Amy Poehler and Julie Klausner on Difficult People, Donald Trump, and Woody Allen

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Amy Poehler and Julie Klausner. Photo: Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for New York Magazine

In its third season, as is often the case in a sitcom’s third season, Difficult People is definitively more confident. It’s always been a funny show, but this year, Julie Klausner and her writing staff pushed themselves to be weirder, deeper, and after November’s election, more pointedly political. With the season kicking off earlier this month on Hulu, Vulture presented a special screening of “Strike Rat,” an episode that finds Klausner’s character simultaneously protesting and acting in a new Woody Allen movie. Afterward, the show’s star and creator Klausner and executive producer Amy Poehler sat down for a Q&A, which is also available on Vulture’s Facebook page.

What was the inspiration for the Woody Allen story line? Did anything like that every happen to you?
Julie Klausner: No, absolutely not! But we did watch the clips from his real Amazon series [Crisis in Six Scenes] in the writers room. It is shockingly bad. Like my character, I did grow up idolizing him and I think everything after Crimes and Misdemeanors has been bad, as we say on his show — although I like Manhattan Murder Mystery too. That barber shop scene is pretty much exactly how it went. Ours had more shots. He was so lazy. He just set it up and it was all one take. I strongly recommend people watch it because it is beyond shocking. The stuff that Miley Cyrus says is similar to what my lines were.

Amy Poehler: “Vibrating with a sexual energy.”

JK: Well, that’s from Whatever Works. Which shocked me so much that I had to comment on it.

This is just one of the season’s full-on parodies. Were you trying to do different things this season comedically?
JK: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Because people now know who the characters are. Like in this episode, Billy’s story was also Marilyn’s story. We got to watch the two of them get silly together, which was just so satisfying. We already establish that Cole’s ex-wife already existed, so we got to her introduce her. I don’t think we could’ve earned that in seasons one or two.

Third seasons tend to be when comedies can relax a little. What were you hoping for the season in general?
AP: Of course, we always knew the natural chemistry that Klausner and Billy had. We were really excited to allow the rest of the cast to show how tremendously talented they are. And I think what’s fun about Difficult People is that there’s not a ton of change. Right? It’s not like everybody really figures it out. But in this season, there is a big change at the end. Something happens. I don’t think we can spoil.

JK: The second-to-the-last episode we all take ayahuasca and we all take trips and there are self-realizations. I’ll leave it at that. I’ve never done ayahuasca before. Thank you for asking, Jesse David Fox.

There go all the rest of the questions I had. For these characters who seemingly can’t grow up, how do you make them progress in a satisfying way?
JK: Well, I think the world can fight back. Politically, we had the disadvantage, or advantage, or however you want to put it of things happening in the world that were so surreal, disgusting, and upsetting that Billy and Julie reacting to them doesn’t seem so out of the ordinary. Even if Billy and Julie aren’t gonna progress or grow up, the world is gonna meet them more than halfway and be insane and have a swastika for a vice-presidential seal.

John Cho plays Billy’s love interest this season. What motivated you to explore that story and give it to that character? 
AP: In the past, we’ve written that Billy is looking for love. We thought, “How interesting would it be to put him up against somebody that’s equally as cynical and isn’t the nice guy that he gets trapped with a lot?” We were all really really excited to get John and it was really exciting to see them together. It looks hot.

JK: They’re very sexy together. They’ve got chemistry, and they’re both really good-looking guys getting it on, which I’m in favor of.

How did you decide to approach the political environment with these characters in particular?
JK: I just remember the writers room the day after the election and how bleak it was and how lucky we were to feel like we had other things to focus on besides the election to some extent. I really do hope this season gives people a distraction, as well as something gratifying to see people a lot of Trump supporters would actively dislike or not hire or bake cakes for, [who are] thriving and surviving and fighting back resisting in their own ways. Billy and Julie have always been resisters, in a way. But as far as how much we were going to lean into it, we could feel when we were being too preachy. Our job is to be funny, but also you can’t have a show that’s rooted so much in the LGBTQ experience and not feel like you’re in a corner and you’re hated and there’s really no place for you in modern America without having to say something about it on the platform that you have. Whether or not this show is about two people trying to get into show business, hopefully that is relatable in addition to the other stuff.

Were politics always an important part of your art?
JK: Just the politics of being visible and making sure that voices are represented that aren’t usually. Even all the stories between me and Arthur, maybe you’ve seen those things before but from the men’s point of view, so I think there’s something political to that. But at the same time, we’re not Sam Bee, we’re not John Oliver. Those people do that so beautifully and we didn’t want to necessarily be as specific as they are. But at the same time, when there’s a crazy town, you have to point it out in the world that you created.

You know, in a way, New York is a character in this show.
JK: [Laughs.] Ah! I asked him to ask that!

But seriously, what did you want to show with New York?
JK: I feel like Difficult People’s New York is different than Broad City’s New York or Louie’s New York. It’s obnoxious and gets in your way, but you can’t live anywhere else because why would you? If you can, then you’re a dummy. I think that’s what keeps Klausner and Billy spinning their wheels to some extent.

AP: The cafe is a really interesting microcosm. Billy and Matthew and Lola, they’re not friends. At all. They lead really different lives. That’s a really small way of keeping everybody specific, with very specific games and drives. The more you write specifically for different types of characters, the more you you can show a New York that is filled with all these kinds of people without this sense of pressure for everybody to get along and be friends. Unlike the show Friends, which is what that’s about.

JK: Is it? I’ve never actually seen Friends.

AP: Neither have I.

JK: And I watch a lot of TV. It’s actually impressive that I’ve never seen an episode.

I wanted to ask about the use of pop-culture references.
JK: We don’t do that. [Laughs.]

Julie and Billy have very strong opinions about very specific pop-culture references. Do you care if people don’t get them? Is that something you’re conscious about?
JK: Tom Scharpling is here. [To Tom:] What’s the real-life name of the Micro Machines guy?

Tom Scharpling: John Moschitta!

JK: So, Tom had pitched a really funny joke about the Micro Machines guy and I had to look it up, so that was a situation of, no, we can’t do this. But that’s about it. If it makes us laugh, then we do it. To say I’m pleasantly surprised I get to make these jokes that are so specific is the understatement of the year. It’s just shocking to me. It’s really a show you make for the audience of yourself and when people connect to it, it’s delightful. But there are enough people who grew up watching too much TV, so I’m lucky to have that in our corner.

Julie is a recapper on the show. You, of course, used to recap for Vulture.com. Does Vulture.com exist in the universe of the show? Would the fictionalized versions of my co-workers and me ever consider hiring Julie? 
JK: Who are you thinking? Michael Cera? Who do you want to play you? Just tell me.

I don’t like that you started with Michael Cera. 
JK: Why not?

I don’t know! What about Jesse Eisenberg! Just like a brown-headed Michael Cera. 
JK: Amy, he got jokes.

AP: I mean, go for it. What about a Gosling with glasses or something?

JK: Or Chris Pratt.

AP: Chris Pratt!

I feel like Gyllenhaal would be—
AP: Gyllenhaal’s avail!

JK: He might be available. He did Sunday in the Park With George. He’s local.

AP: It has to be a local hire.

JK: There is a version of Vulture that I do a recap for, but we don’t actually say Vulture because we don’t want to get sued.

We probably would’ve said it’s okay … well, I don’t know. 
JK: It’s easier to make a fake thing up, then we can do whatever we want. There is an episode this season where I’m a moderator of a Vulture panel, and my face is stuck in a grotesque smile.

AP: Julie attempts a little version of plastic surgery and it goes a little awry.

JK: She finds out that a girl with a smile does get everything she wants, until it becomes grotesque and she can’t drink water without it spilling out of her face. And she’s in charge of interviewing these women on the cover of the Women to Watch issue. It’s basically Vulture.

That does happen to us a lot at Vulture. 
JK: You guys get a lot of plastic surgery, I know.

Okay, we have time for a question from the audience.
Julie Klausner’s dad: In season four, would you consider a father character?

JK: Yes! We need to get the right casting.

Who would you like to play the father? 
JK: My dad always says Jack Nicholson.

AP: That’s not a bad casting.

JK: Yeah, but he’s not Jewish.

AP: And you’d have to have him on set.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Julie Klausner and Amy Poehler on Difficult People and Trump