‘Hacks’ Episode 8 on HBO Max: The story behind the #MeToo moment
The following contains spoilers from episode 8 of “Hacks” on HBO Max.
#MeToo has rid Hollywood of many sexual predators and empowered women in the entertainment industry to speak out against assault and harassment of all kinds. But what about the women of earlier eras who managed to persist – and perhaps even thrive – in a toxic environment? Were they resilient survivors, complicit facilitators, or a bit of both?
This is the question at the heart of “1.69 Million”, the eighth episode of the HBO Max series “Hacks”. The comedy, created by Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs and Jen Statsky, explores the generational divide between two actresses who have a lot to learn from each other: Deborah Vance (Jean Smart), a Las Vegas legend whose shtick became stale, and Ava (Hannah Einbinder), an unlucky 25-year-old comedy writer hired to help brush up the act.
They don’t just have differing opinions on what’s funny. As becomes clear in “1.69 million,” they also seem to disagree about the abuse and disrespect that women in their industry have been forced to tolerate.
In the episode, the couple travel to Sacramento so that Deborah can try out new material at a comedy club, where they meet Francine (Anna Maria Horsford), a friend of Deborah’s early stand-up days. They share war stories about Ira, the club’s recently deceased owner and an infamous sexual predator. (“I’m sure he and Cosby had the same pharmacist,” Deborah says.)
Ava later pushes Deborah on the subject, suggesting that Deborah could have fought against Ira once she got rich and famous. Angry at the accusation that she was “a ladder shooter,” Deborah blurted out, “Just getting on that stage I gave other women more than ever.” Forget the ladder, I built a fucking marble staircase. It’s not my job to wear other people on it.
But the exchange is clearly in Deborah’s shoes, as is the degrading interaction she witnesses between a young actress and Drew Higgins (Adam Ray), the aspiring Joe Rogan who organizes the party and is clearly angry with Deborah. to be more famous than him.
So when Deborah finally takes the stage – after Drew makes a lame joke about her tits and says he won’t call her crazy because “the term is redundant” – she confronts Drew, offering her 1.69 million. dollars to never act in a comedy again. (No podcasts, either.) They shake hands over the deal as members of the audience tap the moment that is destined to go viral on their phones.
The episode, written by Pat Regan and directed by Downs, represents the culmination of many themes that have filtered through the season. The Times spoke to the creators of the “1.69 million” series, ideas they hoped to explore in the episode, and real-life incidents that inspired it. This conversation has been edited and condensed.
This episode really dives into the generational divide between Ava and Deborah – and ultimately brings them together through this showdown with Drew. What inspired him?
Bottom: I think we always knew we wanted to incorporate what ends up being that staircase monologue into the green room. We’ve always wanted to do this show about trailblazers, especially women in comedy and the job they did just being brave enough to exist in a boy’s club.
Aniello: A lot of what the show is really about is the people who make these jokes and why are they telling these jokes. Ava pushes Deborah to be more raw and honest with her material. And even if Deborah ends up distracted when she takes the stage, it’s still an extension of what Ava is pushing her to do.
This is a time when you start to see the result of their heads colliding and opening a bit. What Deborah ends up doing on stage is the core of what Ava wanted her to do, which is to get a little angry and honest about what it was like. being Deborah Vance all these years. There is no way Deborah would have done what she did without having Ava in her life.
Have you talked to women like Deborah about what it was like growing up in those days and what they had to go through?
Aniello: Someone who was a consultant on our show was Janis Hirsch, who had a writers room experience on “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show”. She was basically sexually assaulted. And then she was fired the next day, even though she was not the abuser. Janis is an incredibly funny and very quick person. She’s someone who must have been brutally funny because she’s been around this boy comedy club for so long. Having the opportunity to hang out with someone like Janis, I think, really gave us a glimpse of what it’s been like for women who have had to endure horrible suffering – and who have come out of each other. side.
What were the conversations like while you were snapping this episode? Did you find that people took different sides in the debate between Ava and Deborah?
Statsky: One of the things we went back and forth was, “How hard is Ava pushing her in that green room?” How much does she challenge her? Because you want to be honest that Ava is a 25 year old who is an emotionally intelligent person and understands the world and what women have been through. She’s not naive enough to say to herself, “Why haven’t you done something? But she’s both right and wrong at this point, which we’ve talked about a lot with the show – that when Deborah and Eva go head-to-head, it’s because they’re both a little bit right and a little wrong.
The show is very good at not taking sides.
Bottom: We never wanted, in this generational divide, to agree with one side, because there is this tendency to make fun of aging people or the tendency to call young people with rights, and we did not want to do that. Because we believe that the human experience is much more layered and nuanced. And because we wanted the show to be grounded and real. We really wanted their experiences, views, and arguments to be emotionally valid for them.
Aniello: Paul, Jen and I naturally don’t write very cynically. We love all of the characters we create. So we write both Deborah and Ava as well as all the supporting characters with love. We really always try to see the best in them, even if they don’t behave perfectly.
Without naming any names – unless, of course, you want to – do you find that there are a lot of real Drew Higgins in the comedy world today?
Aniello: I think things are changing a bit, but I think there is definitely a Drew Higgins in every stand-up club.
low: I think what still exists are the women who chose not to continue acting or the women who were put aside or the women who were discouraged.
Aniello: Women who had a bad experience in a comedy club, maybe said something about it, and the comedy club supported the guy.
Bottom: People often ask us questions about the person or people who inspired Deborah Vance. There are so many countless people we can name that she is a fusion of. But also, she’s truly a tribute to all the women we can’t name.
You are all much closer to Ava’s age than Deborah’s. I wonder if there is someone like Deborah that you have ever called an artist but have come to appreciate? Or someone from this generation that you think others should appreciate more?
Aniello: I think we’ve always felt connected to people who have been left out. We always have [been in] the place where we hope Ava will arrive. If I walk into the Brooklyn Museum and see a Judy Chicago exhibit, do I cry with happiness? Yes. But I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a new point of view. I know Jen grew up loving Mary Tyler Moore. We have always been connected to an older audience. That’s part of why we created the show, to maybe help other people see through that lens of appreciation for seniors.
low: The first live comedy show I ever saw was Paula Poundstone. And he’s someone who is really in this world of people who have been severely misjudged. She was not someone that I came appreciate. I always have.
Statsky: We’ve talked a lot about Deborah as a woman everyone’s been wrong. I loved comedy growing up, and looked for more female comedies, like the old “Mary Tyler Moore” episodes, but I also watched “SNL” and late night TV and those are shows that were very dominated by men telling these jokes – and, often, men telling these jokes about women. Marcia Clark, Anna Nicole Smith, Monica Lewinsky – all these women were punchlines. As a young woman, I assimilated these punchlines and internalized these narratives. Something really great that has happened over the past five years is that we are starting to listen to the stories of these women and rewrite those stories. In general, we kind of re-evaluate the stories that we have told about women.
What’s interesting about Deborah is that she willingly took part in this mockery, didn’t she? She embraced the caricature of her as this madwoman who burns down her house despised because it was profitable.
Statsky: You are quite right. When she tells Ava the truth about the story of her setting the house down and how she didn’t, she says, “You know, I got into that joke. I might as well make some money out of it. The avenues were so narrow for any woman or minority. It is very tragic that the only way some people have been allowed to participate in this world is not on their own terms. It was someone else’s rules they had to follow. And, luckily, that is changing. But that’s a very tragic aspect of Deborah – and, I think, a lot of people in real life.
How does Deborah’s money play into all of this? She’s a woman, but she also has this money that gives her the power to silence guys like Drew Higgins.
Bottom: In building the character, we always said that the money and the accumulation of wealth and items was for Deborah the, like, f — you for all the people who knocked her out a million times. It has become a kind of armor. She uses that pretty literal currency to take down one of those male comedians who is a keeper. It was really a conscientious choice that we wanted her to use this thing that in some ways makes her a sold out, makes her less of the authentic comedic voice that she always has been. But right now, she’s getting to use it in a very specific, focused, and productive way.
Aniello: Arming her money this way is almost using the thing she was forced to have as armor and using it as a blunt object.
Can we just take a minute to talk about Jean Smart? Did you have it in mind when you were writing?
Bottom: We wrote the character as this amalgamation of many iconic showbiz veterans, so we didn’t have anyone in mind. But one thing that made Jean the only choice for us was that even though she worked steadily and had such a rich career, we felt she was someone who was underrated, like Deborah. Vance. She was someone who was never number one on the call sheet and was not celebrated the way she deserved.