mean, honestly, we’re not trying to represent the whole world. Lena is trying to tell a story that is largely hers. Her process is so quick that she’ll go out to dinner with someone, have a terrible date, and by the next morning it’s incorporated into the show. Whereas, like, it takes me maybe fifteen years to be able to write about something that happened in a truthful way with some distance and some comedy to it. [Laughs.] So we’re writing Lena’s life as she’s living it, basically.

Is she able to live her life that way anymore, since she’s so busy with the show?
No, exactly. That’s why we have a writing staff. We need other people to live it, too. And, you know, we all lived it. I mean, I think there’s bits of all of us in all of these characters. It’s like group therapy. We sit around and tell a lot of deeply personal, embarrassing, hilarious stories.

What can we expect coming up on the show?
I think Hannah’s journey the first season is really largely about her relationship with Marnie. I mean, that is almost our main love story — is the two of them. We’re really interested in telling stories about the really complex nature of female relationships, especially at that age. And that’s why, you know, the first image you see is them cuddling up together — spooning — in this way where you’re like, “Oh, is that two women in a relationship?” Like you’re not sure what’s happening and they just have these incredible levels of intimacy that, you know, people in their forties generally don’t have anymore. So it’s something about the way that those relationships go where you’re kind of in love with each other and you’re kind of meaner to each other than you would ever be to any other human [laughs] — but also more protective. It’s just the passion of those kind of female friendships and I think that their arc feels very truthful to me about relationships at that age.

It’s funny, I keep hearing people say this is a show of what happens in your twenties, but if you’re single in New York, this kind of shit just keeps going.
I know. Totally. It’s so true. People really of all ages are walking up to me and saying, “I’m Hannah.” It’s kind of amazing.

It also doesn’t seem to me that the sex scenes are so subversive. I didn’t find them shocking.
I think it’s so interesting that there’s been any kind of talk about them, because we’re just trying to show a truthful version of sex in your twenties, which is mostly two people who don’t know that much about sex having sex together, you know? And so people are pretty new at it at that time, and experimenting. To me, I don’t need to see a great sex scene of people totally enjoying themselves and it being super sexy, unless it’s completely emotionally motivated, or there’s story attached to it. But a bad sex scene is hilarious! And everyone’s had bad sex and I think they can relate to it. [Laughs.]

Let’s talk about Shoshanna. I get her anxiety about not being as sexually experienced as her friends, but I think it’s kind of weird that a virgin in her early twenties, and frankly in her late teens, is always depicted on TV and in movies as this horrible anomaly that must be corrected.
But also, there is a woman on our staff who was a virgin in her twenties — in her early twenties — and it was really complicated for her and she felt shame about it and she felt really uncomfortable about it and she has told us amazing stories about her life during that time.

Yeah, but I think that isn’t as uncommon as it’s always shown to be in pop culture.
Oh, it’s completely common. Especially, I think, in this sort of the post-AIDS world. Not that we’re truly “post” it, but I think there’s so much fear associated in general with sex and diseases.

Some people think it’s kind of bittersweet that Judd Apatow is the executive producer of this. Like, why can’t you have a show about women, written by women, with a female at the very top of the management chain?
Oh my God. Not me. [HBO rep comes to get her.] Wait, we need a couple of minutes. I want to answer this one. [Laughs.]

And the same was true with Bridesmaids. Why did that movie need to have a male producer and a male director? The sense was that Judd swooped in and added the raunchiness it needed to get a male audience.
It’s funny, because he doesn’t add a raunchiness, like, especially in our show. The thing that Judd does the most, which I think is surprising to people, but I’ve known him — my first job was on Undeclared, so I’ve known him forever — he pushes the romance the most. He pushes the emotional moments the most. He pushes everything further. So I would say, like, in Bridesmaids, if he adds the shit scene it’s because, like, “How can we make this scene the fucking funniest version of itself?” And he’s always saying to Lena, “Why are you afraid of love? Why can’t you show love? What if they fall in love?” He pushes everything further.

I mean, first of all, just on the topic of Judd and women — it drives me crazy, because I’ve known him for so long and been a woman in his world of writers for so long, and you’ve never seen someone more gender unaware than Judd. Like, he — I swear to God, he looks at everyone in exactly the same way. It is a complete meritocracy.

He wasn’t your white knight.
Lena and I were doing the project and then Judd called me and said, “Do you want my help? Because I just saw Tiny Furniture and it’s incredible.” And I was like, “Of course I do.” Because first of all, there is no one I trust more, creatively, in the world than him. Often when I’m writing and I’m writing jokes or I’m writing a scene I’m, like, “If I had to show this to Judd … ” Even if it’s, like, a script that has nothing to do with him, I think, What would he say? Would I be embarrassed to show this joke to Judd? [Laughs.] Because his standards are so high. And his taste, in my opinion, is so good. So he said, “Do you want help with this?” And I was like, “I would love nothing more.” He’s just an incredible producer who pushes for the most new, exciting, and creative ways to do things, so I would say it is completely beside the point whether he’s a man or a woman. He’s just a fucking great producer.

Girls Producer Jenni Konner Is a Lena Superfan