After years of recapping TV, comedian-podcaster-Twitterazzo Julie Klausner is creating it, with her new Hulu series Difficult People. The comedy, executive produced by Amy Poehler, stars Klausner and real-life bud Billy Eichner (Klausner is the head writer for Billy on the Street) as two struggling stand-ups trying to make it in New York City. (The first episode finds them attempting to bottle library water-fountain water for profit.) We spoke with Klausner about her childhood love of The Larry Sanders Show, the current state of women in comedy, and Eichner’s nudity clause.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You met EP Amy Poehler during your time at the Upright Citizen Brigade. Is she everything that we’ve always imagined in our fanfic?
JULIE KLAUSNER: I consider [UCB] my alma mater more than NYU or any of the places I paid a lot more to go to because Amy’s personality really is one of outreach. [She’s someone] who has enough of her own sense of worth to be able to be generous to others. She has the experience of being true to herself in this insane business, which is so rare, and producing quality stuff that actually gets made. I’ve never not listened to anything she’s said.
How hands-on has she been with Difficult People?
Amy could not have been more hands-on. She did not only give notes on every script, she gave notes on every draft of every outline. She weighed in on casting videos, cast roles. She weighed in on production matters. She came up with the title. She would give notes on every single edit, not only of the shows but of the promos, the trailers. She would be involved in every stage of the process in a way that she would go above and beyond.
There’s a recurring motif in the first episode about this being a great time for women in comedy. Do you believe that it’s a great time for women in comedy?
It is a very good time for some women in comedy. I remember when Bridesmaids came out—I think I was working a couple of day jobs at the time—and it had a good first-weekend box office and someone tweeted me “Congratulations!” And I thought that was the funniest thing I’d ever heard of in my life.
But you definitely have some forward momentum at this point with the show and everything.
Oh, I’m thrilled. I’m so lucky and so happy and grateful. I will still manage to torture myself, which will justify my self-deprecation, because there’s no worst voice in the world than the one in my own head. But, that said, the opportunity that I’ve been afforded has come along with the creation of my dream show, which it truly truly is. This is not a show that I created because I thought it would be commercially viable. Because I was thinking this would be easy to sell or this is what America really needs or I’m going to make a million dollars off of it. After hitting my head against the wall with ideas that weren’t selling and that were cynically conceived in terms of, “Well, this is hot right now” and other things that show business executives say you should never listen to as a creative, I sat down and said, “If I had the opportunity to make any TV show ever, what would that be?” That’s how I wrote the script and that’s how the show actually came to be.
Do you ever worry about the show speaking too much to your interests and becoming too narrow or nichey? There’s a great punchline about Charlyne Yi, for instance, but there’s probably a decent chunk of viewers who have no idea who she is.
Yes, that’s true. Not everyone knows who Charlyne Yi is, despite the efforts of Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow. However, I remember growing up and watching some of my favorite comedy, which was stuff from the ’70s and ’80s that had references to things that I had no idea what they were. And that includes The Young Ones. When The Young Ones would talk about Felicity Kendal and the audience would explode laughing, I remember being a kid and being like, “Ha, ha, Felicity Kendal,” and I had no f—ing idea who she was, and I’d look it up later and was like, “Cool. Got it.” So I think that niche jokes are a helpful tool for education, and I hope that they serve to pique the curiosity of those who don’t know what we’re talking about or at least provide meaning with the context of it, which is to say that these really are two people that speak very eloquently in the language of pop culture, and that’s who the characters are whether or not you know everything they’re talking about.
You mention The Young Ones: What other shows were you into growing up?
Oh, God, I watched so much television growing up. I didn’t have a limit.
I didn’t either. Which is probably why we do what we do now.
Exactly. I loved Saturday Night Live and anything sketch comedy. I remember The Carol Burnett Show. Anything where someone would wear a wig, I was in heaven. I was a big Monkees fan. And then later as I became an adolescent—I didn’t have HBO until around around The Kids in the Hall—but before The Kids in the Hall, which, of course, I was a huge fan of that show, I remember whenever I’d go to hotels when my family went on vacation, I was so excited I got to watch The Larry Sanders Show. Which to this day is probably my favorite show of all time.
That’s amazing that as a kid you were really into The Larry Sanders Show.
Well, you know what, nerd alert. What can I say? Growing up I was lucky enough to have an older bother who had really good taste not only in music—I learned very young that it was not acceptable to listen to Billy Joel and Styx; The Beatles and Jimmy Hendrix were way more essential—and then he also had good taste in comedy. So I was introduced to Monty Python at an age when I think Monty Python really hits. I don’t know, 10, 11, 12. And he had Steve Martin’s old records that we used to listen to: Wild and Crazy Guy and Let’s Get Small. And God help someone trying to explain what Let’s Get Small means to a 12-year-old in 1990-whatever.
Let’s talk about your co-star Billy Eichner for a second. Did he drive a hard bargain to be on this show? What absurd things were in his rider?
He has, like, a certain amount of nude scenes that he has to do, which is a little off-putting. But, look, I guess if you’re paying for a trainer, you need to show off the rewards.
You don’t go to Barry’s Bootcamp for nothing.
Exactly. And, this isn’t in his rider, but I assume he has less cards to hold than he has on his regular show. And we put him in some more button-downs.
How much is your character “Julie” like Julie?
The short answer is a lot. The longer explanation is that TV Julie…is way more grandiose and stupid and not self-aware because there are so many things that she does that sabotage her career and yet, she has no self-awareness about them. I think that real-life Julie would at least pretend to be a little nicer to her boyfriend just to make sure he sticks around.
The show was originally developed for USA. Do you have more freedom on Hulu? I can’t imagine a certain Blue Ivy joke, for instance, passing at USA.
Hulu is definitely an environment that fosters what this show is and what I’ve always wanted it to be. But as far as USA is concerned, when this project lived there it was absolutely no different. Including the Blue Ivy joke.
That surprises me!
Well, they never put it on the air! As we went forward we went, “We’re going to make the pilot we’re going to make.” I remember just kind of saying, “All right, USA bought it. That’s interesting.” It didn’t seem like a very logical fit but at the time they had a scripted comedy department, which they have since dissolved, so it didn’t land there for that and I’m sure some other reasons, but I in no way changed the show that I wanted to make just because it was there…. We really didn’t change it when Hulu picked us up. We re-shot half of it, but that was just for reasons that we figured out as we were writing the series—for more character reasons. So, yeah, that’s really what happened.
Were there any people that you didn’t get to make fun of in the first season that you’d love a chance to make fun of in a second?
There was a time during the process of writing the scripts where we had a Kevin Spacey joke in every single episode and because of, like, the inevitable process of editing, we only have—I don’t know how many ended up in the actual series. If it were up to me, there would be at least two in every episode.
You podcast. You’re an author. But is TV the ultimate for you?
I’ve always wanted my own TV show. Having my own show is the ultimate. I strongly recommend it for those of you who are a little under the weather or feeling depressed.