Hulu's Difficult People: Julie Klausner on cancellation and Kevin Spacey jokes
The opening scene of Difficult People has Julie and Billy — the eponymous alter-egos of Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner — shoving their way through tourists in mid-town Manhattan. “Please,” a middle-aged Midwesterner with a camera around her neck says to Julie. “Can you tell us, how can we get to 9/11?”
“Practice,” she deadpans.
That’s the sort of joke — irreverent and insider-baseball, New York-y and inexplicably delightful — that populated Difficult People with the density of frozen yogurt stores on the Upper West Side. Julie and Billy, unapologetic misanthropes and pop-culture obsessives, were abrasive but, thanks to their whip-smart commentary and genuine friendship, never irredeemable. They were tour guides to a New York City of their own making, three parts-When Harry Met Sally and one part-Girls. It was a city with opportunities to exploit around every corner, crawling with Real Housewives, where Lin-Manuel Miranda and Tina Fey could pop up at any moment (in Fey’s case, directing an episode of The Black List — “James Spader wears a 75-piece suit and I have to approve every piece.”)
By its third season, the show had found its rhythm completely, balancing guest stars and increasingly surrealist premises with the grace and dexterity of a “showtime” subway dancer. But late Tuesday, Hulu announced the show would not be renewed for a fourth season.
“I feel great about the show that I got to make,” Julie Klausner, who wrote and created the show in addition to starring, tells EW. “I feel like the luckiest girl in the world. There are amazing shows that have ended after three seasons, like Strangers with Candy, Arrested Development — I don’t mean to self-aggrandize myself by comparing myself to those great shows — but I’m really proud of the work we did and the series as a whole.”
And so we’ll aggrandize for her: Difficult People was a great show, not only for its jokes (which were excellent) but also for the fearlessness with which it went scorched earth on Hollywood’s “open-secret” abusers who have only recently begun to receive mainstream scrutiny.
“Listen,” Klausner says. “I’ve had an agenda this entire time on this show: to call out bullsh–, to say things that other people don’t want to say because they’re afraid of burning bridges — because I had these two characters that didn’t have any bridges to burn.”
Difficult People particularly pulled no punches when it came to Kevin Spacey, who last month was accused by multiple men — including actor Anthony Rapp, who alleged Spacey made a sexual advance on the actor when he was 14 and Spacey was 26 — of sexual misconduct. “We have three seasons full of Kevin Spacey jokes. To the point where I was worried we had too many. I think season 2, I made a point of making sure every script had one,” Klausner says. (An example: “His hand shot up faster than Kevin Spacey’s fly at the opening of Newsies.”)
“When the story broke, I have to say, there’s something really nice to know that other people care now,” Klausner says. Difficult People also used jokes to call out other Hollywood alleged abusers like Woody Allen and Bryan Singer (“Oh my god, Julie, this place is a landmark,” Billy explains as the duo entered a restaurant. “One of these tables is where Bryan Singer’s accusers first met with their lawyer.”)
“I’m really proud that we got to go on record and say what we wanted to say. To watch the culture shifting is exciting because it’s not like these things weren’t happening since the beginning of time, but to watch people care is really exciting. We had amazing legal counsel on the show. There’s no question looking back that we got away with murder,” she says.
There was only one joke Klausner says they had to cut for legal reasons. “We couldn’t show a car that they lent us, and also disparage the car. So there was a joke I made about a car that was like, it felt like I was inside Wall-E’s p—y, and we couldn’t use that. That will go down as my only regret.”
For the most part, Klausner says, people were flattered by getting name-checked on the show, even when the jokes were insults. Even a few biting cracks about American Horror Story didn’t stop Eichner from getting cast on the show’s seventh season. “I think people are really excited to be part of the club. Bill Lawrence — we had kind of a mean joke about him in season 2 and he retweeted the clip, and he was really cool about it.” The joke: Billy asks Julie what the worst birthday she ever had was. “That’s like asking me which Bill Lawrence show do I find the most contrived — it’s a tie for last.”
Even though Difficult People ended unexpectedly, its third season finale — in which Billy attempts to relocate to Los Angeles — operates well as a finale for the show, even providing a flashback to reveal how Billy and Julie met (walking out of the same Broadway dance class). “People have asked how did Julie and Arthur meet, and I’ve always said it doesn’t matter, because the show is not about their love story,” Klausner says.
“The truth of the matter is, of course I’m disappointed. I would have loved to keep doing the show, but the between Andrea Martin and Billy’s schedule, I don’t know if we would have been able to do a fourth season anyway,” Klausner says. “I’m really proud of the series as a whole, and I would love for it to live again; I would love to do a movie at some point.”
She adds with a laugh, “And, by the way, I feel really good moving forward, not only because I’m proud of the work, but because I’m on the new anti-depressant that I cannot recommend enough.”
As for the rest of us depressed about the Difficult People cancellations — at least we can go back and watch the show on Hulu.