Snark Aside, Julie Klausner Says 'Difficult People' Is Inspired By Love Klausner plays an unsuccessful comic who quips about celebrities in her Hulu series. She says that she and her co-star Billy Eichner bonded over their shared love of show business and pop culture.
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Snark Aside, Julie Klausner Says 'Difficult People' Is Inspired By Love

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Snark Aside, Julie Klausner Says 'Difficult People' Is Inspired By Love

Snark Aside, Julie Klausner Says 'Difficult People' Is Inspired By Love

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest, Julie Klausner, created, writes and stars in the Hulu comedy series, "Difficult People." She and Billy Eichner play best friends living in New York who are aspiring comics and failing at becoming famous. They're obsessed with pop culture, and being the difficult people they are, they constantly make hilarious, snarky comments about celebrities, movies, TV shows and theater, which means they're constantly offending the people they most want to impress. "Difficult People" started its second season last month. One of its executive producers is Amy Poehler.

Julie Klausner also has a podcast called "How Was Your Week." She was a co-executive producer and writer for Billy Eichner's series, "Billy On The Street." She also did some writing for Joan Rivers. And she's obsessed enough with pop culture that she used to be a recapper, writing episode recaps for "The Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills" and "New York."

Let's start with a scene from the first episode of "Difficult People." Julie and Billy are walking into a theater to see a production of the musical "Annie."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DIFFICULT PEOPLE")

JULIE KLAUSNER: (As Julie Kessler) I love "Annie." Isn't it funny how FDR is a total hero in this play even though in real life, he let millions of Jews die?

BILLY EICHNER: (As Billy Epstein) Hilarious. I love that he was born during a time when handicapped people still had to wear blankets on their laps.

KLAUSNER: (As Julie Kessler) Have you heard from Josh?

EICHNER: (As Billy Epstein) Nope. And it's been over a week, and we are done.

KLAUSNER: (As Julie Kessler) Oh, I'm so sorry, Billy.

EICHNER: (As Billy Epstein) I'm actually very upset. Josh was so hot.

KLAUSNER: (As Julie Kessler) Yeah.

EICHNER: (As Billy Epstein) And not a moron.

KLAUSNER: (As Julie Kessler) Well, if he broke up with you, clearly he is a moron.

EICHNER: (As Billy Epstein) By the way, your "Real Housewives" recap today was hilarious. We were dying.

KLAUSNER: (As Julie Kessler) Oh, thank you. God, I'm so funny when I write mean things about TV shows. How come no one's hired me to write for one?

EICHNER: (As Billy Epstein) Because our lives are garbage and it's the world's fault? I hate this time of year. My light spring jacket is soaked with both pollen and snow. I wish I never had to go outside.

KLAUSNER: (As Julie Kessler) Well, that's why I've always been an indoors kid. I used to spend every recess in the school library, even when it was beautiful outside.

EICHNER: (As Billy Epstein) That's adorable.

GROSS: (Laughter) That's Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner in the first episode of "Difficult People." Julie Klausner, welcome to FRESH AIR. I want to quote something you write in your book. And you write, (reading) there's a fantasy I've always entertained about connecting with somebody who hated as much about the world as me...

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: ...Somebody crank and contrarian who loved dishing about successful people we both knew (laughter). So how did that go in trying to...

KLAUSNER: ...It went great, Terry.

(LAUGHTER)

KLAUSNER: That was basically my intention - I published my vision board, I guess (laughter). But in the book, I was talking about a romantic partner. And on the show, you know, there very much is a romance between our characters, but we are best friends.

GROSS: But in real life, have you tried to, like, form relationships based on hating things and based on, like, what you don't like about pop culture or what you don't like about certain celebrities? And how far does that get you, that...

KLAUSNER: Well...

GROSS: ...Deep connection through I-don't-like-it-either.

KLAUSNER: I think it gets you pretty far. But it goes beyond the superficial of what I don't like about celebrities. I think when you connect with someone that has always felt like an outsider or who has not found her tribe yet or is still looking to be heard in a way that she - I keep saying the third person. I'm clearly talking about myself (laughter) - the way that I didn't feel like I was necessarily heard or understood growing up, then there is a romance to that commiseration. It's a shared experience.

So I don't acknowledge precisely how shallow that sounds. (Laughter) I think that it is rooted in a more simple desire to connect with someone that you have something in common with that's actually pretty deep and emotional and comes from, you know, in some cases, some pretty traumatic (laughter) childhood experiences.

GROSS: So one of the words I learned from watching your series is the word participator. I didn't know there was - I didn't know that this had been named (laughter). Would you explain what a participator is?

KLAUSNER: Well, we named it. That's - it's not a real...

GROSS: OK. Good. I'm glad you named it.

KLAUSNER: (Laughter) It's not a real term.

GROSS: It needed a name. So explain it.

KLAUSNER: (Laughter) A participator is someone who is all too happy to sing along at a concert when someone on stage tells them to or clap along or to sing "Happy Birthday" when someone in a restaurant is getting a cake.

GROSS: Someone at another table (laughter).

KLAUSNER: Yeah. It's someone that's very, very eager to be a part of whatever is going on around them, I guess.

GROSS: When the magician on stage says, are there any volunteers? - the participator is the person who raises their hand.

KLAUSNER: Absolutely. That is - exactly. Yes.

GROSS: So listen, I live in fear of those kinds of things where you will...

KLAUSNER: (Laughter).

GROSS: ...Against your will, be forced to participate in something (laughter) when you're in the audience trying to just, like, watch and listen. So what got you thinking about the participator thing? And thank you again for naming it.

KLAUSNER: (Laughter) Well, first of all, I want to add that I, too, sit in complete fear when something like that happens. And maybe you're at a concert with a person you don't know very well. And the singer says, OK, this side of the room, do this part and that side of the room, do that part.

GROSS: (Laughter).

KLAUSNER: And I think, oh, God, is this person going to hate me if I don't do it?

GROSS: (Laughter).

KLAUSNER: So there's a lot of pressure. And obviously, this is also - take this with a grain of salt because I loved "Cats." And that's the ultimate audience-participation nightmare. But - I mean, they don't bring you up on stage, but the cats will touch you or at least interact with you. I should stop talking about "Cats."

(Laughter) The idea occurred to me because I go to a lot of shows. And I don't like singing along when they tell me to. And I'm always fascinated by the people who do and have no self-consciousness about it. And part of it is - well, you know, they're not too cool for school. And I guess that's good. But another part of it - you know, as a performer, I wonder, are these people just not getting the performance time they need?

I mean, maybe they should take an improv class. Or, you know, is this their way of performing? And either way, it's just - it was just my way of wrapping my head around something that made me very uncomfortable. So, yeah, in season one, Billy dates a participator. And that is sort of the deal breaker...

GROSS: OK, so...

KLAUSNER: ...For him.

GROSS: ...I don't like those participator things 'cause I sing very tunelessly. So it's just like - it's totally embarrassing. So I just maybe will mouth it - mouth the words. But I will not sing in that kind of setting. But you have a really nice voice. I have heard you sing on YouTube.

KLAUSNER: Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: Yes. So what's your problem with singing along?

KLAUSNER: Well, it's a tree falls in the woods, isn't it? The narcissism of a performer - if I can sing well and no one can hear me, what's the point?

(LAUGHTER)

KLAUSNER: It's like the difference between - you know, my friend Gaylord once told me the difference between a writer and someone that, you know, writes is - someone who writes will tell their friends something and someone who is a writer - it's not enough to tell their friends something. They need to tell a bunch of strangers so they get that validation. And I am, sadly, the latter.

GROSS: (Laughter) OK.

KLAUSNER: And also, I just want to add that if you're in the audience of a show, you've signed on - you've paid a price to not do any work.

GROSS: Yes.

KLAUSNER: I mean, you...

GROSS: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Yes.

KLAUSNER: ...One should delight in the passivity of being entertained, I think.

GROSS: There's also this weird element of - I always feel like, in a participator kind of situation, like you are being told by somebody what you're supposed to do. And I just - I just resist it.

KLAUSNER: It's the worst.

GROSS: You know, like, no, you can't tell me - you can't order me to sing.

KLAUSNER: Absolutely (laughter).

GROSS: You can't order me to do this. Like, I'm here on my own accord. And, like...

KLAUSNER: Yeah.

GROSS: ...You're not the boss, you know?

KLAUSNER: You're not the boss of me. And I will also draw a parallel to people that try to force you to dance at a party.

GROSS: Yes...

KLAUSNER: How dare you?

GROSS: Yes.

KLAUSNER: How dare you?

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: I want to play another clip. And this is from the third episode of the first season of "Difficult People." And Billy - Billy, who's played by Billy Eichner, was going to appear as the bartender on the Bravo talk show "Watch What Happens: Live," but he's asked to leave because one of the celebrity guests that night, Chelsea Handler, didn't like the fact that Billy had made fun of her on Twitter. So Billy's really depressed about getting thrown out of the show (laughter). And he and you go back to your apartment, where your boyfriend is also - he's really depressed. And he works on PBS, and pledge week isn't going well for him (laughter). So Billy speaks first.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DIFFICULT PEOPLE")

EICHNER: (As Billy Epstein) I was banned from Bravo.

JAMES URBANIAK: (As Arthur Tack) Congratulations.

KLAUSNER: (As Julie Kessler) It's Chelsea Handler's fault.

EICHNER: (As Billy Epstein) No, it's my fault, too. I need to stop being mean to celebrities. Every time I talk [expletive] about a famous person, I lose a potential gig.

KLAUSNER: (As Julie Kessler) Talking [expletive] about celebrities is what we do, OK? It's the only thing that comes more naturally to us than breathing air.

EICHNER: (As Billy Epstein) I know. But maybe it's time to pull a Perez Hilton.

KLAUSNER: (As Julie Kessler) Pose in a Speedo with a baby in the bathtub?

EICHNER: (As Billy Epstein) No, I mean stop being mean to celebrities.

KLAUSNER: (As Julie Kessler) Just as it's starting to pay off? Chelsea Handler knows who you are now. Maybe it's just a question of picking your feuds as your star rises. I'm hungry. Are you hungry? Arthur, is there dinner?

URBANIAK: (As Arthur Tack) No, I'm sorry, Noodles. I was just far too spent when I got home. Would you like pizza?

KLAUSNER: (As Julie Kessler) I guess.

EICHNER: (As Billy Epstein) Arthur, are you OK?

URBANIAK: (As Arthur Tack) Yes, thank you, Billy. And I'm sorry I didn't get up to greet you when you came in. It's just pledge drive week at PBS, and it is even crazier than last year.

KLAUSNER: (As Julie Kessler) Oh, my God...

URBANIAK: (As Arthur Tack) I've been exhausted.

KLAUSNER: (As Julie Kessler) ...I just got invited to "The Simpsons" Live at Town Hall after party.

EICHNER: (As Billy Epstein) Oh, I didn't get that invitation, probably because I'm mean to everyone. I bet I said something provocative about Yeardley Smith on Instagram at some point.

KLAUSNER: (As Julie Kessler) Is it Yardley (ph) or Yeardley?

EICHNER: (As Billy Epstein) I don't know.

KLAUSNER: (As Julie Kessler) And an invitation will always be redundant because you will always be my plus one.

EICHNER: (As Billy Epstein) Well, thank you.

URBANIAK: (As Arthur Tack) What am I, flaked sandwich meat?

KLAUSNER: (As Julie Kessler) And as far as the whole be-nice-to-celebrities thing, I'm not in favor of it, particularly because Chrissy Teigen just weighed in on the Greek elections.

EICHNER: (As Billy Epstein) Oh, well, she doesn't have quite the shrewd political mind of a Naya Rivera. No, I don't want to be mean anymore.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: So that was Billy Eichner and my guest Julie Klausner on an episode of "Difficult People," which Julie writes, stars in and is the executive producer of.

So they're so surprised that being nasty to people actually has repercussions.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: So - but I'm wondering how this has played out in your life? I mean, you - you're on Twitter all the time. You've done recaps. So when you've said something bad about people, has that ever come back and slapped you in the face?

KLAUSNER: Yes, but like our characters on the show, I am so amazed every time it happens because in my mind I am not famous. I am not listened to or paid attention to. And I think our characters on the show believe, in their world view, that they're so inconsequential, and they're so ignored. Our characters will always use the passive tense because we believe that it's the world's fault and not ours. There's nothing we can do to even that score. But whenever that does happen, there is a certain amount of surprise in the sense of, oh, you were listening? Thank you.

GROSS: So...

KLAUSNER: (Laughter).

GROSS: ...What's the worst thing that has happened to you as a result of having insulted somebody?

KLAUSNER: Well, I made a joke on Twitter about Zendaya, in regards to her weight. She is a Disney star who is a singer and a model for CoverGirl, I believe, right now. She looked very thin at a Kids' Choice Awards event. And I tweeted something, and she was very upset about it and tweeted a response. And that experience taught me a lot of things about her fan base, about a generation of millennial feminists that consider body type something that is not to be joked about, even though I grew up thinking, well, if you poke fun at thin, beautiful women, it's OK because this is a society where everyone tells you that you can't be too thin. I came to it thinking that, and I left realizing that that's no longer an acceptable point of view.

The stuff I also took from it had to do with just how people's fans online can rally together behind someone that's already famous and doesn't necessarily need their support to pile on to someone on Instagram and say things like, body shaming is wrong, you fat cow.

(LAUGHTER)

KLAUSNER: And I (laughter)...

GROSS: Did you get that?

KLAUSNER: I got a lot of it. And I don't like to talk about it because I don't want to make myself seem like a victim of internet bullying because I think that that's a real thing. And I also don't want to make myself seem like a victim because I'm the one who started it. But that was not a fun week, as far as Zendaya's fans weighing in, so to speak, on my comments that, in retrospect, should have been more thought through.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Julie Klausner. She created, writes and co-stars in the Hulu series "Difficult People." We'll be right back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Julie Klausner. And she created, stars in - along with Billy Eichner - and writes the Hulu comedy series "Difficult People." Well, a lot of comics, for at least the past couple of years, have been complaining that this is a difficult time to be a comic because people will have gotten so sensitive that anything that could be interpreted as an insult or as a slight that is politically incorrect, people are all over you about it. And they'll be tweeting about it. And you'll be (laughter) - you'll be attacked for it. Some comics have said it's hard to play college campuses. Since your - your specialty, in some ways, at least on "Difficult People," is the insult and the insult of people who are famous as well as ones who aren't. How are you dealing with that in a time when everybody is really sensitive?

KLAUSNER: It's tough because I want to be a good guy. It's tough because I want to be on the right side of things.

GROSS: Wait, wait...

KLAUSNER: A lot of comedians don't care.

GROSS: ...Yeah, let me stop you. You want (laughter) - you want to insult everybody and be loved for it.

(LAUGHTER)

KLAUSNER: Well, yes. I mean, do we want to get into that, how I...

(LAUGHTER)

KLAUSNER: ...How I want to be loved by absolutely everyone, even though it's shocking to me that I'm loved by anyone? That's something I discuss at length with my therapist. But the (laughter) - the truth of it is that I want to be the person that knows when it's OK to make fun of someone because they're more powerful than you. And that's what I thought I was - that's where I thought I was coming from. And I learned that that is not necessarily how people see it.

I have no problem with the insult or the attack. I don't want to be a bully. I want to be a vigilante, I guess (laughter). I want to be a person that points out hypocrisies and that shows that this is a world in which beauty standards for women are unrealistic and offensive. And we live in a world in which if a woman loses a lot of weight and she sees people she hasn't seen in a long time, they will be way more effusive and complimentary and congratulatory and excited than if she had just gotten her Ph.D.

And I was coming from a place that I don't think was - I didn't want to say it was misinterpreted - I just don't think people agreed with. And I now know that, and it's good to know it. And I'll make all decisions about what jokes I do and don't make going forward based on what I know, not based on what people tell me is OK but just knowing that there are people that say, you know, body weight is off limits. That said, do I agree with them when they say it's just as bad to make fun of a woman for being too thin as it is to make fun of a woman for being too fat? Absolutely not - that's not a world in which I live.

GROSS: OK. So you often write kind of snarky tweets, and then people can be, like, ultra snarky in their response to you. But now you have a TV series, and the reviews I've read have been really positive. I'm sure somebody's written a negative review. How are you at dealing with a negative review of work that you really put a lot of time into? It's not just like a slap-back after a tweet.

KLAUSNER: It depends on who it's coming from. If it's from someone who is intelligent and who has a lot of things to say that make a lot of sense, I will take that criticism to heart. I listen to people who I respect when they say things, whether or not they're positive or negative towards me or my work.

GROSS: I guess the - what I'm really asking is - are there people who say to you, you can dish it out, but you can't take it?

(LAUGHTER)

KLAUSNER: I think I'm getting better at taking it every day. I think the internet is a marvelous and horrible numbing device.

GROSS: (Laughter).

KLAUSNER: And I'm - as I mentioned, I'm doing my best to - I don't want to say stay off social media because God forbid, I be one of those people that says, hey, everybody. I'm not going to be on Facebook for a month. And you're like, you didn't need to say that. You could have just - anyway (laughter). I'm not making a thing about being unplugged is what I'm saying.

But my friend Tom Scharpling had a very good point about the idea of how easy it is to tweet something and get the feedback that creative people naturally crave - it's why we do what we do - and feel as though you have accomplished something in the way that if you worked on a book or a script or something that takes a lot longer than it does to compose a tweet, you would get that kind of feedback. I think Tom was right when he pointed out that social media has the benefits of that without the hard work.

And because I do have a TV show, I need to be a lot better at saving up (laughter) stuff that I think and making it - or - and fictionalizing it or dramatizing it and using the amazing platform I have to express it in more than 140 characters and, ideally, more artfully and with more context.

GROSS: My guest is Julie Klausner. She created, writes and stars in the Hulu comedy series "Difficult People." We'll talk more after we take a short break. And we'll hear from biologist Bill Streever, who studied the wind by taking a thousand-mile journey in a sailboat. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Julie Klausner, the creator and writer of the Hulu comedy series "Difficult People." She stars with Billy Eichner as best friends who are trying to make it in comedy and not getting very far. But they excel in coming up with hilarious, snarky comments about celebrities, TV shows, movies and theater. So let's hear another scene from the series. And this is from the first episode of the first season. And you're having lunch with your mother in a restaurant, and she is played by the great Andrea Martin, who got her start on SCTV.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DIFFICULT PEOPLE")

ANDREA MARTIN: (As Marilyn Kessler) Hi. Don't you look pretty when you smile. Honey, do you know this Linna (ph) Dunham?

KLAUSNER: (As Julie Kessler) Yeah, actually...

MARTIN: (As Marilyn Kessler) Apparently, she's doing great, and she's younger than you - she has tattoos. Anyway, this article says it is a great time now for women in comedy.

KLAUSNER: (As Julie Kessler) That's very helpful. Thanks, Mom.

MARTIN: (As Marilyn Kessler) So aren't you going to ask me if I finished my hypnosis course?

KLAUSNER: (As Julie Kessler) Wow, that would have been a breakneck pace for a change of subjects if both subjects weren't you.

MARTIN: (As Marilyn Kessler) I finished my hypnosis course. When can I practice on you?

KLAUSNER: (As Julie Kessler) You're not hypnotizing me.

MARTIN: (As Marilyn Kessler) It's not like I tell you you're a chicken and then you act like a chicken.

KLAUSNER: (As Julie Kessler) That very well may be, but I still don't want you to do it.

MARTIN: (As Marilyn Kessler) You're lucky to have a mom who's a shrink.

KLAUSNER: (Julie Kessler) Yes, I'm a walking gratitude list.

MARTIN: (As Marilyn Kessler) Yeah.

I asked for sparkling.

How's Billy?

KLAUSNER: (As Julie Kessler) He's good. You know, he is just getting over this guy is the only thing. Josh, I don't know if you met him.

MARTIN: (As Marilyn Kessler) I can hypnotize him. It's not like I tell him he's a chicken and all of a sudden he becomes a chicken or something. Did you get that article I sent you about Palestine...

KLAUSNER: (As Julie Kessler) Yes.

MARTIN: (As Marilyn Kessler))...Because I'm about to resend it. There we are. What else?

GROSS: (Laughter) Andrew Martin and my guest Julie Klausner in a scene from "Difficult People."

So the mother that you've created for the series is so self-absorbed. Like, everything - absolutely everything is an anthem to herself. But in the acknowledgements to your book, you write - you dedicated the book to your parents. And you write, I love you so much it is actually ridiculous. So make the connection for me between how much you love your actual parents and (laughter) what a monster the mother in the series is.

KLAUSNER: (Laughter) Well, the monster in the series is not my real mother. I want to make that clear that she is a fictional character that Andrea Martin plays so beautifully and hilariously that we began writing for her as Mar (ph) - I mean, she - in other words, she made this character someone that it became a complete and utter joy to write for. And that doesn't come from real-life experiences. I don't think I'd be here talking to you if I had a mother like that.

The notion of the mom being as self-centered as she is and conditional with her love and as lousy of a listener and someone that repeats herself as much as she does - you know, she repeated herself twice in that scene - assumes that people are as bad of a listener as she is - comes from wanting to establish a world in which my character could exist and explaining why she is as, I mean, difficult as she is and, ideally, setting up some opportunity for people to sympathize with her for having a mom that's more self-centered than she is.

GROSS: So you are obviously very passionate about popular culture, which is why you can have so many funny jokes insulting various aspects of popular culture because you clearly care deeply about it and really know it well. So what did TV and movies and music mean to you when you were a kid growing up?

KLAUSNER: Oh, wow. I mean, it's kind of a cliche, or at least a modern adaptation of, I guess, "At The Ballet" from (laughter) "A Chorus Line." But it was a very accessible way to escape all of the social challenges of not necessarily fitting in with my peers in class and instead finding a greater connection in something that was on the screen or on stage. And it took me to emotional places that real-life experiences didn't necessarily. So it was very - it was very - it helped me a lot (laughter).

GROSS: So in one of your podcasts in which you talked about seeing the revival of "Cats," you talked about how when you were 5 you went to the theater and saw "Cats." And, you know, the cats go out into the audience. And one of the cats came up to you and touched you. You remembered the cat's orange nail polish. And you wondered, like, is that the moment that you thought you should become a performer? So what did that moment mean to you, especially as someone who's not a participator?

(LAUGHTER)

KLAUSNER: I was 5, I think, so I was very impressionable. And I remember the orange nail polish - it was chipped. And I remember thinking oh, this is, like, a real, cool girl. She reminded me of my my baby sitter at the time who was also cool, and I looked up to her. And I thought, look at that - holy cow (laughter). And then, the rest of it is all emotion that I can try to, you know, retroactively infuse with reason. But it really just comes down to - oh, my God, oh, my God, oh, my God - Broadway and kitties (laughter) and the feeling of just being exposed to this intensity that was very escapist and exciting. And then later, you grow older, and you're, like - why do the cats have to come into the audience?

(LAUGHTER)

KLAUSNER: But I did look over - at the revival, I did look over the aisle, and there was a 10-year-old girl who was interacting with one of the cats who'd come into the audience. And the look on her face was - that was definitely one of the elements that caused me to cry like a baby during "Memory," was seeing this little girl being, you know, moved in the way that I was, I'm sure.

GROSS: So I don't know if you're in a relationship now or not. In a way, that's irrelevant to this question. When you've had boyfriends over the years, did it matter if they shared your taste or even your interest in popular culture?

KLAUSNER: (Laughter) I think it matters to some extent. I don't think I could be with someone that had terrible tastes. I don't think I would be OK, you know, having to go to a Grateful Dead concerts or see "Star Wars" movies. But I also know that that is not necessarily a deal breaker. And one part of a healthy relationship is one person having things that they're interested in and the other not necessarily feeling obligated to attend every cultural event that they want to check out. I didn't, you know, watch "Game Of Thrones" with my last boyfriend. (Laughter) I was in the next room.

GROSS: What makes you one of the few people who don't like "Game Of Thrones"?

KLAUSNER: A few things - dragons...

GROSS: (Laughter).

KLAUSNER: ...Rape. I mean, there's so many overlapping categories in this particular Venn diagram of not-for-me.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Julie Klausner. She's the creator, star and writer of the Hulu comedy series "Difficult People." Let's take a short break. We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Julie Klausner. And she created, stars in and writes the series, "Difficult People." And she stars with Billy Eichner, who is also known for his series, "Billy On The Street." So I wanted to talk a little bit about casting "Difficult People." It's a very representative cast. I mean, you have black actors and white actors, gay actors and straight actors, thin actors and heavy actors, a trans actor and a great actor who should be better known than he is, who - I don't know what other categories he fits into, but that one would be James Urbaniak. Did you set about trying to make, like, a very representative cast and to have very, like, you know, diverse characters?

KLAUSNER: Absolutely. It was never something that was imposed on us or an afterthought. It was just part of the fabric of the world that we wanted to show. And we also wanted to show how trans people can be jerks, too, that, you know, there's a whole range of people in New York City. In our world, you know, Billy and Julie aren't the only difficult people. The people around them are pretty awful, too, or at least difficult. And I think an important part of inclusiveness and diversity in TV and film has to do with writing characters that are not, you know, perfect or...

GROSS: Idealistic.

KLAUSNER: ...Role models or - exactly, yeah. And Shakina Nayfack, who plays Lola, is so irreverent and hilarious. And she was so excited at the idea of playing a trans character that doesn't get killed or isn't a magical, perfect presence. And we got to do things with her character like comment on the misinterpretation of who she is. Cole Escola's character, Matthew, is a sort of effeminate theater fanatic who works with Billy at the cafe as a waiter, and he treats Shakina's character like a drag queen and says things like yes, honey. And Lola has to remind him that she's not a drag queen and shuts him down. And that stuff - I've just never - I've never seen it before. You know, some of the diversity is political, but a lot of it just comes from the fact that, you know, a big challenge of writing is, well, have I seen that before? And would I like to see that?

GROSS: So I have to say, as somebody who does a public radio show, I love the fact that in your TV series, Julie's boyfriend works for PBS and has to deal with fund drives. And, you know, there's a few just kind of, like, generic jokes that people always make about NPR and PBS, and those jokes get so old. Like, nobody ever updates them to make - you know, to make them current with what PBS and NPR really are like 'cause there's plenty of things to make fun of. Just, like, keep it current, you know? So I love that, like, one of the jokes in your show is about how there are so many, like, doo-wop shows on PBS during fundraisers. And I thought it's hilarious that you notice that and all of the, like, doo-wop CDs that are used as premiums, which leaves me to wonder...

KLAUSNER: Yeah (laughter).

GROSS: ...Which leaves me to wonder, like, have you ever pledged to NPR or PBS, and do you ask for the premium? And if so, like, what have you gotten?

KLAUSNER: (Laughter) I have an NPR mug in my home, Terry.

GROSS: OK.

KLAUSNER: Proud to drink decaffeinated tea out of it every once in a while, while I'm reading a book with my cat. See, I've got those, too.

(LAUGHTER)

KLAUSNER: I've got the old ones and the new ones. No, PBS viewers certainly do like doo-wop. And we do have this rivalry on the show between NPR and PBS, which is - again, it's low-hanging fruit to the extent that it's fun to watch nerds be angry. And I say that as someone who watches PBS and listens to NPR, so it does come from a place of love. But yeah, the specifics are important in the same way that, you know, you just want to see something that you haven't seen before. So we get a couple of jabs in at "Mr. Selfridge" this season that they'll probably never recover from.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: So I was thinking I'd maybe end the interview the same way I ended my interview with Don Rickles. And this is a question that I've only ever asked Don Rickles, but I think I'll ask it to you, too. And I may regret it, but fortunately we edit the show, so if I don't like the answer we can just take it out. So the question is would you insult me?

KLAUSNER: Not for a million dollars.

GROSS: Oh, come on.

KLAUSNER: (Laughter) I just - I love you so much, Terry. Can I insult you? I really don't know if I can.

GROSS: OK. All right.

KLAUSNER: I just - I know, like...

GROSS: ...I don't want to put you on the spot. I thought it would come naturally.

KLAUSNER: No, I wouldn't - here - I wouldn't insult you. I wouldn't insult, you know, Madonna (laughter). Certain people that I just won't...

GROSS: ...I am often mentioned in the same sentence as her.

KLAUSNER: (Laughter).

GROSS: This happens to me all the time.

KLAUSNER: Well, you're more self-aware about your singing. I'll say that.

GROSS: (Laughter).

KLAUSNER: Oh [expletive], I did just insult Madonna.

(LAUGHTER)

KLAUSNER: No, I just - I'm really - yeah. I just couldn't do it. I couldn't do that. I couldn't insult you. I'm not going to insult my dad.

(LAUGHTER)

KLAUSNER: Certain people that are off-limits.

GROSS: OK. Julie Klausner, thank you so much for talking with us.

KLAUSNER: Oh my God, Terry, thank you so much for having me.

GROSS: Julie Klausner created, writes and stars in the Hulu comedy series, "Difficult People." The show is currently in season two. A new episode posts today. After we take a short break, the wind and the weather. This is FRESH AIR.

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