This week, Refinery29 Canada celebrates Work Friends — the surprising benefits (and occasional complications) of professional friendship.
“I can support her and still be pissed”
The friends: Lainey Lui and Duana Taha
Best friends since: 2006
A little while ago, Duana Taha wrote a killer post about the USC college admissions scandal for the Lainey Gossip website. And her best friend, Elaine Lui (aka “Lainey”), was proud and impressed… and also extremely jealous. “You can be close and still be competitive,” says Lui of the constant game of one-upmanship that drives their work forward. “We often get this message now that feminism means women supporting women, and I get that," says Lui. "But I can support her and also be pissed when she does something really good. Not only is that okay — I think that’s the goal.”
If that sounds petty or dramatic, it’s actually neither. Casting each other as best-friends-slash-occasional-sworn-rivals is effective. Lui explains how she channelled her envy over the college admissions post into her own piece about Meghan and Harry’s media strategy around their baby. “Duana’s work was my north star,” she says. And then her Sussex piece got picked up by the New York Times.
I can support her and also be pissed when she does something really good. Not only is that okay — I think that’s the goal.
For those who don’t know their Beys from their Brangelinas (is that anyone?), Lainey Gossip has earned its reputation as the thinking woman’s guide to celebrity culture. Lui launched it in 2005 as a newsletter, which lead to a spot doing quick gossip hits on eTalk, where Taha (then one of the show’s producer) was put in charge of handling the new contributor. “We had these Sunday night check-ins that were supposed to last 10 minutes, but turned into marathon conversations about our favourite books and TV and all of that,” Taha recalls.
She left her producer gig the next year, but continued to collaborate with Lui, helping her cover huge events like The Oscars and now on the Show Your Work podcast.
The pair have a no-BS approach to communication that Taha thinks is rooted in their shared experience as children of first-generation immigrants (her parents came to Canada from Egypt and Ireland; Lui’s from Hong Kong): “Neither of us has time for...”
“Feelings!” Lui pipes in.
Having written on TV shows like Degrassi and Upstairs Amy, Taha often reflects on the dynamics of (largely male-dominated) TV writers’ rooms. “You have guys who will be merciless, just tearing up each other's ideas. And then it’s time to break and it's, ‘Okay, bro. Where are we going for lunch?’” It’s “best idea wins. The work comes first.” Brutal honesty, they say, just helps them get to the next place faster. And bruised egos have never been a problem. That may be because they pass control back-and-forth depending on the project (Taha started out as “the boss” during their producer/talent relationship, while Lui is in charge at Lainey Gossip.) Or just because their friendship is that secure. “We know we’re good enough friends to fight,” says Lui.
Following the shout-out in the Times, Lui got a text from Taha that was just: !!!!!!!!! Lui knew her friend was psyched for her, “but I like to think I also lit a fire under her ass, and she’s waiting for the next opportunity to push us both to the next level.”
Like Serena Williams sizing up a great return, Taha is already making calculations: “Can confirm,” she says. “Ass is lit.”