Imagine Starring in a Netflix Series About Your Own Trauma — the Star of 'Baby Reindeer' Did

This woman sent over 41,000 emails, 350 hours worth of voicemails, 106 pages of letters, 46 Facebook messages, and more.

Jennifer Tisdale - Author

Apr. 23 2024, Published 6:59 p.m. ET

Richard Gadd in 'Baby Reindeer'
Source: Netflix

Richard Gadd

Something strange happens to a comedian after they've been doing stand-up for a while. People are attracted to comedy because in theory, they are a funny person. Once they start to strengthen that muscle by getting up on a stage, the world changes. Suddenly, everything becomes a potential joke. They pay attention to situations in a skewed way, quietly filing them away to be used later.

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This is what happened to Scottish comedian Richard Gadd when he wrote the play Baby Reindeer and then the Netflix limited series of the same name. It's a haunting story about a man so desperate for a loving audience, he found himself sympathetic toward his own stalker. The drama series takes several harrowing turns, but how much of it is true? Here's what we know.

Richard Gadd and Jessica Gunning in Netflix's 'Baby Reindeer'
Source: Netflix

Richard Gad; Jessica Gunning

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How much of 'Baby Reindeer' is a true story? A lot, actually.

In Baby Reindeer Richard plays Donny Dunn, a struggling Scottish comic who is working as a bartender in London while trying to make it big. His whole world changes when Martha walks into the bar, sits down, and bursts into tears. His self-serving sympathy takes the wheel as red flag after red flag is ignored. Martha soon begins visiting Donny at the bar on a daily basis while sending him scores of strange, and at times sexually suggestive, emails per day.

In a flashback, we learn that Donny has also been the victim of rape by a man he considered a mentor. The abuse occurred after the two met at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival where Donny was thrilled to meet the person who created and wrote on one of his favorite shows. Upon returning to London, his mentor invited Donny over to write but he quickly convinced the young comic to do drugs in order to facilitate the assault. This situation directly fed into Donny's toxic relationship with Martha.

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According to Forbes, Richard did have a stalker and it was just as intense as the series portrays. "Over four and a half years, the woman sent him 41,071 emails, 350 hours’ worth of voicemails, 744 tweets, 46 Facebook messages, 106 pages of letters, and a variety of weird gifts, including a reindeer toy, sleeping pills, a woolly hat and boxer shorts," per the outlet. He told the The Times U.K. that everyone in the pub where he worked thought that having "an admirer" was quite funny. Then things took a turn.

Jessica Gunning as Martha in Netflix's 'Baby Reindeer' - sitting at bus stop
Source: Netflix

Martha waits at a bus stop outside of Donny's house

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Just like in the show, this woman also showed up at his home, comedy clubs, and harassed both his parents and a woman he was dating at the time. "In a weird way, I first started feeling like this could be a good story during the whole ordeal itself," said Richard to Netflix's Tudum. "It was one of the most intense periods, when I was listening to these voicemails. I’d go to sleep at night and these voicemails — her words would bounce around my eyelids."

The sexual assault that happens in 'Baby Reindeer' is also very real.

In an interview with The Independent, Richard also confirmed that the sexual assault he endured also really happened. "I don’t want to speak for every person that’s been sexually abused, but one of the most common ramifications is self-blame," he told the outlet. "I’ve lived in a prison of self-hate and self-punishment. But writing it down in a chronological way, and processing it… I guess I learned to empathize with myself a little bit more."

He also speaks about his inability to continue on with the kind of goofy stand-up he was doing, when his interior world was darkened by such relentless demons. It's part of the reason why he decided to tackle this on stage, and now on screen. One of the most freeing yet devastating moments comes when Donny has a breakdown on stage and admits that both the stalking and the ongoing relationship with his own abuser were partially fueled by his own self-hatred. He isn't victim-blaming but rather demonstrating an impressive amount of self-awareness. It was beautiful.

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