The Kick-Ass Star
Angela Gulner is an award-winning actor and writer, blowing apart shame all over YouTube. She was looking for roles to play a couple of years ago, at about the same time she came out of recovery from bulimia, and couldn’t find any. She soon figured she was going to have to write the parts she wanted to play herself.
And along came the dark comedy, BINGE.
Released on YouTube, Angela plays Angela – a pastry chef who wakes up in her car after a one-night-stand. When she agrees to sleep with a nerdy older guy again in exchange for a coffee mug with “My Other Mug Is Your Mom,” you get a sense of Angela’s self worth. Then, in a state with yesterday’s dress on, she checks herself into a bulimia treatment centre but has no intention of getting better.
Since the launch, over 500k people have watched BINGE and now Angela gets emails from people all over the world telling her what the show means to them, to their health and recovery.
She wanted to show a character in all her rawness, like how it really is. As she says, “In the US alone, 30 million people suffer from an eating disorder. Those people deserve to know they are not alone.”
When I first watched the show, aside from loving the lead’s first name, I wanted to high five my screen. Finally, here was a character who was drawing a correlation between messed up relationships and messed up eating (which is a messed up relationship with ourselves). A character who shows self worth and sexuality dance a dangerous dance. And also the bulimic is a pastry chef. That’s fucking genius!
This show is funny and good, really good. BINGE was in the Official Selection for the Indie Television Festival and winner of the Bronze Telly Awards 2017. And the world needs more if it. They are running a kickstarter on Nov 27th – details below the interview.
If you haven’t watched BINGE then do it right now before reading this interview.
Here’s Angela Gulner:
When talking about bulimia do you find people don’t want to talk about the icky subject of an eating disorder but more fabulous subjects like gay porn?
HA, yes. It’s weird how much people want to talk about gay porn with me! What’s that about? But yes, you’re right. There’s always these moments when people don’t quite know how to respond, especially because I tend to be so casual and nonchalant about talking about bulimia. I can see their faces sort of flicker and try to figure out if it’s okay to laugh at my jokes. There’s a bit of adjustment time before they realize that I’m comfortable and we don’t need to be super serious and that I’m not like a total crazy person but just your standard human being who has felt uncomfortable feelings and dealt with them in uncomfortable ways. I usually lead with BUT I’M FINE NOW, so they can relax a bit into the conversation.
When or at what moment did you know you had to make Binge? (did you fight it for a while??)
Well, I had been working/trying to work as an actor for a while — and that is a FRUSTRATING process. It’s really tough, and the market is saturated, and the roles available to someone like me, who didn’t start at age 8 and doesn’t have familial connections to the industry… they’re not super stimulating. It became clear that I was going to have to write for myself if I wanted to play the types of roles I was interested in. This epiphany came at about the same time I graduated from treatment, so it was a perfect storm of readiness! Write what you know, right? Well, okay….!
What’s been your best bit of feedback on the show, and the worst?
NEDA said this about the show, which was incredible: “Your show is an unapologetic and honest depiction of what it is like to suffer from an eating disorder – something that is much needed in a world where eating disorders are often misunderstood.” But I think the most incredible feedback has been from the individuals who have sought treatment because of seeing the show. That’s the shit that really gets to me. It’s what keeps us going. It means that all the long hours and living pay check to pay check and fighting in this impossible industry are worth it. To be able to affect that kind of change… it’s incredible. It’s so humbling and inspiring.
The toughest reactions are from folks who are worried we are giving bulimics a bad rap. Clearly, not every bulimic is a drunk mess like I was. But that was MY experience. I’m not trying to say it’s the experience of ALL bulimics. So when someone who’s suffering watches the show and feels worried about their reputation, it affects me. But it’s such a small percentage of the responses we get. The overwhelming majority have been way more positive than I ever could have hoped.
You draw a connection between bulimia and messed up relationships. Why do you do this?
For me, eating disorders are/were about moderating my feelings and needs from the outside in. Relationships — especially unhealthy ones — and sex, are another way of doing that. When I was in my illness, I sought out people that would enable me to continue in my patterns. Those people tend to be on their own paths to destruction. We attract each other. I also — and my bulimics — have some impulse control issues I have to work hard to manage. Sex and thrill seeking kind of go hand in hand. It was a way to feel attractive and desired and powerful — and it was a way to escape the pain that I felt so deep inside. Also, if an audience member hasn’t experience bulimia, chances are they have experienced an unhealthy relationship. Bad decisions are pretty universal. We want this show to resonate with all types of people — and relationships, especially bad ones, are a great unifier.
What helped you in recovery?
Structure, meal plans, my parents, my friends, my therapists, insurance, prozac… all of it. But more than anything else, structure. And a deep desire in myself to actually get better. By the time I entered treatment, I had totally lost any sense of how to actually feed myself. I needed to re-learn everything, like a baby. And thankfully, I was still on my dad’s WONDERFUL insurance and was able to get what I needed. That’s not the case for everyone. We need major health care reform in this country. It’s criminal to not provide care to people in pain. I was lucky.
You don’t project any shame when you talk about your ED (which is fabulous, we need more of you) – did it take you a while to get to this stage?
So much treatment — and honestly, I think writing and making this show helped a shit ton. I mean, I had to fake puke in front of my closest fiends. Nothing will help you get over yourself faster than showing your most disgusting behaviours over and over and over again. I also just… I guess I just know there is nothing to be ashamed about. I’m sorry if I’ve ever hurt anyone or any relationship because of my ED — I’m sorry my mom experienced pain because of it… but that actual illness, that’s just being human.
How do you deal with life’s blows/up/downs now you don’t have food to numb things?
OH BOY! I guess, mostly through friends. I process by talking things out. Snuggling my dog. Going on walks. Cutting my hair. Watching Netflix. And just… dealing with the discomfort. Discomfort happens. It sucks. But it’s survivable. And the more you practice sitting in discomfort, the easier it is to withstand next time.
If you could go back and say something to your younger self before the bingeing and everything what would you say?
This isn’t the end of the world. You’re not a bad person. You’re going to have a better day tomorrow. You deserve love. Your pain matters. This sucks, but you don’t suck. It’s going to get better.
Finally, why do we need Binge (I know why but I want to hear you tell us)
Mental health, women, and eating disorders — they are all severely underserved in the media. The media is the single greatest way we can change and shape society and culture. Our show is doing something fresh and unique with mental health — I strongly believe that media like BINGE has the power to change the world. Comedy is crucial. Community is crucial. We treat Angela like a fucking HUMAN BEING. That’s so rare. She’s not her illness. She’s so much more.