Lena Dunham Caves in to Online Outrage Over 'Free Labor' Book Tour

After online article trashing the 'rich and human' Lena Dunham for not paying warm up acts in her coming book tour went viral, Dunham promises artists will be compensated.

Chen Haddad
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Lena Dunham poses on arrival at the 71st annual Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, California January 12, 2014.
Lena Dunham poses on arrival at the 71st annual Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, California January 12, 2014.Credit: Reuters
Chen Haddad

The creator and star of the hit TV show "Girls" has inadvertently sparked a media outrage, after it was revealed that though she has invited artists and performers to participate in her book tour, she doesn't intend to pay them.

The promotion for Lena Dunham's new book "Not That Kind of Girl" is not your run-of-the-mill book signing and reading of excerpts in sleepy bookstores, but a production of such scale it was dubbed "a roving Burning Man" by the New York Times.

The "literary circus" will include 12 events in 12 cities across the United States starting on September 30, and will include live music, food-stands, and panels about subjects ranging from Feminism to body image with Zadie Smith, Portlandia star Carrie Brownstein, writer Mari Carr and director Miranda July, among others.

But what raised the ire of the media was Dunham's open call for video auditions in the hopes of being warm-up acts in the events, performing free of charge. Over 600 were undeterred by the lack of compensation, including a cappella singers, gymnasts, performance artists, stand-up comics, and even some "exceptionally charismatic babies," according to a New York Times writeup of the tour.

The website Gawker slammed Dunham in a piece titled "Lena Dunham Does Not Pay," which quickly turned viral, and suggested to "do the math" by noting that Dunham's estimated annual earnings are $6 million, that she got $3.7 million as an advance for her book, and yet the "percentage of book tour revenue reserved for regular people performing as warm-up acts for Lena Dunham" is zero.

Gawker wryly added that the number of minutes the "rich and human" Lena Dunham would need to "spend writing in order to earn the money that will be paid to the warm-up acts on her upcoming book tour" also equals zero, naturally.

This book cover image released by Random House shows, "Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's 'Learned', " by Lena Dunham. The book will be released on Sept. 30, 2014. Photo by AP

Caroline Bassett, a comedian who was chosen to open for Dunham's Austin event, told Gawker that she is "find with not being paid," because the opportunity of working with Dunham is compensation enough. However, Bassett's feelings were not shared by the Twittersphere, and Dunham was flooded by online derision.

A controversial figure at the best of times, Dunham at first responded by insisting it's no one's business how she does her business (in homage to the Jay Z song), but later she apparently realized that her public image may be irreparably damaged if she doesn't turn back and pay her chosen performers.

"Some good points were raised and I've ensured that all opening acts will be compensated for their time, their labor and their talents," Dunham tweeted, but didn't fail to quip that "the fact that Gawker pointed this out really proves Judd Apatow's saying that 'a good note can come from anywhere.'"

Some came out in Dunham's defense, however, including New York Magazine writer Matt Zoller Seitz, who tweeted: "Lena Dunham screwed up royally with this "opening act" nonsense, but I'm suspicious of how people lurk and pounce on her constantly."

The fact that Gawker pointed this out really proves Judd Apatow's saying that "a good note can come from anywhere."



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