Whether you’re a fan of her podcast, her life-changing Real Housewives recaps, or just her general internet presence — you love Julie Klausner. I am making this assumption for all of us, because I don’t want to accept that you live in a barren, monotone world that is devoid of her humor. Often riding the line between deft social commentary and mockery of the dadaist reality show dynamics that her work discusses, Ms. Klausner consistently manages to hit the perfect note of stinging truth that makes us laugh and wince in equal measure. And I recently got to chat with her about her presence in comedy, what it means to have to work harder, and all of those love-to-hate shows we just can’t turn away from.
Thought Catalog: So, let’s start off by talking about what you’re up to these days. I know you were talking about your full-time gig, what is it exactly?
Julie Klausner: Well, now I’m the head writer on a new show, it’s kind of a talking-head/sketch show directed towards young women. It doesn’t have a title yet, though — I wish I had one to give you! It’s coming soon, though.
TC: That’s amazing! So it’s kind of like Best Week Ever.
JK: It’s in a similar style with the talking heads and the sketches, but it’s less about pop culture and more about things that girls actually talk about. There is a lot about dating, fashion, friendships, as well as pop culture. We do sketches, man on the street, panel discussions — but it’s much more centered around girl’s interests, what we’re actually talking about.
TC: So how did you first get started in writing? What was your first paid project as a writer?
JK: Gosh, I really don’t remember my first project. I guess it was for a magazine, maybe, or a website… but I’ve also done copy, I’ve done writing for catalogs, I’ve really done everything.
TC: I think for a lot of people starting out in writing, the idea of asking to get paid can seem intimidating. There are so many people willing to do it for free, it can be hard to tell what you’re worth at first.
JK: I mean, I will still write occasionally for free, but I really have to believe in the project. I think, when you’re first starting out, you want to take jobs for the exposure, but at a certain point you have to decide if it’s what you really want. I think a lot of people get into it because they think they want to do it, and don’t realize how much work it actually is.
But the best advice for anyone who wants to work in any creative field is to just be consistent, do good work, and get better. Don’t chase down agents and managements, make friends with people in your field who you will come up with and who know you’re good — people you don’t have to explain it to. Your work will speak for itself.
TC: And do you think that navigating this whole sphere is harder as a woman?
JK: Without question. But then, I think navigating any job is more difficult for a woman. There is always going to be that simultaneous expectation to be better than everyone and not as good. You’re either going to have to work twice as hard to prove yourself, or you’re going to be filling some quota and no one will take you seriously. I mean, when you talk about female stand-ups, you learn that you go into a room and both the women and the men don’t want to laugh at you.
TC: Why do you think the women don’t want to laugh at you?
JK: Well, first of all, I think that’s changing. But I also think that there has always been this sense of competition, like, if a woman like Sarah Silverman is pretty and smart and funny — that’s intimidating. We’re taught to think that she’s going to steal our boyfriend or something, and it’s so silly.
TC: Do you find that your readers are surprised to be finding you funny, like you’re “funny for a woman”? I’ve seen a lot of comments about that kind of thing on articles by women.
JK: I think that if people think I’m funny, they’re already on board with the fact that I’m a woman. There’s no difference between the two. But that is one of the many reasons why I don’t read comment sections.
TC: That’s funny, because I think that your commenters on your Real Housewives recaps are some of the nicest, smartest commenters out there.
JK: Oh, they’re the best people on the internet. And I do read those. I think that they are so thoughtful, and smart, and they are really invested in this — we all are. It’s something that we can share and relate to and relate to each other with, and that’s a beautiful thing. I think when people look at this show and say that it’s dumb, they’re being really fucking sexist.
TC: Well, I don’t think that it’s dumb because it’s geared towards women, but I think there’s certainly a lowest-common-denominator aspect about it. It appeals to more base instincts in us, and it can dumb things down.
JK: But it’s not dumb. It’s looking at heightened versions of our real lives, which are sort of tropes of the things we live in real life, and recognizing those dynamics. And maybe our group of girlfriends aren’t as opulent, maybe we don’t look like them, but we have concerns with status, with loyalty, with honesty — things that are covered in these shows which are universal. The idea of being a girl’s girl, and how important that is, is what this show is reinforcing.
There’s an aspect of looking at the psychology of it, seeing how people act and understanding why it’s happening. Look at Ramona in New York, for example. She is always combative, always yelling. But she grew up in an abusive household and so she cannot listen to criticism without seeing it as an attack. And when we talk about these things, we really look at the nuance in them. It’s not dumb.
TC: But what about the more exploitative aspects, like the people who are dealing with real addictions or family problems who probably shouldn’t be on a TV show? I don’t know if you saw Sarah Silverman on Watch What Happens Live, but Andy played this reel of Kim looking incredibly loopy and Sarah didn’t laugh. She was like, “This is too sad to laugh at. She really needs help,” and Andy sort of tried to change the subject by saying she was fine, and she goes, “She’s not fine. I’ve seen her version of fine all season.”
JK: Oh, absolutely. And Kim is a perfect example of someone who really straddles that line. If Kim weren’t on camera, she wouldn’t be Kim. It’s tough, because if they weren’t on that show, you really don’t know where they would be — and they came on by choice. The tragedy isn’t in the show, it’s really in her upbringing. I don’t really laugh at her most of the time, I cringe-laugh if anything. I know that my gay friends really think she’s hilarious, they think she’s a real-life Jerri Blank.
But I think that those instincts to laugh at or watch people who are sick are not created by these shows. I do think, though, that her tragedy as a former child actor is the essence of camp, the essence of what’s fascinating about someone who used to be in a very exclusive club who has had a fall from grace. And that’s a very romantic notion in film and pop culture, this whole comeback. There is a story there that is like a million that we’ve already heard.
TC: But I don’t really think that most people care about her. I don’t think that they really feel bad.
JK: Well, they don’t feel bad for Kim because she is not a nice person. If she were a better person about her friendships and personal life, people would have sympathy. The reason people feel okay with laughing at her is because she’s on the wrong side.
TC: Do you think that the show is positive for women overall?
JK: I think that there are good and bad things about it, but it’s nice to watch women on television, period. And women over 25 who don’t have Blake Lively’s body is more and more rare. Women of a certain age and with a specific point of view, to watch them be vivacious and glamorous and sexual, is important and revolutionary. So many shows directed towards women are really ideas of what women want geared towards them, and this is an opportunity for women to see each other in these archetypes — however over-the-top they are. It’s also feeding a water cooler experience. You talk to your friends about this show, you’re invested in it, it gives birth to conversations between women that are more substantial than “I heard Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez broke up.”
And one thing that is significant is that, even though these women fight, the audience is generally on the right side. If you slut-shame, if you ostracize, if you are generally cruel and dishonest, you will be a villain. If you attack someone because of who they’re fucking, or that their husband left them, you’re going to look like a fucking asshole. There are values on this show which prevail, and which align people in a positive way. You have to be loyal to your girlfriends.
TC: But is it healthy for the whole audience to viscerally hate one of the women?
JK: I think it’s incredibly important — for feminism and in general — for women to be able to dislike another woman. I don’t think that we all have to like each other or support each other when we’re doing bad things just because we’re both women. We have to get over that idea, it’s just not healthy.
TC: But then there’s the opposite side of the coin, where people get almost fetishizing in their dislike of a woman, like with Anne Hathaway. Do you think there is a healthy way to dislike a woman in art, so to speak?
JK: I think that you can feel when something is sexist. Everyone is going to hate celebrities, male or female, but at a certain point you can tell when it’s sexist. When there was that Sex and the City backlash, and there was that magazine cover with the women with duct tape over their mouths, that was fucked up. And it’s important to recognize that.
TC: Do you think it’s important to speak up about when you see things like that, even in your own life? I feel like a lot of young women who think about these things, and try to be conscious, don’t really know how to respond when they encounter it in their own lives — even in their friend groups. When you hear these blatantly sexist things, even coming from other female friends, is there a way you think that it should be dealt with?
JK: I think that if people in your life are saying these things, or supporting these ideas, they’re not really your friends. Fuck them. You’re right and they’re wrong, and that’s their problem. It goes back to this concept of, like, teenage girls have been mean to each other from the dawn of time. There’s that quote about no one being able to make you feel inferior without your consent, and that’s true.
But I think that, with a lot of things, we’re really starting to turn a corner, like with slut-shaming or ostracizing. We’re starting to realize that these things aren’t okay, and that the people who keep doing them are idiots, and we’re starting to get it as a culture. It takes time, and if it’s happening with your friends it might be difficult now, but you just have to remember that you’re on the right side of these things.
TC: Do you think that the media is starting to turn a corner as well?
JK: I think that the media follows what we’re all doing. Like we all talk about Lena Dunham’s show so much because we haven’t seen it before, and we need more things like that. I mean, there is so much on television that maintains the status quo, but there are things that are really positive. I think that in any business, people aren’t going to change what is working and making money. But on an idea level, things are changing.
I will say that, as I continue to work in television, I will never betray my feminist ideals. I will fight anybody who says “You shouldn’t say that, or do this, for this reason.” I either won’t do it or I will fight it tooth and nail. And it’s not to be a creepy pact, but the more feminists that work in an industry, the more likely there is to be change. And from a personal point of view, my values as a feminist are incredibly important to me. I will not put them aside in order to make something, especially if it’s something for teenage girls, like I’m doing now. I will continue to do that. And if I don’t get any more jobs on TV, I’ll do it as, I don’t know, a fuckin’ mime. Whatever. I don’t think it’s enough to just have female showrunners or writers or leads that are strong. It’s a start, but we have to uphold the values that gave us these opportunities. We have to keep moving forward with them. It’s the most important thing we can do.
Julie’s new ebook (and debut into the world of YA fiction), Art Girls Are Easy, is available for download on Amazon. A scathing comedy of errors filtered through the eyes of teenage art prodigy Indigo, it takes us into the exclusive world of Silver Springs Fine & Performing Arts Camp for Girls. There are no scavenger hunts or campfire songs here; these girls have bigger dreams: Broadway. SoHo Galleries. Juilliard. And their idea of “roughing it” is turning the A/C in their cabins to “low.”
Julie also has a weekly podcast, How Was Your Week, which you can download here.
Her website, predictably, is julieklausner.com and you can find her on twitter at @julieklausner.