Jean Smart (‘Hacks’): ‘Comedy is painfully obvious when you are failing’

“The thing about comedy is that it’s painfully obvious when you are failing,” reveals actress Jean Smart. in an exclusive new video interview with Gold Derby. She continues, “In drama, the audience is quiet. They could be asleep but you don’t know. Comedy is instantaneously grade A or fail.”

In the new HBO Max series “Hacks,” Smart plays a legendary Las Vegas comic called Deborah Vance. In the twilight of her career, pressure is mounting to give up the spotlight in favor of acts more appealing to younger generations. Smart explains, “When I was doing the stand-up there was usually no audience. One time I did have a little bit of an audience, who were spaced out. I started getting stage fright, and then I thought, ‘This is crazy. I have to calm down; they are being paid to laugh.”

The three-time Emmy winner stars opposite Hannah Einbinder who plays Ava, a young comedy writer who is brought in to freshen up Deborah’s act. Smart confesses, “I was a little intimidated because my co-star Hannah is a stand-up comic, and I’m the one who’s playing the stand-up comic. That was the only thing I worried about. Although, I guess I had the excuse that Deborah’s material is meant to be kind of dated.”

Smart’s respect for her co-star is not shared by Deborah and Ava, with the characters often at odds. Smart describes, “The first scene we did is the scene she (Einbinder) auditioned with and the scene we rehearsed the most. That scene where we first meet set the tone. They are such complete opposites. We enjoyed seeing them get each other’s goat. My abuse of her is kind of fun to play, but the fact Ava stands up to her in that first meeting is what piques Deborah’s interest.”

The role is a real dream for Smart, who admits, “I first saw comic Phyllis Diller and thought she was hilarious. I’d never seen a woman act like that. I thought, ‘Wow that looks like fun. I’d like to try that.’ I went to a costume party in middle school dressed as Phyllis Diller. Playing Deborah is like getting my fantasy but not in the way you thought you were.”

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