It's no secret that Lena Dunham makes provocative TV.
The creator and star of HBO's Girls stopped by Studio 1A to promote the show's sixth and final season. At the end of the interview, Today's fill-in host Maria Shriver said, "Thank you so much for stopping by. I had a chance to look at three shows for this new season, and it looks terrific."
"You saw a penis, right?" Dunham deadpanned.
Clearly unnerved, a flustered Shriver responded, "Yeah. Well, I saw more than that! You caught me there for a second. I am not sure if you are allowed to say that on television—but you did!" Dunham threw up her hands in mock defeat and jokingly told Shriver, "I won't be coming back!"
The actress then joked that she's "going out with a bang!"
"Going out with a bang," Shriver repeated. "We're just going out."
Matt Lauer, who was standing off-camera, merely shook his head and asked, "What?"
"Matt, help!" Shriver pleaded. "She threw me off!"
"I'm so sorry!" Dunham apologized. "I'm so sorry!"
Shriver accepted Dunham's apology. "That's OK," the journalist told her. "That's the difference between generations: I wasn't brought up talking like that." Dunham apologized to Shriver again, though she balked at the idea that she had never uttered the word "penis" in her youth.
As she began to stand up, Dunham said, "Thank you so much for having me."
"Wait a minute! You're still on the air!" Shriver informed her. "Sit down!"
"I am?" Dunham asked.
"Yes, you are. You're still on the air. Sit down," Shriver said. "Matt, are you supposed to be saying something?" Lauer replied, "No. We aren't still on the air, but you are. No, I'm kidding." The entire exchange tickled Dunham. "I'm thrilled by what's just happened here," she laughed.
Earlier in the interview, Dunham explained what she hopes viewers will get from Season 6. "I think that this year for us was really about trying to counteract the television notion that everybody has to have a happy ending. It doesn't mean they have to have a tragic ending—this isn't Breaking Bad—but we did really want to show just how messy your twenties are and that growing up doesn't always mean growing into yourself. It just means shift and change and challenge," she said. "If you're a fan of the show, you'll find the ending anticlimactic in just the right way, and if you're not a fan of the show, you'll be just as annoyed as you've ever been."
As for Girls' legacy, Dunham told Shriver, "I hope that the show really made room for prickly characters on television. The same way that I felt characters like Mary Tyler Moore allowed me to imagine a different kind of future for myself, I hope that the girls of Girls make women feel like perfection isn't the goal and that we're allowed to contain as many multitudes as our male counterparts. But the other thing I think about a lot is that I really want it to have told an accurate story about female friendships, because my female friendships have been the most beautiful, complicated and painful parts of my life so far. This is really a love story to those."
E! News caught up with Dunham after the show. "I'm sure someone said 'penis' on the Today show before. I have to say, I was surprised Maria Shriver—who I very much admire and who's seen and done a lot of things in her life—to be able to throw her with the word 'penis' was definitely a shock to me and those around me," the actress said. "Considering this is the end of my press and I'm hoping to go out on a high note, that was more than I could have expected."
"I just liked how everyone lost their mind and didn't even know where to put the camera," she said. "To see that moment where everybody completely loses their ability to do their job based on the word 'penis'...if I freaked out every time I heard the word 'penis,' I wouldn't be walking."
Besides, Dunham could've said something far more shocking.
"I was also raised in one of those households where my mom was like, 'We're not going to use funny words for genitals. You say penis. You say vagina. You say breasts. You say anus.' She was like, 'I'm not going to put up with any baby talk.' So, for me, I just walked through the world saying the word that is the word. I'm not going to be like, 'lady parts' or his 'gentleman junk.' It's so stupid to me—especially because I actually think on an anatomical level, not just saying the actual words perpetuates a sense of shame," she said. "Plus, if I was really just being myself, I would have just said 'c--k' or 'p---y,' so she was really lucky. 'Penis' is extremely tame for me."
(E! and NBC are both members of the NBCUniversal family.)
(Originally published on Friday, Feb. 10, 2017, at 6:10 a.m. PDT.)