‘Hacks’ Creators on If Deborah Vance Was Based on Joan Rivers

Can we talk… about the inspiration for Jean Smart’s character


Shortly after “Hacks” premiered, one popular fan theory about the Jean Smart-led HBO Max comedy was that her stand-up comedian Deborah Vance was modeled after the late Joan Rivers.

After all, she was an older female comedian who experienced a lifetime in front of the camera, including an all-too-short tenure as a late-night TV host. TheWrap caught up with “Hacks” co-creators Paul W. Downs, Lucia Aniello and Jen Statsky a few hours after the show was nominated for 15 Emmy, and asked if they based Smart’s Las Vegas comedian Deborah Vance on anyone specific.

Here’s what they said.

“She’s an amalgamation of a lot of people,” said Downs, who also stars in the show as Deborah and Ava’s (Hannah Einbinder) manager. “She started as a stage act with her then partner, kind of like a Nichols and May. So there’s Elaine May in there. She had a famous sitcom and then very public divorce, not unlike Lucille Ball. We also threw on Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers and Elayne Boosler and Rita Rudner and Paula Poundstone. So many female stand-ups that didn’t get the recognition that some of their white male counterparts did. And obviously Jean also brought a lot of herself to the role. So it really became something very distinct.”

Statsky said the hardest part of the show to write was Vance’s stand-up material, which she described as “a very small target for us to hit.”

“We really wanted to get it right and make it feel real and authentic, which is a challenge. But also kind of hit this target of her material,” Statsky said. “She’s a very successful comedian, who’s had a longtime residency. She’s obviously good and knows how to tell a joke, but the material is getting stale, it could use a refresher, like she’s a little bit going through the motions. So it was kind of like a very small target for us to hit.”


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