Over the course of a three-season run on Hulu, Difficult People featured hundreds, if not thousands of jokes. Jokes about celebrities, jokes about New York, jokes about relationships, jokes about narcissist mothers. Hell, probably at least half of them were about Kevin Spacey. It’s because the show’s creator, Julie Klausner, just loves a good joke and writes a good joke. So, with so many jokes to pick from, when asked, which did Klausner choose to center an interview around?
In season two, episode nine, Billy, played by Billy Eichner, is cast to play a Beaver That Teaches Kids About the Potty, and he learns that his face will be visible in the costume. Dejected, Billy walks over to the craft services table and has this exchange:
This moment is the subject of this week’s episode of Good One, Vulture Comedy’s podcast about jokes and the people who tell them. Listen to the episode and read a short excerpt of the discussion below. Tune in to Good One every Monday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.
So, in this scene, Billy Eichner’s character is on a set talking to someone in craft services. Out of nowhere, the craft-services guy daydreams about the size of Julie’s genitalia and says, “I like it when the roast beef goes past the bread.” What made you write this joke?
I’m in favor of ridiculing female genitalia for the sake of equality. I’ve had so many experiences growing up where you see a character get kicked in the balls and then you have to be like, “Oh, that’s gotta hurt!” I think it’s important that we reference naked women as something beyond objects of sexual desire.
For a bit like this, do you think of the character first or something funny for the character to say?
I just remember thinking that it’d be really funny if this dirtbag craft-services person only cares about whether Julie has a big pussy. I really like it when men like big pussy. Not that he’s like a feminist icon or anything, but there was a Jim Norton routine about how much he likes big pussies. I’m sure that’s another way to commodify women’s bodies, but I like hearing it. It shows a diversity in exploitation.
Were there any other versions of the roast-beef line?
No, there was absolutely no way I was going to change that. The network was amenable, but if they had come back, I would’ve given them a fight. I want the opportunity for women to be as disgusting and immature and stupid and obnoxious and make jokes about how gross their genitals are that men have had the benefit of doing for years.
It feels like one of the dirtier jokes of this show, but Hulu had no problem with it?
No. I remember there was something in season three where Billy and I are waving at, like, a bus of tourists and we’re saying things like, “You dumb motherfuckers.” We say, “Fucking Trump voters,” and Standards and Practices wanted us to get rid of that. We fought back and they acquiesced, but it was one of these things where like, “Oh, you’re okay with us attacking Trump, but you don’t want us to go after his base.”
For a joke like this, how do you make sure the joke’s target is clear to an audience?
Well, sometimes it’s not and you can’t control that. The joke in the pilot about R. Kelly was misinterpreted because Blue Ivy was perceived as the target. Originally, it was a joke about Eric Clapton’s dead son. I remember, USA bought the pilot and we were like, “We’re not going to go on USA with a joke about a dead kid, we’d better make it about sexual abuse.” It had to be something upsetting enough for people to be outraged, and then people were outraged by it in real life. People are smart. I’m not gonna say, “Well, they really didn’t get it.” If people think that children are not to be joked about, I respect that and I regret not making my intentions clearer. Fuck R. Kelly forever, but I don’t like having been misinterpreted.
What do you like about writing hard jokes — jokes with strong setups and punch lines?
It’s the only thing I really love about writing — when you’re pulling teeth but then you discover a joke. It’s like panning for gold. It just feels so satisfying.
I was rewatching Difficult People to prepare to interview you, and I stopped to watch the Golden Globes. Looking at Twitter during the ceremony, I realized what about Difficult People I missed so much. It’s just so irreverent about famous people. Though, reading interviews with you and pieces about the show, it’s clear that some interpreted it as distaste for celebrities. But it speaks to the internet we both came up with — where now, things seem many degrees more reverent, more earnest. Why do you feel it was important to make room for your perspective?
I find it annoying when the internet decides that they unconditionally like a celebrity. I’m just gonna use as an example — I don’t dislike her; I actually like her a lot — but we stan Rashida Jones. Oh, great news, Rashida Jones is doing this! It feels like you’re back in high school. Kristen Bell’s another one, or Aubrey Plaza. Again, these women are great and funny and gorgeous, but I love Liza Minnelli. Why can’t we talk more about her? You take shit when you go after people that the internet has decided “We Universally Love.” Difficult People is a great outlet to express annoyance about that through the guise of two characters that don’t give a shit and are jealous. That are like, Why is that person famous and I’m not?
You’ve said that the one thing you wish you could have written a joke about since Difficult People ended was Nanette, which is a show you’ve said you liked. It’s so interesting, this show makes fun of these dramedies, but you’ve also said you like them. It is a key distinction between you and the character you play.
Well, it’s definitely it, isn’t it? Isn’t that nice to have? I’m sure Larry David isn’t obnoxious to everyone in restaurants and stuff, it’s just the funnier way of doing it. But, yeah, oh boy, Nanette is something Billy and Julie would have gone off the rails about. Just like, “Wait a minute, this lesbian who wasn’t that funny 30 minutes in says she’s not gonna do comedy? And we’re supposed to be upset? All right.” That’s what they would say, Jesse. That’s what they would say.
I know you can’t talk about what you’re developing …
I’ll talk about it. I’m working on two new TV shows. For the love of God, please pray tonight to Satan or whomever you worship, Christian Bale, for them to go forward. I understand why Scientology is a thing in Los Angeles, because it’s the exact same rhythm of television development. [They’re] like, “Oh, you’d be great at this?” You’re like, “Me?” And then you go off and you write a script. And they’re like, “This is fantastic.” Then you’re like, “It is?” And then they’re like, “Sure, why don’t you wait six months and then maybe we’ll pitch it.” And then someone buys it. You’re like, “They did?” And then they’re like, “We’re gonna make a pilot.” You’re like, “You will?” And then like two years later, they shoot it. And then in another six months, they’re like, “We’re gonna go to series” or not. All the steps they take you through, it’s exactly like Scientology. And you’re broke at the end of it.
Can you say a little bit about what the things are?
They’re both half-hour comedies. One I’m working on with Alex Scordelis, whom I’ve been working with for over a decade, whom I adore. And the other is something that I’m writing for myself to star in. And it is sort of autobiographical but from a different place than when I was writing Difficult People. I was coming from a very different place, so this is a different kind of thing. But they’re both half-hour comedies for cable.
What do you like about working on them?
I’m just such a joke whore. I just love writing jokes and enjoying them and getting excited about, like, “Oh my God, what if we actually get to say this on camera? That would be so cool.”