Difficult People, the Curb Your Enthusiasm-esque comedy starring real-life best friends Billy Eichner and Julie Klausner as two struggling comedians in New York City who hate everything in the world but each other, will premiere on Hulu this summer. But Yahoo TV has some exclusive casting scoop now.
Gabourey Sidibe, most recently seen as Lucious’s assistant on Empire, will recur in the eight-episode series as Denise, the owner of the cafe where Billy works as a waiter. She is all about business, except when it comes to Billy’s co-worker and nemesis, “theater queen” Matthew (Cole Escola), whom she adores. Andrea Martin will recur as Marilyn, TV recapper Julie’s mother, who is a therapist and a narcissist. And there will be plenty of familiar faces popping by for an episode a piece, including Rachel Dratch and Seth Meyers — the latter of whom plays Terrance, a super handsome, charming man who propositions Billy at a dog park.
While visiting the cafe location last month, Yahoo TV caught up with Sidibe between takes to talk about her love of comedy and how the cast of Empire bonded.
You were excited to work with Amy Poehler, who’s an executive producer on Difficult People, but were you also a fan of Billy on the Street?
I had never heard of it until people started tweeting me about it. I guess there was a game that [Billy] played and the prize was a diorama of me getting a pedicure, and people kept tweeting that to me. I was like, “What the f—k does that mean?” Like it didn’t make any sense to me.
I looked it up, and I watched the clip, and I’ve been watching his show ever since. And I think that Julie is so funny. I really, really live for her. She’s such a great writer. So I’m super excited to work with everybody here, really.
What do you like about Denise?
Oh, I like that she knows what she likes. She knows who she likes, rather. She loves Matthew, but she doesn’t like Billy. It’s never like, “Oh, I’m being nice, so I’m just going to be nice to everyone here.” She’s just like, “I’m going to be nice, and then when it comes to Billy, I’m just going to be really, really un-nice.” There are times where she’s hateful, and then other times where she’s just completely apathetic and gives him nothing.
How much fun is it to be rude to Billy Eichner?
It’s really fun, because he’s really tall, and that intimidates me, and so I just let my anger about being intimated by someone tall just come out.
What have you learned about him that we might be surprised to know?
That he can control the volume of his voice. I think people think that he can’t because it’s always up, but he’s actually sort of like normal and level.
What do you like about doing a comedy?
I feel like there are so many different ways you can be funny, and funny is sort of relative, too — something might be funny to me and not you.
I think there are a hundred ways to play it. Although I am a fairly new actress, I still feel like there’s less ways to play drama. So far.
What do you think shaped your sense of humor growing up?
Definitely TV. I was always watching TV. I watched a lot of cartoons. Even now, I watch a lot of cartoons, and sitcoms.
I was also into, like, really, really dramatic indie films, too. So I guess the best sort of breeding ground for my specific brand of comedy is a mix between Family Matters and My Left Foot.
That’s an amazing answer.
I have the worst sense of humor, too. Like in the way that it is the worst. I joke around with everyone no matter how long I’ve known them. So like 100 years versus 100 seconds, I will make the same exact joke, which isn’t at all ever appropriate.
Can you give me an example?
No, I can’t, because it’s terrible, and it will make people hate me if they’re reading it. I hate joking around in print because I always sound like a d—k, but in person, I promise they’re funny!
What’s next for you professionally?
I’ve been working for a year straight. I’m going to take a nap. Then in July, we’ll be starting Season 2 of Empire.
When did you know Empire was going to be a hit?
When I read it. Lee Daniels [who directed her Oscar-nominated performance in Precious] is like my dad. I was taking him out to dinner at the Chateau Marmont, like a fancy little baby, and he told me about the script, and he was like, “Do you want to read it?”
He wanted me to read it anyway, then he was like, “If you want to be in it, you can have that part if you want it,” and I was, like, “All right, sure.” But he was like, “But read it and let me know if you like it.” He was nervous. He was still auditioning for all of the sons. It’s just an amazing script, and you just want to know about it.
I also knew it was going to be a big deal when all of the Fox suits were coming up to me at American Horror Story events and being like, “We love Empire. We can’t wait until it premieres. We’re really excited about it.”
But I had no idea we’d be breaking ratings records. It’s amazing. We’re so happy. We’re so proud.
Were fans approaching you asking for spoilers?
The weird thing is, nobody wants to know. People will say, “Oh, I bet, this will happen,” but no one is asking. Which is nice. There’s a respectful distance. I would never say, “What’s going to happen?” because I know I don’t want to be spoiled. I think a lot of people just don’t want any spoilers.
We’ve yet to learn a lot about your character, Becky.
I don’t think she was supposed to be a big deal. [The role] was supposed to go to a boyish, skinny, flat-chested white girl, and then, Lee was like, “Well, it’s going to be you,” so then they were like, “OK, well, you can make it whatever you want.”
When I showed up for the pilot, Jussie Smollett, who plays the middle son, Jamal… he and I became fast friends within the first few seconds of meeting each other, honestly. We decided [our characters] were best friends. When it works it works, and when it doesn’t, they just don’t pay any attention to us.
We decided I probably come from the same neighborhood as Lucious does, and that’s how I interned and spun it, with my charisma, into an actual job.
Since you won’t share spoilers, what’s life like filming Empire in Chicago?
We legitimately love and like each other. Within the family, we might have our go-to crews, but we see each other all the time. I wash my clothes over at Jussie’s house. Jussie will then make me do bad stuff. Then he makes me dinner. It’s really sweet. We’ll go to the gym together. We are constantly singing. It’s like we all have brain diseases that make us sing songs all the time.
Our theme song was “All About That Bass.” There was one night we were singing the song, and then I started beatboxing, so [Bryshere Gray, who plays Hakeem] was freestyling over it.
We get together, and we watch Whitney Houston videos. We just really like each other. That’s the most fun I’ve ever had on any set, ever… What Taraji [P. Henson] and Terrence [Howard] have done with their characters — they’ve made them iconic. Everybody wants to be Cookie. We all love Cookie.
There was that episode where they had life-size cardboard standees of some of Empire’s artists. They really do need to make a Cookie standee.
That would be awesome. Everyone who didn’t have a standee, we all got pissed off, but we took plenty of lewd pictures with everyone’s standees. They positioned them in the production office. The producer came in really early in the morning, when it was dark outside. You’d walk in, and they would be in front of you, and they’d scare the s—t out of you. It was bad. Very scary.
One of the first things I ever learned about you was that you were obsessed with ‘N Sync. What are you personally obsessed with now?
I’m really obsessed with podcasts, which is something I only discovered less than a year ago. I discovered This American Life on a long trip to South Africa, which has led me into Serial, and then from Serial to Criminal. Then from Criminal to, you know, all of Invisibilia. I’m obsessed with them. I don’t even listen to music anymore, and I was a really, really big music fan, but now I just listen to talk radio.
I’m officially an old person now. I’ve officially turned into my dad, who does not watch TV for pleasure. He watches French news all day long. I don’t know what the f—k that is about, because it’s in French and I don’t understand French.
What TV shows do you watch though?
Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder. I love Fresh Off the Boat, because it’s got the dopest theme song on TV right now. That theme song is everything, and it’s a really funny show, too. I like Black-ish. I still love Modern Family after all its years of winning [Emmys]. I really like Archer. American Horror Story, duh, I love that. Always Sunny is just my favorite. Every time I see one of the cast out, I’m always like, “Hi,” but I’m way too shy to be like, “I love your show.” I feel too nerdy about it, but that’s my favorite show.