Billy Eichner and Julie Klausner on their Hulu comedy 'Difficult People'
If you enjoy curmudgeon-y comedy, Billy on the Street, and/or the pop culture-soaked Twitter banter between its star, Billy Eichner, and writer-producer (and podcaster) Julie Klausner, then you’ll want to introduce yourself to Difficult People. Created by Klausner and executive-produced by Amy Poehler, the Hulu series (which premieres Aug. 5) stars Eichner and Klausner as a pair of blunt, bitter New York friends who are trying to make it on the comedy circuit but are mostly just getting more bitter in the process. Savor their saltiness in the following Q&A.—Dan Snierson
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What were your first impressions of each other?
JULIE KLAUSNER: I remember Billy was late!
EICHNER: Julie’s always 15 minutes late, but I’m always a half hour late. … I’m trying to remember the first time we met in person.
KLAUSNER: You know that Kanye song where he’s like, “Hey, you remember where we first met? Okay, I don’t remember where we first met,” and it’s supposed to be romantic, because he’s rapping to Kim Kardashian? I kind of feel that way about Billy.
EICHNER: I didn’t know you listened to rap. This is the first I’m hearing of that…
KLAUSNER: I am crazy about rap.
EICHNER: Julie taught at UCB, and she was in that world—at least more than I was. I was a fan of her Tumblr or her blog, and I thought she was hilarious. I saw her tweeting my videos, and I had been thinking that the things that she was doing on social media were hilarious. At some point, we started talking to each other over Twitter… And then at one point, we decided we were going to try to write some type of sitcom pilot together, but not for us—for our friend Bridget Everett, who is a brilliant cabaret performer in New York City. We met once to try to come up with something for Bridget, and we came up with some ideas, and then we never talked about it again and never spoke.
KLAUSNER: We were very excited about the idea of us pitching a talk show together, and then we started talking about Bridget, and then we never once returned to that idea. But I think Billy’s answer of “the Internet” is probably a good one. I know that I went on a date with someone who ended up being my boyfriend for five years. The date was okay, but he sent me a follow-up email with a link to one of Billy’s videos, and he was like, “You have to watch these.” And I was so excited by the videos that I ended up dating him for five years. [laughs]
EICHNER: I don’t think I ever knew that!
KLAUSNER: He was like, “Oh my God! Billy Eichner’s amazing. You have to see his videos.” And then he was like, “Had a really good time at lunch, and hopefully we’ll pick it up when I get back,” and I’m like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah…” And then he’s like, “By the way, here’s that video.” And I clicked on it, and it was the one where that woman’s like, “My kid can sing,” and you’re like, “Well, let’s hear it.” And the kid starts singing, and you go, “He’s a little pitchy,” and you walked away.
EICHNER: Oh, yeah, it was a very young child.
KLAUSNER: The one I saw also was you making fun of that guy and you say, “Do you think 300 is going to be homoerotic and he says, ‘What makes you think I would know anything about homoeroticism?” and you said, “I don’t know—your Boy from Oz cast jacket?”
EICHNER: He was wearing a Boy from Oz jacket from the Broadway show The Boy From Oz asking me, “Why do you assume I’m gay?” Oh my god…
KLAUSNER: I just remember seeing those videos, freaking out, and pursuing Billy and being like, “I’m your biggest fan,” and Billy knowing who I was and me being very flattered and excited that and just wanting desperately to collaborate with him. That really didn’t come to pass until Billy got a show on Fuse and he called me and said, “Write for it.”
EICHNER: When we sold on the Billy on the Street to Fuse, it had been a little while since I had spoken to Julie, but Julie was one of my first three emails or phone calls that I sent.
KLAUSNER: “We didn’t know each other and then we really got to know each other in the context of a working relationship, which I think is the best. I have a very very romantic place in my heart for people who get to know each other by working together because Billy and I are very much people who manifest the truest sense of who we are through what we do and what we say. We got to know each other very quickly and very well, and we had a very good rapport and I was just so proud to be a part of what was the funniest show on TV. And the density of laughs to footage is unlike anything else that is on television.
EICHNER: Julie put it very eloquently but the bottom line is Julie pitched me an idea for the first season of the show for a game called “Rebecca Black or Black Person?” And from that point on, I swear I knew…. I mean, I would just cry with laughter. And I was so stressed out putting that first season together because I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I remember standing frantically buying Advil at Rite-Aid on 50th Street after one production day and checking the things that Julie was sending me on my phone and I saw “Rebecca Black or Black Person?” as an idea and I just started to cry with laughter and Julie made it all okay.
KLAUSNER: Awww… “Okay” is my best speed. You’re not going to get brilliant, it’s going to be okay. It’ll be fine, it’ll be good enough and then we can go to dinner because who wants to stay past 7 p.m. on a workday, frankly? That’s my work ethic.
And what were your last impressions of each other?
KLAUSNER: When he walked into traffic naked after hearing about the Harriet Tubman movie. And that was the last time I saw Billy Eichner.
EICHNER: [laughs] Well, as excited as I am that Viola Davis is going to play Harriet Tubman, I did say to Julie if we had come up with that as a pitch, we would’ve gotten called racist on Twitter.
KLAUSNER: It was like a bad joke. You know what? It was actually not even us. It was like a Family Guy joke, to be completely honest.
EICHNER: There is no last impression. We’re in constant communication. It goes way beyond Twitter. We’re texting each other jokes throughout the day. We see something pop up on Deadline or EW, and we’ll immediately text each other some take on it.
KLAUSNER: Usually the take is: “F— these people.”
EICHNER: Usually the take is, “Why weren’t we asked?” I am not worried at all about people hacking my phone and seeing nude photos. Like, they will see my d—, but I don’t really care.’ The thing that terrifies us is if someone finds what we’ve said about our friends over text message. Because we will be exiled. In my head, I’m already in Switzerland. Literally, there will be nowhere for me to go.
KLAUSNER: It’ll be like Citizenfour, but we’ll be in a Sofitel.
EICHNER: If we can afford a Sofitel.
When was the last time you were difficult in real life?
KLAUSNER: I lost my s— yesterday at the hotel manager [laughs], because they didn’t clean my room, and I was like, “I’m leaving, please clean my room. I have hair and makeup people coming at 1:15, and I need you guys to clean my room.” And then I came back, and the room wasn’t clean, and I built up a head of steam, and then I went downstairs and was like, “Who can I talk to? I am furious!” I didn’t even have to say I was furious—anybody who could read faces would know. The manager, to his credit, got a cocktail in front of me really quickly. He was like, “Wait at the bar, here’s a drink, we’ll clean the room.” And they cleaned the room. I was sitting at the bar, drinking before I even knew that I was drinking anything, and then there was guac, so everything ended up being fine. But I wasn’t proud of myself at the time. I just had low blood sugar, I guess.
EICHNER: When was the last time I was difficult? Ummm, I’m trying to think… You see, I think the problem is I don’t think I am difficult; I just think I’m logical. I guess other people think that I’m difficult. To me, it’s all very practical.
KLAUSNER: Yes, we want this show to really speak to white privilege as a good thing.
How would you frame the show for people coming to it cold?
KLAUSNER: Maybe picture Curb Your Enthusiasm if the two leads had never created Seinfeld. [Both laugh.] Think of two leads who have mounted medium-successful one-person shows at UCB at one point.
EICHNER: I think it’s refreshing to have a show on TV where the leads just aren’t that sexually appealing. Usually, you’ll have a show like the King of Queens, and there’ll be one really fat guy, but at least he has a beautiful wife—they balance it out. Here, you’re really not getting much from either side. We’re not even comically ugly. We’re just middle of the road when it comes to sex appeal.
NEXT: Don’t expect another Broad City or Girls [pagebreak]
If we were to sum up the theme of Difficult People in one word, would “honesty” be a good one?
KLAUSNER: It’s more than honesty. People who are boring can be honest and it doesn’t matter. It’s more about what you’re honest about. I think “bitter” is a good word, because everybody always says, whenever someone criticizes something, “She’s just bitter.” And it’s like, “Yeah, what’s wrong with being bitter? Being bitter is actually kind of awesome.” I think our characters definitely celebrate that in a way that you kind of haven’t seen—I guess Larry David does. And also “loyal.” In real life, Billy and I will talk s— about anybody but each other. And, um, Kathie Lee Gifford. We have nothing bad to say about Kathie Lee Gifford.
EICHNER: Nothing bad. She’s brilliant on the show, by the way. One of my favorite scenes of the season is with Kathie Lee Gifford.
KLAUSNER: She’s amazing in it.
EICHNER: She’s, like, genuinely good. It’s not campy, it’s actually really good… It’s everything that Julie said, and it’s also this ridiculous celebration of self-centered New Yorkers, and all the good and the bad that comes from that, because that’s hilarious. But ultimately, these people put their own needs and desires far ahead of everything else and everyone else around them, and that’s what makes them difficult—and that’s what makes them, in some situations, probably a little unlikable. But it also makes them really funny. It’s always really funny to watch someone who really wants something who isn’t getting it, but who’s desperate for it. And there is some desperation in these characters as well, because they’re not just out of college, you know? They’re well into their thirties.
KLAUSNER: This is not Broad City or Girls. We’re not young. We are not young.
EICHNER: We’re not old, but we’re not young. We’re in that weird middle place where there’s still clinging to these dreams of show business. It’s one thing to have those dreams and wait tables when you’re 24 or 25—that’s just part of the process for most people figuring out their lives in their twenties. But we’re in our mid-thirties. There’s a different level of desperation—hopefully comic desperation—when you’re still clinging to these hopes and dreams, at the same time watching all your friends and family evolve and get more successful. It’s not a really campy, crazily absurd take on all of that, like AbFab was. It has its over-the-top moments, but it’s nothing like that. It’s a bit more grounded than that. But at the same time, they’re not willing to give up their dreams. I think there’s a self-centeredness to them that I think is really funny—and also a little sad, probably.
You can feel the influences of Curb Your Enthusiasm and Will & Grace on the show. And as you said, Julie, the two of you wanted to do “a version of Will & Grace, but if they were unlikeable.” What were some of your more unlikely inspirations?
KLAUSNER: If I said I was influenced by The Comeback, I don’t think anybody would drop dead out of shock. The Comeback is something Billy and I really have so much reverence for. There’s also an episode that was really inspired by Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, which is one of my favorite movies, and our showrunner, Scott King, and I are kind of obsessed with that. Amy had made a suggestion like, “What if we do an episode where it’s just you and Billy, and we follow you for a day?,” and Scott and I were really excited by that. We just decided to depart from the usual structure and follow Julie and Billy around this weird version of New York and see who we encounter. We got some cool celebrity cameos in that episode. We got Debbie Harry to be in it, and that was something you would not expect from a comedy cameo….Both Billy and I have seen way too many movies and way too much television. Larry Sanders is a big influence. Larry’s vainness and constantly asking people about his ass and his hair—I can’t think of anything truer to who I am personally.
EICHNER: Who wouldn’t want a woman that relates to Garry Shandling? [laughs] Finally, a female Garry Shandling!
KLAUSNER: That’s what I set out to do, and please only print that.
This show was initially developed for USA. Did you not see it being a good fit for Chrisley Knows Best and Royal Pains?
KLAUSNER: Listen, I feel like there’s a lot of networks where Characters are Welcome.
EICHNER: To be honest, I almost didn’t do the call today, because I’m still reeling from the loss of Sirens. Where will we be without Sirens as our compass? It was my one show. No matter how hard my day was, if I had a horribly stressful day like most of America, I thought, “I’m going to go home and watch Sirens and decompress.” Sirens is our Ed Sullivan, I think.
Did USA pass? What happened there?
EICHNER: We pitched the show a year before we actually made the pilot, because at the time we sold the show, I was doing Billy on the Street, and then Amy and I ended up doing Parks and Rec and we were stuck in L.A. for a year. So when we pitched the show, USA was—
KLAUSNER: I developed a drug problem…
EICHNER: Julie had a terrible drug problem.
KLAUSNER: It was just something to do, you know.
EICHNER: [laughs] Long story short, you know how Hollywood is, in the moment that we pitched Difficult People at USA, they were really excited about half-hour comedies, and by the time we actually made the pilot a year later, they had decided, “Maybe that’s not really working for us.”
KLAUSNER: But we had a pilot, and we were able to say, “Hey, look. Here’s the show!” as opposed to, “Here’s what the show could be.” So it was a lot easier… That’s one of the parts of the genius of Amy Poehler—we had enough money to make a pilot presentation, she stretched it into a pilot, because we walked away with a finished thing that we could take elsewhere when the time came around to take it elsewhere. And that was a huge, important tool for Hulu to be like, “Hey, here’s the show. Do you want the show?” and Hulu was like, “Yes!”
EICHNER: Creatively, it’s such a good fit for Hulu and where they want to go and the types of programming they want to do. We didn’t know how much original programming Hulu was going to be doing when we first found out they wanted Difficult People. And now, a year later, we’re so thrilled, because it just seems like a place that’s really taking creative chances and is very excited about doing something unique.
What is your budget-screwing dream episode?
KLAUSNER: You know that Cirque du Soleil show where they do the Beatles? Just that. We just do that show, from top to bottom. And if we’re not very good at acrobatics, then we try our best.
EICHNER: Remember that old show Remington Steele with Pierce Brosnan? I think it would be a lot like that. I don’t know, was he some type of spy or something? I don’t really remember what happened on that show, but I would like it to be like Remington Steele. Or there was another show… Hotel? Not American Horror Story: Hotel, by the way. This is the real Hotel with Connie Sellecca, back in the ’80s. So maybe Julie and I running a hotel would be nice.
You two are so in sync about your pop culture interests, but where on a Venn Diagram do they not overlap?
KLAUSNER: Grindr, I guess?
EICHNER: This actually factors into the show a bit. Julie, as anyone who knows her or follows her on social media knows, loves animals. Loves cats and dogs…
KLAUSNER:…and Billy doesn’t care for them.
EICHNER: …and is obsessed with posting YouTube videos. Everything Julie posts on Facebook is something of some adorable animal…
KLAUSNER: That’s a little reductive, but okay.
EICHNER: It’s not that I don’t think animals are cute, I’m very allergic—to cats, especially—and Julie lives for cats. That’s one place where we just don’t see eye to eye. Julie insisted on the show that her character and her boyfriend had two basset hounds. I just kept thinking, “I didn’t spend 10 years struggling doing sketch comedy to have a show on Animal Planet.”