How Gilda Radner taught me to love my nose
I have my mom’s nose.
My dad’s family is blonde and European, but the maternal side has strong features that manifest in fiery red manes, sharp schnozes and body hair so dark it grows back instantly after it’s shaved, like in a Chia Pet commercial.
My nose isn’t large so much as it’s a little bit crooked with a small, distinctive bump. From the front, no problem. From the side, ‘Hava Negila!’
While my mother’s genetics shaped my beak, my father’s borderline negligence had a hand in it too. As a kid, I fell on my face from the top of a tree branch while I was camping with my dad. My nose was probably broken, but we didn’t want to cut the trip short so he helped me ice it and that was that. It just sort of healed on its own.
All this hardly makes me Owen Wilson, whose nose I actually find quite charming. It’s not even that I’ve got a bad nose: it’s just not the up-turned All-American ideal. Over the years, a few blunt individuals have mentioned it to me with weird compliments like, “Your nose is so distinctive and ethnic” and “Is it weird that you kind of remind me of Anne Frank?”
About six months ago, I was asked to write a treatment for a TV show based around this blog project: 100 Interviews. The production company and network, who shall remain nameless, were interested in my blog, they told me on the phone, because I seemed like an ambitious, socially conscious girl who would be a good role model for their viewers.
“We’re trying to atone for [name of popular but less-than-stellar televised representation of twenty-somethings redacted],” joked the woman I spoke to.
I ultimately pitched them an interview show, where I would host a panel of diverse, interesting, intelligent people centered around a theme; sort of a visible “This American Life” for the younger set.
A week later, I heard the network wanted to see head shots of me. In my head shot, which is from 2009, I have a short, Velma-from-‘Scooby Doo’ haircut and black-rimmed glasses. I’m wearing a yellow blazer. I thought I looked professional — maybe like a female Gideon Yago. (I wish.)
A few days went by. I left New York to perform stand-up at the Women In Comedy Festival in Boston. On the Thursday night of the festival, I’d finished my set and was outside the ImprovBoston theater when my cell phone rang. It was one of the women from the network.
She asked if she could be frank. I said she could. “They don’t know if you’re pretty enough,” she said.
The production company wanted to see me in person and have me “audition” to play myself. In the meantime, she told me, I should think about being head writer and producer, and writing the words coming out of a better-looking mouth.
As obvious as it sounds in retrospect, my looks weren’t something I’d considered when pitching the 100 Interviews show. Any time I’d talked to the executives, they’d stressed to me that the show was to be intelligent, honest and starring “a normal girl.”
Sitting in the lobby in a short floral skirt, I couldn’t help feeling like all the effort I’d put into writing the blog was being ignored in favor of whether or not my earlobes were too long, or whatever physical flaws these executives were looking for. Idly, I worried about my nose, using my index finger to push it up and eliminate the bump — a nervous tick from childhood.
After my “audition,” which I thought went well, even though I sweat through my shirt, the same woman called to tell me the network people had found me cuter in person. They thought I was pretty enough to host my own show.
“But,” she said, “they were wondering if you’d be able to make a few changes.”
“Changes?” I asked. “Uh, like what?”
“Just appearance things,” she said. “Clothes and hair and teeth whitening and maybe some minor plastic surgery — maybe the nose.”
As a Jew, I’m familiar with nose jobs though they’re not exclusive to our tribe. At my small religious high school alone, every other girl had gotten her nose done before our senior year. This is not an indictment on plastic surgery; for some people I know, getting work done made them more confident and happy. But nose jobs were common at my school because the idea of the “Jewish nose” wasn’t considered attractive. Some of these girls, despite coming from money, had shoddy work done and were left with weird scarring on their chins and cheeks. Some looked natural.
The real reason I’ve never gone through with a nose job, even though my mother did offer one time after I got my nostril pierced in college, is going to sound so incredibly “after-school special.” I’m sorry, but it’s the truth.
I decided to never “fix” my nose after watching the “Saturday Night Live: Best of Gilda Radner” DVD in middle school. I remember watching Radner act in sketches and I was fixated on how telegenic and funny she was. Her goofy characters lit up the screen. She was a fantastic, smart entertainer with frizzy hair, a high-pitched voice and yep, a “distinctive” nose. Without all of those things, she just wouldn’t have been the whole package of Gilda Radner. She was adorable, but more importantly, she was talented.
If Gilda Radner could keep her nose, I thought, then who the hell did I think I was changing mine? I’m not playing a weird children’s game of “Gotcha Nose” with a network television executive. It was a stand for my talent, over “created” beauty. I’m keeping what’s in the middle of my face.
On the phone, I told my liaison to tell the production company I was drawing the line at teeth whitening. I’d take wardrobe suggestions and get a hair cut, but I wasn’t going to subject my face to elective surgery for a TV show that might not even get picked up.
After that, the network stopped talking to me. I don’t know exactly why, but nothing ever went further with creating the show. Maybe it had nothing to do with my nose. In fact, it probably didn’t even factor in. They probably just decided the show wasn’t right for their network, which is their prerogative. But what if I’d agreed to change my nose?
I’d honestly rather have heard that they hated 100 Interviews, than what actually happened: telling them I didn’t want to change my nose and then never hearing back.
So you know what? Thanks, but I’ll be keeping my nose.
Gaby Dunn is the founder of 100 Interviews and a regular contributor to the New York Times Magazine. This post originally appeared on 100interviews.com and is is reposted with permission.