'Tuca & Bertie': Tiffany Haddish and Ali Wong Discuss Their Surreal Netflix Comedy About Bird Best Friends

Netflix’s new animated comedy Tuca & Bertie held its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival ahead of its May 3 launch. Created by Lisa Hanawalt, a longtime producer on BoJack Horseman, the off-kilter and surreal show focuses on the friendship between two 30-something bird women: Tuca (voiced by Tiffany Haddish) is a carefree and confident toucan, while Bertie (Ali Wong) is an anxious and repressed songbird. Following a screening of the first two episodes on Wednesday night, Hanawalt, Haddish and Wong gathered for a Q&A and discussed how the show came together.

“I just really wanted to make a show about female friendship,” Hanawalt said, adding that she drew on her own experiences of 30-something life when writing the show. As the comedy picks up, Tuca has just reluctantly moved out of the apartment the pair have long shared so that Bertie’s boyfriend (Steven Yeun) can move in with her. “When you’re in you 30s, people really start to split off in drastically different directions. Suddenly your friend has a bunch of kids and they own their own home and a husband and they seem super stable, but inside they're still like, ‘Do I want this? I don’t know! Am I doing the right thing?’ Meanwhile, I still feel like a big sloppy baby,” Hanawalt joked, “but I’m sure I look like I have my shit together on the outside.”

Of the central dynamic, Hanawalt said, “The characters are very different, but also have some of each other’s qualities, and you can see why they’ve been friends for so long.”

Haddish and Wong were clearly thrilled to finally be working together, having known each other for a decade. “We met 10 years ago in San Francisco, at a shitty time for us both when we were just starting out in comedy,” Wong recalled. “The next time I saw her was in New York when she’d auditioned for SNL and everybody around town said she’d killed it, and she knew she killed it, and she was like, ‘If they don’t give it to me that’s fucked up!’”

Haddish jumped in to clarify, "No, I said, ‘If they don’t give it to me, fuck them!'" Adding, "Yep, I said next time I’ll be hosting and that’s that." Wong noted how exciting it has been to watch Haddish’s ascent (she did wind up host SNL in 2017.)

“We balance each other out,” Haddish said of her dynamic with Wong. “I can be really OTT, and I look at her and she’ll remind me that I need to bring it back down just a little bit. I really value [her] a lot. I like having her around; I wish we could be in a studio together more often.”

The panel brought up the fact that Tuca & Bertie is one of very few animated comedies created by a woman — and “created by, not co-created by,” as Haddish pointed out. “I just wanted to make a show that I want to watch,” Hanawalt said. “I love adult cartoons and I wanted to see one about female relationships, and about women and what it’s like to be a woman in the world, with stupid jokes that I would laugh at about eating spicy chips for lunch.”

The show, however, also touches on darker subjects. The second episode screened at the festival involves a storyline about sexual harassment. 

“Overall, the show is very light and optimistic and feels like a safe place,” Hanawalt said. “But we do get into some darker stuff. I like shows that are very silly and surreal and then also have some relatable moments and some darker themes.” Wong added that the heavily serialized nature of the show’s storytelling appealed to her: “Some of the twists and tuns shocked me in a really cool way. It’s serialized, and that’s something you don’t see in a lot of animation."

As for the design of Birdtown, the richly imagined metropolis in which Tuca and Bertie live, Hanawalt joked that she was “just thinking about all the stuff I’m not allowed to do on BoJack. I was like, ‘Yeah there’s gonna be talking plants! Fuck it!’”

Asked what she hopes viewers will take away from the series, Hanawalt’s answer was simple: “I hope people find it funny and relatable, and I hope women see themselves in the characters.”