No Filter, No Shame: An Interview With Difficult People's Julie Klausner

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She's a seasoned writer, a lifelong comedian, and an occasional actress -- and now Julie Klausner is the creator and co-star of new Hulu Original Difficult People, a wildly irreverent comedy series about two narcissistic, struggling comedians who will complain about anything but each other. We gave Julie a call to chat about Difficult People, her comedy background, baking, and the Real Housewives franchise.

Where did the idea for Difficult People come from? How did the show get started?
I knew that I wanted to write my own Curb Your Enthusiasm-style show where I got to be an asshole, and that really did stem out of the desire to write a show that, if someone had approached me and said 'You can have any show you wanna do,' I could give them a script and say 'I want to make this show.' I wanted the freedom to be funny and cranky and nasty and self-absorbed. I took a few examples from my podcast, which came from real life, to dramatize for the pilot episode, which later became the first episode of the series. When I had the idea, I asked Billy -- who I had known from having written for him for Billy on the Street -- whether he would be into playing my best friend on the show, and he said sure. I came up with this script that I later sent to Amy Poehler, and she really liked it, and then we pitched it around. Hulu really liked the pilot; they liked the idea of the series and they gave us a season.

When you were writing, how much of an influence did certain networks have on your writing? Were you writing for a particular network or was it just exactly what you wanted?
No, I wrote exactly what I wanted, and thank God it landed where it did because the only thing that was important to me was that it ended up with people who loved it, which is exactly what Hulu seems to be. I'm so grateful that Hulu picked us up, and really seem to get the show. Basically, I made the show I wanted to make and it landed where it landed because the people at Hulu thought that it was great, and sure enough, once it landed, they didn't have any notes that would have compromised what it originally was meant to be. We really got to make the show we wanted to make.

Did anyone or anything inspire your ideas for each episode's plotlines? Is anything based on a true story?
So much of it is based on true stories. The tweet in the first episode is based on a true story. Billy and I had gone to see Annie together and we sat behind children which really annoyed us, and I complained way too loudly about how disappointed I was that there was an understudy. There's so much that comes from real life that we dramatize so that it's entertaining.

Along those lines, how much of your character on the show is based on yourself? What was it like playing a version of yourself?
It was very easy because I'm not that great of an actor. Julie Kessler has better hair than Julie Klausner because she has a hair stylist following her around set making sure that her hair's always falling in a flattering way. So we're similar because of the fact that I am way more self-aware than she is, and I know what my own contributions are to my failures in show business.

In the show, your character is a struggling comedian trying to make it - when did you realize that you wanted to do comedy, and how did you get into it?
I've always wanted to do something in comedy. I just really didn't know how to get into until the Upright Citizens Brigade theater moved from Chicago to New York. When UCB got to New York, getting into comedy was a lot more accessible. I was able to involve myself in the community there, take classes...the UCB sort of lends an outstretched hand in a way that hadn't existed originally. But yeah, I've always been into comedy, and always wanted to do something with it, I just wasn't sure what or how until UCB came around.

And UCB is where you met Amy Poehler.
Yes!

Who inspired you? Who are your favorite comedians, actors, or writers?
Oh gosh...so many. Louis C.K., Larry David, Amy Poehler, Amy Sedaris...Y'know, Andrea Martin is an idol of mine.

Which is awesome, since she got to play your mom in the show.
Yeah, she's just frighteningly talented.

What was it like working with Billy, whom you've worked with before?
I'm really proud of the relationship that I have with Billy. I think that we are first and foremost huge fans of each other. We have so much respect for each other. We really are, in real life, people that will talk sh*t about anyone except for each other because we just hold each other in such esteem. And then we have kind of the same sense of humor, and the same things will make us laugh. When I can make Billy Eichner laugh, I feel really good about myself, it's very special. But beyond that, we have a really great communication style. We know how to communicate with each other, we know how to circumvent or deal with problems that arise, we're both very into why something works or doesn't work when we're coming up with a bit or writing something. We both have, if I do say so myself, very good taste and we can talk about things that we love. But more than anything, we really just speak the same language.

Is any of Difficult People improvised, or do you tend to stick to the script?
Billy and I do improvise. When the two of us are together, we tend to riff a lot because so much of what makes the show special is really, I think, our chemistry. We really are able to kind of speak in tandem or over each other on any kind of pop culture topic. But, that said, it is a very closely scripted show, and we do make sure that we get everything on the page in addition to, if we have time, to ad lib as well. And Andrea Martin, of course, is allowed to ad lib, because she's Andrea Martin, and we'd be stupid if we didn't let her do absolutely anything that she wanted to.

Any really great stories from the set?
So my character has two basset hounds, and I love them both, but one, we'll say, is less trained than the other. So, there's a scene in the first episode where my character says she doesn't like any fruit that isn't in proximity to crust or cream, and so my boyfriend gives me a dollop of whipped cream and sends me on my way to the couch, and I put down the whipped cream. And that was very exciting to Otis, the basset hound, who tried to stray from the script and walk over and eat the whipped cream off of the plate. So I did my best to keep doing the scene as at least one of us was professional, and then finally I was like, we can't use this because the dog is literally just eating whipped cream. And honestly, if I was smarter, I would've probably just kept rolling, because it's better than what we were actually getting. I mean, I'd watch a basset hound eat whipped cream for like 25 minutes. But we cut, and then we were just like, 'OK, we need to figure out something else, because we know Otis is gonna do this again.' Like, Otis already knows the taste of whipped cream, he knows that whipped cream is in the room, he knows that I'm gonna do this again, and he knows where it's gonna be. So we had to re-choreograph it so that I put the whipped cream out of his reach in the next take. And, as the cameras were rolling, Otis realized there was no whipped cream, and then went over to the end table where the whipped cream used to be, and knocked over a lamp. And then we had to cut the dogs from the scene entirely.

Otis was just improvising.
Oh yeah, Otis had some ideas about where the scene should go, and, y'know, he didn't ask for permission, he just tried them out. And they weren't good ideas.

He's not Andrea Martin, so he can't do that.
Not Andrea Martin, not even close. Well said.

I know you guys had a ton of great guest stars on the show, but if you could have any celebrity guest star who hasn't already appeared, who would you choose?
There's just so many. I mean, Mandy Patinkin, John Lithgow, Michael Caine, Glenn Close, Meryl Streep, because why the f*ck not, Dame Judi Dench, Catherine Keener, Ellen Green, Liza Minelli, Elisabeth Moss, Elisabeth Shue...

I think you could have written some really good characters for them.
I think I still have time to. And I'm very excited about them all guesting.

Talk about the projects you were working on before you started writing Difficult People.
Well I've been a staff writer on Billy on the Street for four seasons, and before that I wrote for Mulaney, I wrote for the Robert Smigel show Triumph, I wrote for Joan Rivers, I wrote for New York Magazine, I wrote a book, made a lot of appearances on different comedy things that my friends did, and...y'know. Done whatever I can to stay afloat in this crazy business we call show.

So would you say that TV is your favorite medium to write for?
This is my favorite thing that I've ever done. I've never done anything like running my own show where I get to write for myself, and it's just amazing. There's nothing better.

If you weren't in the entertainment industry, what would you be doing?
I would move to Vermont where I would start a bakery and have a lot of dogs. That would be my sad state if I were not doing what I am doing. I would eat and make...and occasionally sell, a lot of baked goods.

So can you bake?
I can, but I shouldn't because then I'm gonna eat everything, and I'd just get very very heavy.

I know it's a bit early, but any future projects planned? More Difficult People?
I just wanna make more of these shows, I wanna make more episodes. I love doing Difficult People--it's the best job in the world. And if I could spend more time developing these characters and playing around with this world, I would just be thrilled. I mean, it's just beyond the best job ever. So rewarding, so fun, so great.

I'm going to close on this question: I know you used to do recaps of the Real Housewives, so if you had to choose, who is your favorite housewife from the entire franchise?
Countess Luann, that's the easiest question you've ever asked. I love Countess Luann de Lesseps. I think she is one of the funniest comedy characters of all time. I absolutely worship her, I think she is so f*cking funny and there's nothing about her I don't like.

You'll have to get her on Difficult People then.
That would be tough because I would probably freak out. I don't know what we could have her do, but we'll figure it out because I love her. I just love Luann de Lesseps.

Well you made Seth Meyers a gay prostitute, so I feel like you could write a character for anyone at this point.
Oh thank you, that's very kind of you!

--Johanna Gruber