On her podcast This Feels Terrible, comedian, artist and actress Erin McGathy talks love, sex and heartbreak, with guests from both sides of the Atlantic, from Marc Maron to Tara Flynn. Erin has guested on television shows like Community and Drunk History and since relocating to this side of the Atlantic she has appeared at the Vodafone Comedy Festival and performed her show Love You Loudly this year at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Film In Dublin chatted with Erin about dates at the cinema, how films influence our views on what love is, the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” and more.
Film In Dublin: Do you think that taking someone on a first date to the cinema is actually a good idea?
Erin McGathy: I think it depends on the scenario? I think a lot of people say that going to the movies on a first date is a bad idea because you’re not really talking to each other, but if you’re really physically attracted to that person, it might be good to just sit in close vicinity to that person building up kind of a tension. And then afterwards you can talk about the movie, so that’s a nice thing.
FID: It’s guaranteed conversation.
EMcG: Yeah, it’s also a good test to see where someone is at, you learn a lot about people from how they watch a movie and what they thought about the movie. You could learn pretty quickly, possibly if someone was racist or sexist. I mean that’s a weird way to look at it-
FID: It is a gamble though. You don’t want to come out of the cinema and say ‘God that movie was terrible’. And then the persons says ‘I loved it!’ Has that ever happened to you?
EMcG: Oh yeah several times. I know I came out of Live, Die, Repeat (Edge of Tomorrow), it was a date with somebody I was in a relationship with, but afterwards we had such different ideas about that movie that it really troubled me. I was like, oh no, this isn’t a good sign that we’re watching this movie in such vastly different ways. That we’re seeing the world in different ways. Also I find it interesting an Irish person asking about a “first date”, because you guys don’t even go on first dates.
FID: Do you find that the movies you watched when you were growing up shaped your view of relationships and how they’re ‘supposed’ to work?
EmcG: Yes. The first movie I saw that really defined what love was supposed to be was The Princess Bride, specifically the scene where Princess Buttercup is arguing with the Dread Pirate Roberts but she doesn’t realise he’s the Dread Pirate Roberts yet. They’re at the top of the hill and he’s kind of testing her and she gets frustrated and so she shoves him down this hill and as he’s rolling down the hill he yells out his catchphrase “as you wish” and it turns out he’s her long-lost boyfriend. So she throws herself down this hill/mountain-the way it’s shot it looks super, super steep-and she throws herself headfirst but the noises that she makes are like “ooh”, “ah”, “ow”. Like it’s not that bad. She gets to the bottom of the hill and she’s there with Westley and they make out and everything’s wonderful.
And after I saw that movie, when I was 7 years old, I went about behind my house and there’s this big hill, they were doing construction near my house. So it was a hill of dirt and glass and metal, just their scrap pile. And I climb to the top of it and I was wearing my mom’s red robe that looked like Princess Buttercup’s dress and I threw myself, headfirst, down the hill and I sliced up my knees and cut open my face. I walked back into the house and my parent’s were in the sitting room and they were like “Oh my God what happened?” and I said “I was playing Princess Bride!” And I wasn’t allowed to watch The Princess Bride for a while after that.
I thought that idea was so romantic, that you trick someone into loving you. And I don’t want to say that I then lived my life tricking people into loving me…but I think maybe as a teenager I thought…like in that movie Westley, he’s pretends to be somebody else when he’s talking to this person he loves and he wants to make sure that she really loves him, so he talks shit about himself in front of her, it’s all very fucked up.
FID: He kind of negs her as well, while he’s being the Dread Pirate Roberts. To test her.
EmcG: Exactly. Which is so fucked up and should not be rewarded at all but I saw that and, I never did that, but I definitely did so many things that were just Big Romantic Gestures, based on this idea that it’s romantic if it’s this big ruse or this big theatrical thing that I’m doing, because in movies those things really pay off. Whereas in real life they’re terrifying and you shouldn’t treat people that way.
FID: Did that link between romance in films and real life keep developing as you got older?
EmcG: The way that I view those things, when I see love represented in most contemporary movies, I don’t feel like it’s depicted very honestly. Looking back at those movies that defined love for me they didn’t age well. I do find myself more attracted to more honest depictions of love.
I think with what’s happening now with this new wave of feminism and us talking more openly and honestly about mental illness and everything, the way that we depict love is no longer a man rescuing a woman. Like Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which is actually such a depressing, terrible story and not really romantic at all. That couple after they rescue that cat, which she treats terribly, what is their relationship? What is their connection? Their only connection is that she needs to be saved and he wants to save someone. They don’t actually like each other, there’s nothing holding them together except for this archetype.
My thoughts about love are always changing. I’m a lot more optimistic about love right now than I was for a little while. A movie that really affected me in a big way was Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. When I saw that movie, I was in that relationship exactly, to the extent that we saw that movie together and I had done so many of the things that Clementine had done, to a tee. We went down to a house that wasn’t abandoned, but was under construction, a similar thing. The entire movie we were looking at each other and realising that we were this couple and at the end of the movie they decide to give their relationship a try again, but when I saw it, I saw them not getting together again and we got into an argument about it. He said they got back together and I said “No! They realise they’re not right for each other!” And we broke up, a year after that. I think Eternal Sunshine does a good job of telling both those people’s stories.
In movies love is mostly depicted as one-sided, because that’s how we tell stories. Like 500 Days of Summer, which is a very selfish story about someone projecting this entire life on someone else. Love is often depicted as this chase to get to a place with somebody that you’re “meant to be with”, but that’s not love that’s just positioning.
FID: And a film like 500 Days of Summer, even in its conclusion, its lead character has learnt nothing.
EmcG: No and there’s another girl there and it’s like, fuck you. That was a movie that I saw with friends and I walked out of it just so angry. I expected to turn to my friends and have them all be angry but they weren’t, but it’s so unfair, this Manic Pixie Dream Girl garbage…which, arguably Clementine is that. I wonder if that behaviour comes from film, because I definitely acted like that when I was younger. It’s very likely that I did that because I thought that was what I was supposed to do, from film. But we’ll never know!
FID: When you find that people have this term for that archetype, the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl”, it’s not a flattering title. When you relate to that archetype, once you find that there’s this unflattering view of it does that make you re-examine the way that you are/aren’t like that kind of character?
EmcG: Yeah that archetype is unfair because it writes the man as ‘everyone’ and there’s this woman that needs to be taken care of and can’t be controlled and is creative but depressed. I know that when I was that way it was just because I was a naturally weird kid, naturally a weird teenager, always into art and my own things and I wasn’t cute. Then I got to college and I got a little cute? And I didn’t trust that guys actually liked me because they never had liked me. So when I was pushing guys away it wasn’t because of some master plan, it was because I hated myself. But they hated themselves as well, we all did and so that’s what makes you attracted to a person that’s going to fill in all the holes of your personality.
FID: And then these guys, they’re watching these films and seeing that you’re supposed to fix what they hate about themselves.
EmcG: Yeah and when I was 17-22, I was very much that archetype. Except that I wasn’t promiscuous, I’d never done drugs, I didn’t have any alcohol until I was 21 and even then didn’t start drinking until much later. I didn’t hang out with anyone who drank. And so something that was put on me a lot in college, guys, like film students would always cast me in their films as “the slut”, but I had never had sex before. They would want to film these sex scenes, none of which were explicit or anything but I was still like, “I don’t know…” I would Google porn because I didn’t know how to have sex, I don’t know what sex looks like so I became very academic about what sex looks like, because those characters are always so wild and have a big sexual appetite, but I wasn’t that way, even though I looked like I was.
FID: So you have film writers and directors making these kind of characters and these film students, who are guys, writing these kind of characters. So the romantic comedy and other romance films are traditionally targeted towards women and yet more often than not, they’re coming from men.
EmcG: Right, well male gaze is something that we all have.
FID: Sure, but do you think these films have an impact on the way that women see themselves?
EmcG: Sure, like anything. Like any advertisement. And so many of those movies are basically just a giant advertisement, of course. Of course they have a big impact on women. We compete with each other and ourselves to be the ultimate, most desirable women and too often women are-and it’s not our fault-but we’re often too focused on making ourselves the most desirable thing for men and not thinking about what we actually want. So those movies are just playing into all of that. There’s also kind of a nerdom in being female, because it is so drag all of it. There’s this terrible movie that I saw, that I walked out of…what’s it called? A Single Girl’s Guide…The Girl’s Guide To Being Single? That movie was so unfortunate and the presented idea of it is “this is for us, by us!” but it was just so unrealistic. Women are just as gross as men and in those movies the “gross” things that women do are not gross and it’s just like, ordering a pizza in their make up and eating a pizza by themselves in their make up, and they listen to a song and go to sleep. It’s just silly. And that movie also had a relationship where Alison Brie, who’s really studious and…and this movie is not any of these actresses fault by the way, they’re all wonderful in it. It’s not their fault. But she’s this really studious character who can’t be bothered with a relationship, but then when the guy who’s right for her is the bartender who doesn’t care at all, like ugh…in that movie all the women needed to be completed by guys.
FID: You mentioned that you walked out of that particular movie.
EmcG: I wasn’t offended, I was just bored so I just walked out. I was by myself so I didn’t have to ask anyone. Also seeing that movie by yourself is very funny. How To Be Single, is that what it was called?
FID: You’ve already answered how to do that, going alone.
EmcG: “I would like one for How To Be Single“.
FID: So where you ever on a date at the movies where it was not the kind of thing you would normally watch at all?
EmcG: When I was in high school, I had a crush on a guy and I went with a group to see the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And I am not great with horror movies and I want to be good with them, it’s not a point of pride for me that I am unable to watch horror movies, I do try to watch them because I do actually enjoy them when I’m watching them. Sometimes. But I can’t deal with slasher things or torture porn or anything like that, I can’t handle it. But I really liked this guy and he really wanted to see Texas Chainsaw Massacre. So I went to that movie with a group of people I knew through Church, so this was a very edgy thing we were doing, seeing this movie. We were sitting in the front row and I just started crying. And everyone’s like “Are you okay?” and I’m like “I’m fine! I’m fine!”, I just couldn’t handle it and then just went from crying silently to *loud sobbing sounds* and they were like, “you’ve got to leave” and I’m like “Okay! Okay!”, so I just went and sat outside the theatre and just cried. I pulled myself together but I just waited there until my friends came out of the movie and they were annoyed at me. And nothing happened with that guy.
And when I saw Gangs of New York, I saw that with the guy who ended up being my first boyfriend, who I saw Eternal Sunshine with. It was very early on in our relationship and he really loved Daniel Day-Lewis and we saw this movie and I was suffering through the violence of it. Now I think I have a much higher tolerance for violence but that was when I was 17 or 18 and I just remember sitting in the theatre, like it was such a visceral experience for me and I was just thinking “please no more, no more violence”. I was worried I was going to pass out…but I didn’t! I was okay.
FID: Are there any movies that you would turn to after, I guess you might call them…romantic setbacks?
EmcG: You’re like, “I don’t want to say break-ups”!
FID: Speed bumps?
EmcG: Speed bumps? That makes it sound like there’s a destination, which there is not…yeah I love classic romantic comedies and there are several of them that are very comforting to me. And I don’t agree with the morality behind a lot of them but I find them very comforting. Those are Notting Hill, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Bridget Jones. And 27 Dresses is actually a movie I love, which is objectively not a good movie, but I really like it, it’s just a classic rom-com. Anything with Hugh Grant. The BBC’s Pride and Prejudice. The Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightly. And just any 90’s rom-com is comforting.
FID: Bridget Jones is an interesting one, because even though they’re always a successful genre, rom-coms don’t tend to get sequels. You’ve seen the most recent one?
EmcG: I did, I’ve seen all of them and I’ve read all the books as well. And I wouldn’t even consider myself a big fan, but I do really love those movies because the characters are really well written and the original is based on Pride and Prejudice which I love and I’ll watch anything Pride and Prejudice related. Speaking of, I just watched Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. No one I know liked it and I thought it was amazing! But Bridget Jones is interesting and this one was pretty good. Still the normal flaws of a sequel. Or trequel? Threequel? What do you say?
FID: Another sequel?
EmcG: Another sequel, in that they were trying to recreate moments from previous movies and that’s always annoying. Just analogous gags. But Helen Fielding who wrote the novels co-wrote this last screenplay and it was good. In the second-I don’t know if you saw the second Bridget Jones, but the book and the movie are all about Bridget finding herself in a Thai prison. I read the book and I was like “Wh-what?”, it was like Brokedown Palace.
FID: Is there any movie that you would consider to be romantic that people wouldn’t normally peg as being romantic or a rom-com?
EmcG: I feel like most adventure films are romantic, or try to be romantic. I think the love story in Star Wars or Indiana Jones is just as shallow as a rom-com. Big commercial movies tend to depict love in a pretty shallow way. Rom-coms are just farces with mistaken…whatever. There are very few movies that are really about a couple falling in love in a realistic way.
I liked The Five Year Engagement with Jason Segel. And maybe it’s controversial but I really liked Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Liking rom-coms doesn’t mean liking the way that people usually get together in those movies, because they usually involve, you know, infidelity and trickery because they’re all farces.
I don’t think I’d go on a date to a rom-com or watch one with somebody that I’m interested in or dating or anything, I want to watch Black Mirror or a drama or something that we can talk about. I was thinking recently about how I think Black Mirror is the most romantic show because you watch it and then there’s so much to talk about afterwards and it’s really interesting and fun, whereas with a romantic comedy, there’s nothing to talk about really. You could say I liked that funny thing or that funny thing…and there’s a lot of pressure when you’re watching a movie with a lot of female bad behaviour-and this is self-imposed-but there’s pressure to be be like “oh I would never, I would never do this”. And I say quote-unquote “bad behaviour”. So I think romantic films are actually films that you’re watching with a person that you’re interested in where there’s a common interest in that film, not an actual romantic movie. Unless it’s pornographic I guess.
FID: Those other movies you listed off, those are kind of “comfort food movies”, those are movies you’d watch with a group of people?
EmcG: Back in Los Angeles I have a group of super-smart girlfriends who are all really talented writers and actors and really great people but we would go and see like, 50 Shades of Grey together as a group, just to indulge in this part of ourselves that we’re always having to hide you know? If we’re speaking in very generalised stereotypical gender borders, the same way that guys would go do, I don’t know, paintball or whatever. And it’s not fulfilling all the time, but it’s fun to be like oh this is this small part of me, this is not me all the time and I don’t actually want to watch 50 Shades of Grey, but I will watch it drunk with a bunch of my friends and laugh and objectify the men and that’s great. So yeah, those are movies that you would watch with a group. Or alone. I like watching those movies by myself mostly. Though I think I’m not able to watch them by myself in the movie theatre anymore, because I just get too bored. I have to be doing something else while I’m watching them.
FID: You get that urge to walk out again.
EmcG: Yeah. During Bridget Jones which wasn’t bad or anything I was just like, watching this by myself is pretty boring. So most of the movie I was contemplating whether or not to leave, not because it was bad, just because I was bored.
FID: So there’s maybe no such thing as the “perfect date movie”, but it seems like a movie that you would prefer for that kind of thing is not the kind where you turn your brain off but rather one where you turn you brain on, so to speak. One where you can have that discussion afterwards?
EmcG: I think actually the “perfect date movie” would be like an art-house film or something “weird”. This is also assuming that both those people are open-minded people, I guess if you’re…I was about to say if you’re simple, go see a simple movie which is such a shitty thing to say but…I think when I’m first seeing somebody I want to have as many unique experiences with them as possible because hypothetically if you’re going on a date with someone, part of you is hoping that you’ll be going on many dates with them, if you like them. So there’s no reason just to see a normal movie, because you’ll do that eventually, so it makes more sense to me to go see something live or to see something weird or to go to a theatre where they’re playing Point Break, some sort of fun thing.
I would 100 times not see a rom-com on a first date because also there’s the danger that you watch a really romantic movie and you walk out projecting those feelings on your date, and you guys don’t really know each other yet and that’s a weird thing to do. Also most likely it’ll just put a weird pressure on your date.
FID: Because if it doesn’t end like the movie did…
EmcG: Yeah, or like if you walk out of the most sexy, romantic movie ever and you’re just like, “so…what’s your job like?”, it’s really awkward. Hopefully if you’re going on a first date with somebody and you’re going to do something, you know enough about each other that you’re seeing something that you’d both be interested in. I’d say not a rom-com, unless you like making fun of rom-coms. It is good because you get to see what the other person laughs at, that’s always a big deal. For better or worse I definitely judge people for what they laugh at. My boyfriend told me recently that I laugh two beats later than I should, always. He says “when you watch a movie, you hear a joke and you think about it, decide if it’s good or something and then you laugh, but you always laugh later than everyone else.” And I guess that was charming.
FID: Your current boyfriend, what was the first movie you would have gone to together?
EmcG: Oh, Room.
FID: Very romantic.
EmcG: Very romantic.There was a lot to talk about. Also that wasn’t a first date, we’d been dating for a little while. We saw arty movies together. We saw Room, we saw High-Rise, Childhood of a Leader which is this fascist allegory…he’s a director, so we share a similar taste, but I think I have a higher tolerance for trash than he does. Though his trash is zombie films and horror films and my trash is romantic movies.
We had very different ideas about the movie Looper. I think it’s ridiculous. I think it’s enjoyable, but…
EmcG: I make fun of it constantly. Just out of nowhere I’ll be like “Are you a Looper? I’m a Looper! Let’s loop!” Because they say things like that in the movie. And he’s like “It’s actually just a really well thought out world”. Oookay. It’s also funny because for Irish people, looper is slang for someone who’s crazy. So it should have been ever funnier for him than it is for me. We mostly have the same thoughts on movies. I think that’s the only one we didn’t really agree on.
My last relationship we had very different ideas about movies. That became really frustrating. I became really defensive about things, not even things I really loved, just “no that’s not terrible, what are you even saying, you weren’t even watching it.” Weird place to be in. I think also my last relationship, my partner was 12 years older than me, my boyfriend now is 6 months older than me, so we grew up with the same things. That’s nice, having the same language about things.