The secret to Difficult People creator Julie Klausner's success? Embracing her darkest moments. Here, she tells us why.
Oh, the adjectives you can choose from when you want to hurt a woman!
Consider the canon—fat, crazy, ugly, old. But there is no more injurious parting shot than to smugly say the following about a woman you don’t like: “She’s a very unhappy person.”
I’m guilty of doing it. I’ll gossip about a former girlfriend or a colleague who has bruised my ego. In those moments, the only thing that seems to cauterize the wound is my own self-satisfied conviction that my antagonist is “a very unhappy person.”
Have you ever heard that? Have you ever said it? It’s cold, and it makes it seem like moods are personalities or choices. In the bigger picture, slapping a scarlet D for depression onto the most melancholy or frustrated of us invalidates our ability to do and be everything. It also puts the onus on the woman who has made a choice you haven’t, perpetuating a cycle of the unwinnable Perfect Woman Olympics for anyone. She has a kid; I don’t. She lost weight; I didn't. She found a guy; I haven’t yet. She’s killing it in her career; I can barely get mine off the ground. That’s OK—here’s the antidote: I’ll just conclude that she’s miserable. If a woman you don’t like is unhappy, you win. Don’t you?
Women are supposed to be happy. We’re conditioned to be the beaming, grinning mistress of the hearth Ulysses returns to after his journey. We’re told to smile by very helpful men on the street—clearly happification experts invested in our well-being. A woman in a good mood is available, accommodating, receptive, and other pleasant, passive things that indicate she’s not the hero of the story.
I’m not the most easygoing, joy-based organism. I’m neurotic. I’m guarded. I’m offended by the final step in most recipes: “Enjoy!” Don’t tell me what to do, you bossy recipe. Sometimes I can’t enjoy something, whether it’s a party, a beautiful day I feel guilty about not making the most of, or a batch of cookies I just baked. (Actually, that’s not fair. I almost always enjoy cookies.)
It’s moldy and “mansplainatory” to remind you that creative people—especially funny ones—have dark inner lives. We rely on the alchemy of creativity to spin pain into jokes. Speaking for myself, I make things because, at a certain point, the pain of not making them is worse than the discomfort of creating something with its roots in my misery.
My unhappiness has made me not only more creative and financially solvent but also happier. I have my own show on Hulu. I created it, I write it, and nobody even asked me to diet before I got to star in it. Amy Poehler produces it. It’s the best and most rewarding thing I’ve ever done and what I’m proudest of. In bringing my humiliations and pitfalls to light, I invite other “unhappy women” to relate and connect to my work. To paraphrase ’70s country music goddess Donna Fargo, I’m the Luckiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.—even when it doesn't feel that way.
So, my happiness baseline is lower than the average bear’s. It’s an even trade, though, when you see what I’ve made. I will always unconditionally love what I do, even when I don’t love how I feel. I like my show better than I like my life. But without that disposition, I don’t think I would be able to be the prolific artist I am. The emotional exchange doesn't always come with a fair rate, but I’m still in the black.
So don’t mood-shame yourself into a state of false bliss. The sooner you make peace with the fact that you’re not the most acceptable version of what society has told you women should be, the happier you’ll be with being occasionally unhappy. At the very least, I promise you, you’ll get more sh—t done.
Klausner is the star and creator of Difficult People, which returns to Hulu for a third season Aug. 8.