Trapped in New York with Julie Klausner

Julie Klausner’s fantastic series Difficult People returned to Hulu for its third season last week, and the timing couldn’t be better. Now that the news is filled every day with so much corruption, incompetence, and steady updates on our current president’s ties to Russia, planning out momentary self-care escapes with Klausner and Billy Eichner’s Difficult People characters becomes both a pop cultural and political treat. Klausner herself compares the show to candy: “You should feel like you get a treat, then you’re obviously jonesing for more,” she says, “but hopefully the wait will enhance that.” Thankfully, for the next handful of weeks on Hulu, we’ll get a steady stream of candy every Tuesday.

I spoke with Julie last week the morning season 3 debuted about making a show for Hulu, the difference between the real-life Julie and her Difficult People counterpart, and of course, how her cat Jimmy Jazz is doing these days.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me today!

My pleasure! Listen, I’m hungover and I’m in my pajamas, so I’m happy to. I’ve got nothing to do today except bum around and probably read Splitsider articles.

Good idea. So, the first three episodes of Difficult People premiere this week, then one per week starting next Tuesday, right?

Yes, exactly.

Do you like the weekly rollout? Sometimes I feel bad for people who make shows on Netflix, since all the episodes drop the same day then by the next day people are already asking them for a new season. 

Oh, absolutely. And you know, our show is so joke-dense, so as a creator I like that it rolls out on a weekly basis because you have a chance to watch an episode over and over again, and hopefully ours is a show that you don’t really get all the jokes – at least not on the first viewing. I do think it takes at least three times to get pretty much everything we’re trying to say or do with an episode. I don’t have the arrogance to compare myself to something as great as The Simpsons or 30 Rock, but those are two incredibly joke-dense series that I believe came out once a week, and I don’t want to say “for a good reason” because that’s how people did things, but I know that I would’ve been overwhelmed had they come out all at once back in the day.

Hard comedy should feel like you’re eating a lot of candy, and we don’t want to make you sick and hate candy. You should feel like you get a treat, then you’re obviously jonesing for more, but hopefully the wait will enhance that. And then just for marketing and publicity purposes, it’s good to have the rollout, because I think in theory at least, it increases the amount of coverage you get as opposed to a show that comes out all at once that gets all this attention and then another show comes out. Because there’s so many fucking shows. I know I’m the first person to have ever made that observation. But yeah, even if it’s just a matter of standing out from the pack, rolling them out once a week seems like a good idea, if for only that reason.

It’s funny you bring up 30 Rock because in a lot of ways I look at Difficult People sort of as its spiritual relative, in that it celebrates these more cynical New Yorker characters and makes me feel less ashamed of the times when I was a shitty person to other people. Is…that fair?

Thank you! Listen, whether or not it’s fair, I’m still going to take the compliment. But I don’t think 30 Rock was cynical. We have nobody like Alec Baldwin’s character on our show, we don’t look up to anybody as a mentor or a boss, and even though Liz and Jack’s worldviews would clash, I think they were both very serious about their dedication to television and there was always that reverence to it. Billy and I love comedy, but I think we also consider a lot that it’s not fair, our lot in life: “Oh, of course we have to grow up doing something we have to do even though it sucks,” as opposed to “Oh, we love comedy and that’s why we do comedy!” It’s more like “Oh great, of course I have no choice but to pursue this passion in a business that will keep me down and is unfair and is all about rejection.”

Obviously you write your own character on the show, but at the same time, do you get frustrated with her, since she’s not really willing to put in the work?

Oh, absolutely. That’s what’s so fun to write about her. I tend to take everything very personally and I beat myself up a lot, and every time something doesn’t go my way I think “What did I do to have made that happen?” So it’s actually really fun, and dare I say liberating, to have a character who has all the confidence of…I like to say she’s 40% dumber than me, and I think on top of that, she’s 200% more confident. I think she definitely has the confidence of a man – there’s no question that she thinks she’s just as great. Of course men beat themselves up just as much as anybody else, but I think that she has this sort of cocksure attitude toward her own abilities, and it’s fun to write that, because you look at characters like Kenny Powers who are so hilariously confident and arrogant and kind of dumb but would never be introspective about it, and those are the characters that get the funniest things to say and do. One of my goals going into the creation of the show was political in that my agenda was always to make sure that the gay guy and the girl got the funniest things to do on the show as opposed to on other shows where we’re either supportive or sidekicks or, in the case of gay men, invested in the destiny of the female lead as opposed to his own. So, yeah – for me to play dumb and complain about the world around me is so fun. I’m so lucky I get to do it.

I mentioned this to Billy when I interviewed him a while back, but his character’s apartment on the show is one of my favorite details about Difficult People. Because I think, unlike Julie, it shows how hard he’s working and sacrificing, or at least depicts what it’s like to feel like you’re trapped and can’t escape New York.

A lot of what we call “New York” on the show is just the world around us, and it’s something you can’t escape geographically, but I know what you mean. I mean, our characters are pretty trapped, whether it’s Billy in his tiny little apartment or shitty job or me almost suffocated by the comfort of having my mother living close to me and being on top of me. And also, as comfortable as my apartment is on the show and how much my apartment is so clearly this little safe space, it’s also keeping me from pushing myself. And I’m speaking on this for Julie the character and Julie the creator, because as I’m talking to you in my cozy, brightly decorated apartment, I’m sure there are things that I could’ve accomplished had I left and moved to LA or been less settled down. But I think she’s a little trapped in her relationship and her living situation and her dogs – she’s very comfortable, but she’s still unhappy. That’s not to say I’m asking for any sympathy for her and her beautiful place and everything – she is in an incredibly comfortable living situation – but she is miserable, she doesn’t really make a living, and she certainly doesn’t make a living doing what she wants to do. And it’s unclear if it’s ever really going to change, because she’s not really willing to put in the work on her end.

I wanted to make sure I mention “Women Against Woody Allen” during this interview. We really need that to become a real thing.

I think we do too. Or at least, we need people talking and joking about it a lot more than we have been. He has been, you know, around, and allowed to do whatever he wants, and this Amazon series that he did in real life – not on our show but actually a real thing that is so shocking – I mean, we parodied it but we really didn’t because that barbershop scene in our show shot-for-shot is identical to the scene from his show. I mean, ours is more exciting! His is so boring and lazy. They just set up one camera. All the jokes about “Where is Woody?” come from us watching Crisis in Six Scenes in the writers’ room and just laughing because we cannot believe this is something that Amazon was like, “Here’s more money!”

I don’t want to end on Woody Allen, so let’s switch to cats. How’s Jimmy Jazz doing today? 

He’s doing great – let me go walk over to him right now. [to Jimmy Jazz] Oh, yes! [Jimmy Jazz meows] Say it one more time! Yes, good boy!

Um, he’s awful. [laughs] He woke me up at like 8:00. I needed to sleep until 10:00 because I didn’t get back last night until 2:00 or something like that, and he makes these horrible noises that are like “Mrrrroooowwww!” like he’s been strangled or drowned or something. But he just wants canned chicken, so I just gave him a fucking can of chicken, went back to bed, a second can about ten minutes ago. He rules me and he’s very handsome and he’s going to see the vet again on Friday, which he’s not happy about. But he’s got this little skin thing – he got a shot for it two weeks ago, and then two days later he took a shit on the floor just to be like “Just so you know, I didn’t like that. Remember when I got a shot? Yeah, I didn’t like that. Do you like it when I shit on the floor?” I’m like “No.” He’s like, “Well good.” And then we’re even.

“This isn’t over.”

Yeah, he literally took a shit on the floor. It’s the only way – cause they don’t write letters. At a certain point, making sounds like they’re drowning isn’t enough to be heard, I guess.

Well, they are good communicators. 

Oh, great communicators! They’re like Ronald Reagan: “The Great Communicator.” Just like Reagan, they would ignore AIDS as well.

Photo by Craig Blankenhorn.

Trapped in New York with Julie Klausner