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In HBO Max’s Hacks, two comic generations collide in the form of an established Vegas stand-up (Jean Smart as Deborah Vance) whose act is getting rusty, and a would-be TV comedy writer (Hannah Einbinder as Ava Daniels), whose nascent career is derailed by an ill-advised tweet.
The two stars joined THR Presents, powered by Vision Media, along with three of the show’s co-creators/exec producers/writers: Paul W. Downs, who also plays Jimmy, Deborah’s manager; Lucia Aniello; and Jen Statsky, to talk about their vision for the series.
Given that comedians often turn current events into comic fodder, and the upstart Ava’s impolitic sense of humor gets her in trouble on social media, Hacks could be seen as a reflection of today’s woke culture. But Aniello sees something more fundamental behind the series’ dynamic.
“It isn’t about cancel culture, it’s not about #MeToo,” she explains. “It’s about a relationship. If anything, it’s about women in the arts who’ve had to play on an uneven playing field. And these women find themselves pushed to the fringes of society and the arts. And [they] find each other [as people] looking on the outside in. It’s more about that than anything that feels buzzy or hashtaggy.”
Adds Downs: “We wanted it to feel like a show that has a life, that you can watch over and over again and stand the test of time. The more we lean into anything buzzy or topical or current, while they are comedians and they both have the gift of observation in they do talk about what’s happening in the world around them, we tried very consciously not to make it too referency or too [reliant on] pop culture because that undermines the greater historical question of: Why is greatness so associated with manliness and being male?”
The idea that women aren’t funny has been disproved repeatedly over the decades in movies, television and on the proverbial stand-up stage with a mic against a brick wall. Einbinder’s mother just happens to be Laraine Newman, a founding castmember of Saturday Night Live, and Smart’s stand-up heroes were trailblazers in their own right, including Phyllis Diller, Joan Rivers, Elayne Boosler and Roseanne Barr. But she looked to them more for inspiration than mimicry.
“I love watching people do comedy, but I wanted this to come from my own instincts,” says Smart, “because I felt that if I tried to do somebody else that it wouldn’t feel very organic. And I just knew it had to be my rhythms, my instincts, and I think it worked out OK.”
As for that offensive tweet that got Ava in trouble in the first place? Einbinder can relate, having recently deleted her Twitter account.
“I believe social media is cool for whoever loves it, but I feel sucked into a vortex of negativity,” Einbinder explains, “sort of opposite to the kinds of conversations that lead to understanding and progress. The division is really tough for me to be on there. … I deleted [Twitter] because I’m a stand-up comedian and I found that in the pandemic, I switched my stand-up brain to a Twitter brain and I was trying to write jokes for Twitter. And I [felt], ‘This is messing with my work.’ I need to just write my stuff and not worry about completing this week’s formula for a joke that we’re all doing.”
This edition of THR Presents was brought to you by HBO Max.
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