New York — Perhaps no show in TV history ever had a title that was better suited to it: “Difficult People.”
In this Hulu comedy, 30-something best friends Julie and Billy form a pushy, shameless united front as they wage war with New York and the world of show business they half-heartedly are trying to break into.
The upshot for viewers as they feast on this screwball, cringey series’ third season (which premieres Tuesday): Their difficulty not busting a gut.
“Difficult People” flings snark at Woody Allen, David Blaine, Passover, unhinged subway riders, a government initiative to “deprogram” gays, and Alcoholics Anonymous.
It finds Julie and Billy ducking into a church sanctuary to charge their phones but, when she finds no outlet there, blurting out indignantly, “What is this place good for?”
The show spoofs drug advertising with its commercial for Ridshadovan, an antidepressant that personifies depression as a sour, cronish woman who stalks the sufferer (including Julie, who finds this TV sourpuss actually stalking her).
The difficult duo of “Difficult People” are portrayed by Billy Eichner and Julie Klausner, with the jams they get into flowing from the mind of Klausner, who also created and writes the show.
“It’s a love story,” she says.
Granted, Julie lives with an ever-submissive partner (played by James Urbaniak, one among the series’ splendid troupe). Billy, a gay man, looks elsewhere for his flings.
But Billy and Julie share a transcendent bond.
“The fact that we are so loyal to each other buys us a lot of real estate in the Being Horrible Department,” Klausner says.
So it’s them against the world, armed with rat-a-tat, pop-culture-powered dialogue that spares nothing and no one. (“Ever since President Trump replaced the Department of Health with Jenny McCarthy’s blog,” says Billy, “nothing makes sense.”)
“One of the most romantic things of all is finding someone you can hate everything else with,” Klausner notes. “There’s definitely a lot of opinions expressed by these characters.” And a lot of agreement: They harmonize in stirring up their chaos.
The real-life team of Klausner and Eichner first joined forces on “Billy on the Street,” the breathless sidewalk quiz show for which she served as a producer. Its off-the-cuff style and pop-culture frenzy is akin to the meticulously scripted “Difficult People” she would mastermind soon after.
“I spent more time with TV and movies than I did playing outside with people my age, the way healthy children are supposed to do,” says Klausner, explaining her store of knowledge. “Popular culture is the language I speak. And Billy speaks it, too.”
Earlier in her career, she applied that passion to churning out recaps of reality-show episodes. (Which, between auditions and capers with Billy, is what Julie does for money on “Difficult People.”)
For Klausner, recaps provided a great training ground for writing snappy commentary. She loved it.
“But there is something about ‘recap culture’ that feels like you’re on the outside looking in,” she says. “You’re commenting on something that you really want to be making instead. So I definitely leaned into that with the character Julie, who feels like an outsider and is really frustrated.”
Obviously, Real-Life-Julie and TV-Julie part ways in many respects. The red hair, air of mischief, and rapid-fire delivery are all the same.
“But I’m not stupid, and she kinda is,” says Klausner, citing one distinction. “She knows a lot about certain things. But she has no self-awareness. She is not enough of an adult to learn how to play the game. She doesn’t do the work. She’s very stubborn: I’ll stay exactly the way I am, and the world will come around to me.”
Also: Unlike TV-Julie, mired lackadaisically with her boyfriend, Real-Life-Julie is currently single.
“I’m very picky,” she cracks — “I want someone who is damaged in a very specific way.”
Finally: What about Klausner’s emotional state?
In a touching scene, TV-Julie declares, “I am an unhappy person. But the alternative is being somebody I don’t know.”
Klausner admits depression is “definitely something I’ve struggled with,” but bursting out with a laugh, she adds, “I’m happier than I was before I had the TV show!
“And the show is very therapeutic. It’s definitely very helpful to be able to write about being a quote-unquote unhappy person, and in the process become a happier person — and make other people feel like they’re not alone.”
That’s what she demonstrates with “Difficult People”: You never feel alone when you’re laughing.
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