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Julie Klausner on Why Pop Culture Makes ‘Difficult People’ Deeper

"Difficult People" speaks a language particular to its two leads, and its in that specificity the show finds deeper meaning.

"Difficult People"

“Difficult People”

Hulu

Late in February, when the bitter chill of January had faltered slightly, Andrea Martin and Julie Klausner spent their early morning in the Museum of Sex. Before its doors opened to the public, the two actors were perfecting a scene for “Difficult People” Season 2, Hulu’s cult favorite comedy. Starring as mother and daughter, the Martin and Klausner have a sincere rapport that makes the dozens of takes feel organically different every time. Audiences will certainly be able to tell how the comfort between the two actors has grown from Season 1 to Season 2.

“Difficult People” was one of the first weekly comedy shows Hulu took a chance on after announcing its intent to produce original content. The premise was simple: veteran actors Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner play less successful, heightened versions of themselves; two best friends struggling to make it in the comedy scene in New York and experiencing many misadventures along the way. Klausner serves as the creator, writer and star in what is really her show; the execution of which was, apparently, a little rocky.

“It was a really nice mutual experience — like two virgins making love for the first time,” Klausner said, laughing and reflecting on the initial relationship between Hulu and the show. Since the streaming service was new to television production and this was Klausner’s first time helming her own show, both were uncertain of the series’ future and reception.

“Scott [King] and I wrote the first season in like eight weeks, or even six weeks — something crazy,” Klausner said. “It was a ridiculously short amount of time that we had to write and establish what the series was, which we really didn’t know. We had to figure that out very, very quickly. I think for the first season, there was a go-for-broke feel — like, what if we’re canceled tomorrow?”

Billy Eichner as Billy Epstein & Julie Klausner in "Difficult People" Season 2

READ MORE: Review: ‘Difficult People’ Season 2 Proves That Sometimes It’s Good When People Never Change

The eight-episode first season received both critical acclaim and a strong enough audience to merit a second season. Although the plots were thin, the show was elevated by its sarcastic and envelope-pushing dialogue, which featured a pop culture reference in almost every sentence.

While this aspect of the show may seem daunting to those who are not in the cultural zeitgeist, director Jeffrey Walker explained how audiences should approach the myriad of references. “I know that a strength of the show is that even if you don’t follow every reference, the energy with which Billy and Julie talk about it is almost like in a procedural show. You don’t have to know the terminology, but you go with the journey.”

Walker, who directed every episode of the first and second seasons, started his career in Australia and eventually made his way over to America to pursue directing in comedy, with credits including “Modern Family,” “The Neighbors” and “Raising Hope.” He was thrilled with the good reception that the first season and its script received, but wanted to emphasize the relationship between Billy and Julie.

“The important thing was that you felt the vulnerability of Julie and Billy; that their flaws are that on one level hard people to like, you sort of empathize with them and make them relatable. We wanted their friendship to be something that an audience could connect with.”

Indeed, the mutual love between Julie and Billy in “Difficult People” anchors the series. Although they have not found the “one” in their romantic relationships, Julie and Billy are already the “one” for each other, the perfect foil and partner-in-crime that creates a best friendship. Klausner confirmed that while she lives for references and excels at them, their friendship is key not only for the comedy but for the emotional resonance.

“We have to make jokes that are balanced in emotional relationships, and stuff that is universal,” Klausner said. “I do think that what people appreciate about the pop culture stuff is that it’s the language that Billy and I speak, it’s the language of our friendship. But it’s not [the basis of] our friendship.”

“We both grew up very pop culture literature. We watched a bunch of TV and were way more concerned about the Oscars than people in junior high should be,” she added. “It’s about not feeling like you fit in with your peers, it’s about connecting more to culture than you are to people that are your age necessarily, and finally finding each other when you’re in your 20s or 30s. I do think there’s something deeper than the references of it all.”

Part of that deeper aspect to “Difficult People” is Klausner’s character and her writing, as she helps to break further ground in comedy for women. Julie is a “difficult person” who can come off as unlikeable, overly snarky and arrogant, but still enjoyable, funny and sympathetic. This is a role that’s typically been reserved for men, and even if the occasional woman does take on this character, it’s written by a man. Klausner said she was grateful for the opportunity to play this woman and to write for her, explaining its importance for women in comedy and in television.

Billy Eichner as Billy Epstein & Julie Klausner in "Difficult People" Season 2

“This episode that we’re shooting now is about porn,” she said. “Arthur finds me watching porn and we have this conversation about what porn do we each like, and it’s very different. What does that say about our relationship? The notion of being a woman and having that conversation from that point of view. I’m a girl who watches porn and this is my story and this is my point of view that you might very well see on a network sitcom, but from a different point of view.”

READ MORE: ‘Difficult People’ Season 2 Trailer Features Nathan Lane Being Bullied & A Lin-Manuel Miranda Cameo

Klausner teased the second season, which is sure to contain more of the same characters and dialogue, but with some truly amazing guest stars. Look out for Joel McHale, Nathan Lane, Julianne Moore and others. Klausner also loves to draw from real life in “Difficult People,” and mentioned that there will be a musical episode and a plot where she gets scammed out of “Hamilton” tickets in Starbucks (something which happened in real life). Although not confirmed, I’m guessing this is the episode in which Tony Award-winner Lin-Manuel Miranda makes a cameo.

Also get excited for more of the incredible Andrea Martin, who features more heavily in the second season as Julie’s overbearing and competitive mother. The “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” actress said of her character in Season 2, “It seems to me a more comprehensive look at Marilyn because they’re written me in more. I think that Marilyn is very competitive with her daughter and wants to have a gay best friend like Julie does with Billy. I think you’ll see that kind of rivalry. I think you’ll see a push-pull more and the way we relate.”

Based on the short scene in the Museum of Sex, we’ll get a lot of more relatable and hilarious moments from the comedy duo. Effectively utilizing New York as the setting and almost as a character itself, we’ll also see an episode in Times Square featuring a (you-guessed-it) reference to the iconic “Birdman” scene.

“Difficult People” Season 2 releases new episodes every Tuesday, exclusively on Hulu.

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