Gaby Dunn Expertly Plays Up Inexperience

Her hit finance show succeeds by following her journey of self education.

If you're interested in creating a nonfiction podcast, you may think you're limited to mining your own areas of expertise to find the peg of the show. Gaby Dunn is proof you don’t need to.

Dunn—a seasoned comedian, podcaster, and writer, among other things—decided that rather than creating a podcast built around something she is highly knowledgeable about, she could take listeners along on a journey of educating herself about something she isn't. Her show, Bad With Money With Gaby Dunn, features interviews with credentialed guests eager to educate the world about money matters. Dunn herself comes off as instantly relatable, using humor to defuse anxiety that often accompanies conversations about money. She’s also quick to tell listeners about her own financial illiteracy, extending solidarity to those who have found themselves feeling equally uninformed. Bad With Money has run for five seasons, thriving on Dunn’s laywoman approach to financial management.

Dunn spoke with us about how she leveraged her own inexperience, and how she finds guests her audience can relate to.

Spotify for Podcasters: Were you a money expert when your show began?

Gaby Dunn: No, not at all. The reason I started the show was because I didn't know anything. I asked, "What if we did a show where I just learn about money from the beginning?" Most of the things that I was finding as I was trying to learn about money [came off as] either, “You're stupid for not already knowing it,” or I didn't understand the words that they were using. I never intended to become an expert.

Was there any apprehension about starting a show in an area where you weren’t an expert?

No, because I figured I would learn with the audience. I would have experts on and I would learn, too. I thought that was a cool angle for a money podcast. I had reservations about looking dumb, and I had reservations about sharing my money struggles. I think with podcasts, vulnerability is a big part of it, and sharing yourself and sharing stuff that maybe other people would be ashamed to talk about on the air. So it never occurred to me that you had to be an expert on something to do it. There are tons of shows that I love where the person is learning along with the audience because they're facilitating a cool space [where] someone who is an expert [can educate others].

How do you own the non-expert role on the air?

I figured that other people were going through the same thing, and they are just embarrassed to talk about it. That was a huge gamble. But when the show first started, friends would text me or email to say, “Oh my god, I have debt,” or, “Oh my God, me and my partner argue about money.” I think it's [similar], weirdly, to coming out. I talk a lot about being queer. And that could be a risk. You don't know how people are going to react to that, or how family is going to react to me talking about it so openly on the air. But there was such a positive reaction that I thought, not consciously, whenever you share something vulnerable about yourself it tends to work out.

Do you think your every person, not-knowing-it-all approach helps the show succeed?

Yeah, hugely—I think I'm an "in" for people. No one feels talked down to. If you are starting from nothing, you can [listen to] the show and get somewhere. I think a lot of people needed to feel like they were going to hear it from someone who has a social-justice lens, who isn't like a pure capitalist—who isn't like, “Here's how you become a millionaire and fuck everyone in your neighborhood.” It's more like, how do we make money and help each other? How do we be conscious of the ways in which other people can't make money? What sort of policies can we advocate for? It’s a very different money show.

Was there ever a time you were surprised that an expert existed for a topic you were exploring?

Oh my god. Always. We just did an episode about what the economy might look like if we colonize the moon. It was a whole exploration of how space and the moon would work in terms of money. And I was like, who the fuck are we going to ask about this? There are multiple scientists studying what money would look like on the moon, and both were women.

What's one of the most interesting things you've learned about money since the show began?

I just assumed that you make money and then you pay bills. It’s more like a second full-time job to be on top of your finances. Understanding what your accountant is doing—even getting an accountant and trusting them. Understanding your retirement account. Understanding the paperwork that they give you at work about your retirement account. My friend one time said, “I would love it if for like two days we could just pause and it's not all coming at me.” No, it's like a lifelong thing.

This piece has been edited for length and clarity.

—Zach Brooke