‘Hacks’ Bosses on the Feedback They’ve Received From Real-Life Comedians

Jean Smart and Hannah Einbinder

Hacks’ Ava, played by Hannah Einbinder, is working on being more careful when it comes to drinking and shooting off emails when the HBO Max series returns for its sophomore season Thursday, May 12. As viewers will remember, in the Season 1 finale, millennial assistant Ava fired off a loaded electronic message that’s likely going to irreparably harm her relationship with her boss and comedy legend, Deborah Vance, played by Primetime Emmy winner Jean Smart.

The hit comedy was honored last month at PaleyFest 2022 in Hollywood at the Dolby Theatre. Prior to a screening of the first two episodes of the second season, TV Insider chatted with Hacks co-creators/executive producers Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs, and Jen Statsky, Emmy winners for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for Hacks to preview what’s coming up. (Aniello also took home Emmy gold last year for  Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series.)

Is there a time jump this season or do we pick up from where we left off in Season 1?

Paul W. Downs: We’re back where we left off. We pick up, honestly, just mere hours after we left Season 1. We’re back in Vegas and Deborah has had a show that hasn’t gone well but she’s anxious to get back out on the road. Looming large is this email that Ava has sent. There’s anxiety. She’s wondering where the chips will fall.

Hacks Season 2

Cast and creatives of Hacks at PaleyFest LA 2022 honoring Hacks (Michael Bulbenko for the Paley Center)

Haven’t we all sent an email that we didn’t mean to? Spill.

Lucia Aniello: I think every email I sent before 2015 I really wish I hadn’t.

Jen Statsky: I have as well. I’ve accidentally sent an email about a person I was talking about to the person I was talking about.

You either come up with a really good cover or go all out and say, ‘Yes! I meant to send that to you!’  

Aniello: Exactly. This is why I only use burner phones.  I don’t put anything in writing.

This email coming to light stands to drive a wedge between Deborah and Ava. Why do you think they might sustain this matter – and why might they not?

Aniello: That’s a lot of what we explore over the course of this season. How do you get over it? Can you get over it? What exactly Ava wrote in the email is something that we’ll reveal. We’ll ask the question do people really want to hear anything [bad] that people say about them or not?

Understandably, comics feel they’re under attack these days – do you address that some feel that there are certain topics they simply can’t use in their routines or that they have to walk a politically correct line?

Aniello: We don’t do that.

(Karen Ballard/HBO Max)

There’s speculation that the late, great Joan Rivers would have been able to rise above criticisms about comics and standards they’re being held to today. Is Deborah like Joan in that way?

Downs: I think the definition of a “hack” is someone who does something over and over again. And I also that Deborah, like Joan and like a lot of other great female comedians, evolve and change with what they’re doing. We don’t really take on that [cancel] culture. What we’re exploring in this season is how Deborah, who has her persona and her routine, is moving away from that and how she starts to become more vulnerable and honest. I think that’s what we’re seeing more and more with stand-ups today.

Deborah and Ava wouldn’t even have a relationship to be jeopardized if she hadn’t hired her after their initial meeting. Could that ever really happen – Ava trading quips and putdowns with Deborah and then, Deborah chases down her car to offer Ava a job?

Downs: Yes. Absolutely. That’s one of the most realistic parts of the series. Deborah Vance actually would get in her Rolls Royce and drive after Ava. There have been comedians who have come up to us and said that that’s their favorite part of the [series]. It’s this thing that comedians have — an insatiable desire to one-up each other and beat the last joke that was told.

Statsky: That’s what it’s like to be in a writers’ room. Someone pitches a joke and it inspires you to pitch a [better] one.

Aniello: You’ll think of an even better one just before you go to sleep so you write it down and you email it — and then, you regret sending that email.

Hacks, Season 2 Premiere, Thursday, May 12, HBO Max