For Jean Smart, stand-up comedy’s been a longtime dream—ever since she first saw Phyllis Diller cracking jokes on television—but she was always afraid to try it herself. In HBO Max’s new comedy Hacks, she gets to do the next best thing: Play one on TV—or maybe it’s the best thing, considering there’s no live audience to bomb in front of. “It was a little intimidating,” Smart admits, “[but] it’s great because the audience we’re doing it in front of... were paid to have to laugh. And that’s the audience you want!”
Paid audience or not, it’s no surprise the award-winning Smart looks like a natural as Hacks’ Deborah Vance, a legendary comic who established herself as a Las Vegas staple when other opportunities started to dry up. Vance has long settled into a life of comfort, only having to contend with her wildcard daughter DJ (Kaitlin Olson), but the series kicks into motion when she loses some of her show dates to fresh talent, and is forced to bring on an outcast writer, Ava (Hannah Einbinder), to punch up her material. In the video above, The A.V. Club speaks with Smart and her co-stars Einbinder and Olson about the funny people that inspired them to pursue careers in comedy. The trio also touches on the good—and very, very bad—side of “Sin City,” and the deep sadness at the heart of the relationships in this otherwise very funny series.
Hacks first two episodes premiere on May 13 HBO Max, with two new episodes dropping every Thursday.