Writer Julie Klausner conceived of her Hulu comedy series Difficult People with a dark vision in mind. She thought of what kind of show she’d want to create if she knew she only had weeks to live, and she went from there.
“I just intended to write a show that I would want to do if I were … going to be hit by a bus in a couple weeks,” Klausner tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross. “[And] that’s sort of what came out.”
In Difficult People, Klausner and her co-star Billy Eichner play unsuccessful New York comics who constantly make snarky comments about celebrities, movies, TV shows and theater. Klausner says that though the tone of the show is often one of anger or annoyance, the energy behind it isn’t all negative.
“Billy [Eichner] and I connected because we love show business and we love celebrities and we love pop culture,” she says. “You can’t write something as enthusiastically and as passionately and as obsessively if you’re coming from a place of disdain or even dislike, let alone ironic distance or snark.”
On how her character and Eichner’s character commiserate in Difficult People
I think when you connect with someone that has always felt like an outsider, or who has not found [their] tribe yet, or is still looking to be heard … then there is a romance to that commiseration. It’s a shared experience. … I think it is rooted in a more simple desire to connect with someone that you have something in common with. … [It’s] actually pretty deep and emotional and comes from, in some cases, some pretty traumatic childhood experiences.
On a joke she made on Twitter that was not well received
I made a joke on twitter about Zendaya in regards to her weight. She is a Disney star who is a singer and a model for CoverGirl, I believe, right now. She looked very thin at a Kid’s Choice Awards event, and I tweeted something and she was very upset about it and tweeted a response.
That experience taught me a lot of things about her fan base, about a generation of millennial feminists that consider body type something that is not to be joked about, even though I grew up thinking if you poke fun at thin, beautiful women it’s OK because this is a society where everyone tells you that you can’t be too thin. I came to it thinking that and I left realizing that that’s no longer an acceptable point of view.
The stuff I also took from it had to do with how people’s fans online can rally together behind someone that’s already famous and doesn’t necessarily need their support to pile onto someone on Instagram and say things like, “Body shaming is wrong, you fat cow!” I got a lot of it. I don’t like to talk about it, because I don’t want to make myself seem like a victim of Internet bullying, because I think that’s a real thing, and I also don’t want to make myself seem like a victim, because I’m the one who started it.
On knowing when it’s “OK” to make a joke
It’s tough, because I want to be a good guy. … I want to be loved by absolutely everyone, even though it’s shocking to me that I’m loved by anyone — that’s something I discuss at length with my therapist. But the truth of it is that I want to be the person that knows when it’s OK to make fun of someone because they’re more powerful than you, and that’s where I thought I was coming from, and I learned that that is not necessarily how people see it. I have no problem with the insult or the attack. I don’t want to be a bully. I want to be a vigilante, I guess.
On social media and the creative impulse
I think I’m getting better at taking [criticism] every day. I think the Internet is a marvelous and horrible numbing device. … My friend Tom Scharpling had a very good point about the idea of how easy it is to tweet something and get the feedback that creative people naturally crave — it’s why we do what we do — and feel as though you have accomplished something in the way that if you worked on a book or a script or something that takes a lot longer than it does to compose a tweet, you would get that kind of feedback. I think Tom was right when he pointed out that social media has the benefits of that without the hard work. Because I do have a TV show, I need to be a lot better at saving up stuff that I think and fictionalizing it or dramatizing it and using the amazing platform I have to express it in more than 140 characters, and ideally more artfully and with more context.
On her interaction with one of the castmembers of Cats as a child, and how it inspired her interest in show business
I was 5, I think. So I was very impressionable, and I remember … thinking, “Oh this is, like, a real, cool girl.” She reminded me of my babysitter at the time who was also cool and I looked up to her. … The rest of it is all emotion that I can try to retroactively infuse with reason, but it really just comes down to: “Oh my god, oh my god, Broadway and kitties!” And the feeling of just being exposed to this intensity that was very escapist and exciting. And then later, you grow older and you’re like, “Why do the cats have to come into the audience?” At the revival I did look over the aisle and there was a 10-year-old girl who was interacting with one of the cats who’d come into the audience, and the look on her face was, that was definitely one of the elements that caused me to cry like a baby during “Memory” was seeing this little girl being moved in the way that I was.
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