EXCLUSIVE: 'Difficult People' Star Julie Klausner Finds Her (and the Show's) Voice in Season 2
By Stacy Lambe
“It’s my oxygen,” Julie Klausner, creator and co-star of Hulu’s Difficult People, says of pop
culture and entertainment news. “Like, it doesn’t really affect me that Mary
Stuart Masterson is signed to CAA, and yet, I can't help but click on it. It’s
a very integral part of who I am -- being surrounded by something that I
consume and enjoy and aside or comment on.”
A pop culture junkie, Klausner has channeled that savvy and
seemingly endless well of references into a sharp-tongued second season that
skewered everything from The Real
Housewives franchise to director Bryan Singer. And, yes, the always
reliable Kevin Spacey gets the brunt of most of the show’s jokes.
To the delight of fans and critics, Difficult People -- which is about exaggerated versions of its
stars (Klausner and Billy Eichner) struggling to make it as actors in New York
City -- found its footing when it returned in July. With the relationship
between Billy and Julie established in season one, the show embraced the world
around them, introducing new characters (among them Lola, a transgender
waitress at the restaurant where Billy works), seeing them venture outside of
Manhattan and welcoming a slew of hilarious cameos (including Tina Fey, Dancing With the Stars champ Nyle DiMarco, Julianne Moore and Lin-Manuel Miranda).
Ahead of the finale (which is now streaming on Hulu),
Klausner talked to ET about finding the show’s voice in season two, pushing the
limits of political correctness and why Kevin Spacey is their go-to punchline.
ET: Congrats on
avoiding the sophomore slump. Was there any point during production that it
felt like things were really coming together this season?
Julie Klausner: Thank
you. You know, I think that when we knew it was coming together [was] in the
writers’ room. The production was sort of fast and furious, but the writing
phase of it, you know, we really went into the season with a sense of what the
show was and a sense of what our formula was circling around. We were able to
be more ambitious with that. I also appreciate that we had so much more time to
write. I wrote, like, eight scripts in 10 weeks or something for season one, so
this was just absolutely luxurious to have between, I guess, September,
October, November and December. It was decadent. As soon as we started talking
about ideas and stringing them together, we all got very excited.
When we talked for Backstage, we discussed Amy Poehler’s
influence on the show, in terms of giving notes on scripts. Was there anything
in particular that she said to you going into season two?
Amy's very good at making sure our characters have
vulnerability, and she's very good at pointing out whenever Billy or Julie seem
bemused at something as opposed to affected emotionally. She's really sensitive
to the emotional reality of the characters. It might go into crazy places, but
Amy's very good at making sure that our characters come from a real, human
place and are not just two-dimensional cartoons or monsters. She's also really
good at pointing out when things don't seem authentic. We had a couple of ideas
that we pitched that were a little too sketchy. Her sense for the tone of it is
just so dead-on. Her notes come from a place of making sure that we're
protecting our characters by showing them in all their wounded glory.
In an era of political
correctness, whatever that means anymore, the show really seemed to enjoy going
the other way, pushing the envelope in that sense. Was that a conscious effort?
We were very excited by the opportunity to play with the
environment of political correctness in our own way. Meaning we were very
excited about having a transgender character who was not sanctimonious or a
victim, nor this moral center of perfection. I think that our goals going into
this show have to do with diversity, but we want to represent people in a way
that jives with our worldview. In our world, transgender people can be huge a**holes
and we can use that. We can use Lola [played by transgender actress Shakina
Nayfack] to comment on the way that people talk or don't talk about issues
related to the transgender community and the sensitivity that people have. You
know, we were able to comment on that by having Billy be extremely sensitive
around Lola and be afraid that she was going to ruin his life with a hashtag,
as she says.
And that was fun to play with, because we didn't have
Gabourey Sidibe for as many episodes as we would've liked because she's on this
show Empire. I've never heard of it. So,
Lola was kind of a great means of making sure Billy had somebody to spar with
that he really couldn't speak to because he was afraid of her. She sort of
holds power over him. It was very cool to play with that in addition to
commenting on the political correctness right now. I think that when it comes
to whether or not we're politically correct, I think that we really try to be
on the right side of things. At least just speaking from my own experience,
we're very conscientious about seeming like bullies. We want to seem like we're
sticking up for the little guy who's getting sh*t on. Even though our
characters do some really sh*tty things, we make it clear that we're coming
from this place -- or at least make it funny, so people are rooting for us.
I’m glad you
mentioned Lola, because I thought she was a great character. But she really toed
the line with her jokes, including multiple uses of the word “fa***t.” Were you
concerned at all about using that word or how far her jokes would go?
First of all, I'm so excited about Lola, and Shakina is
fabulous. She's so funny, she's so smart and she adds such a Maude-ish quality to it. She's got this Bea
Arthur delivery where she comes in, says something scathing and then leaves.But as far as what she says, we worked
very closely with Shakina. Shakina was a consultant for the show and she
pitched a lot of the lines that Lola has. That was something that I wouldn't
have written. Because it came from her, it came from a place of observation and
came from a place of authenticity. And for that reason, we all said, “OK, that's
really f**king funny.” We went full throttle and she completely committed to it
as the great actor she is. And for that reason, I think people can see the
authenticity and I hope it doesn't read like we're making fun of people just
for the sake of making fun of people. Lola is as difficult as everybody else in
the cast and what she does speaks to that.
Another way to look this show is in the LGBT context. Did you ever think of Difficult People as a "gay series"?
You know, first of all I'd like to sayit right now that Billy and I should get GLAAD awards this year. I
don't know what GLAAD is waiting for. At
this point, I'd take a Glad garbage bag award. If they want to send me a trophy,
I'd be thrilled. As far as do I think of this as a gay show? I think of this as
gay as much as I think of everything as gay because it's just so f**king smart
and funny. It's almost like saying, “Is it a Jewish show?” Or “Is it a New York
show?” And the answer is yes. All of the above. It speaks to who I am, who we
are, and a big part of that is when you're writing from what you know and you
have a lot of gay friends, you write about your gay friends.
One joke that the
show got away with, without an apology or disclaimer, was the one about Bryan
Singer. How did that happen?
Well, let me put it this way: We have a fabulous legal
counsel on our production and he tells us when something might be dubious, and
this one got through scot-free. So, hallelujah! I mean all Billy said is, “Why
haven't you drowned in Bryan Singer's pool?” Everyone knows Bryan Singer has a
pool, right? And he didn't say, “You did drown.” He didn't say, “This guy I
know drowned in it.”
It was a good groaner.
I'm very proud of it.
Kevin Spacey became a
recurring punchline this season. What is it about him that makes him ripe for
I just think he's a patron saint of the show. We made a lot
of jokes about him in season one too. He’s sort of the show's patron saint and
mascot and guiding light. He's welcome to come on the show -- we'd be thrilled
to have him.
This season, the show
really shone during some of the parody moments, “Patches” in particular. That
was an incredibly funny episode. Where did the idea for that come from?
Thanks! Scott King is the showrunner and my co-writer on
every script, and we wanted to do something that made fun of the shows that
cast British and Australian actors who try to do American accents in the leads
in these artful shows. It was Scott's idea that somebody would possibly
misinterpret that, and then it snowballed from there.
The show really
developed Andrea Martin’s character, Marilyn, who became a bit zanier and
crazier. Was there anything in particular that you knew you wanted to do with
her this season?
Here’s the thing: You have to cut back the amount of ideas
that we have. This season, in particular, she was in Noises Off the whole time she was shooting Difficult People. You only have three out of five days, and then
she was there full time and then she'd go uptown and do her play. It was
insane, so we actually had to cut back on the stuff we had for Marilyn. It
always breaks my heart to cut anything Andrea would ever be doing because I
don't know anybody funnier or more talented than her. She's just so f**king
amazing. I love writing for her.
You mentioned this
season’s cameos earlier. You had Sonja Morgan and Luann de Lesseps from The Real Housewives of New York on, and Lin-Manuel
Miranda reunited with Billy. How hard was it to get Lin on the show?
I don't know where he gets his energy. It's definitely not
cocaine, because I’ve asked him enough to know. He has the money for some good cocaine
at this point. The night before he shot our show, at 5 in the morning, he’d just
taped the GRAMMY performance and Monday is the only dark day for Hamilton. He said, “Absolutely.”
Debbie Harry returns
in the finale. Is she going to become Difficult
People's version of Elena [from Billy
on the Street] and appear every season?
Debbie Harry's much more than the Difficult People's version of Elena. She just happens to be a rock ‘n’
roll icon and a living goddess on planet Earth. And we will continue to use her
as much as we possibly can, because she's Debbie Harry. She's really funny, too
-- both she and Amy Sedaris. I want to do a spin-off where it's just the two of
them. I love those two characters so much.