It’s happy chaos in the Hollywood Hills after the LGBTQ+ cast members of Hacks arrive. During a recent driveway photo shoot, Poppy Liu raps along with Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” while leaning out of a black Alfa Romeo Spider. The whole group takes turns inside the vintage New York-plated car. “We’re going to the mall to smoke cigarettes and shoplift,” jokes Hannah Einbinder, perched on the two-seater alongside Liu and Megan Stalter, whom the stylist keeps scolding to keep her skirt pulled down.
Off to the side, Carl Clemons-Hopkins, in a pink Louis Vuitton puffer that exposes their chest, struggles to fit their size 15+ foot in a size 9 shoe; they’re able to fold it inside due to prior experience with ballet done en point. “Angle it,” they explain, before joining the others. “I’m trying to show my tits!” Johnny Sibilly exclaims while adjusting his suit jacket and exchanging Cockney-accented remarks with Clemons-Hopkins.
This group is prone to sing-alongs: Mandy Moore’s “Candy,” Leikeli47’s “Money,” Cardi B’s “Up.” Mark Indelicato, employing finger choreography, recalls a 7 a.m. dance party to Lady Gaga’s “Rain on Me.” Designer luggage in shades of magenta, silver, and neon is stacked alongside. Members of the crew imagine different scenarios for a film they might be in: a heist, a sex-work escapade, a raunchy teen comedy.
The historic house hosting the shoot is strange but striking. It was designed by Harry Gesner, an acolyte of Frank Lloyd Wright. The coffin-shaped wooden structure has mirrored exterior windows, which reflect the lush hills beneath. Inside is filled with mid-century modern furniture, oil lamps, busts, framed pictures of the owners — a same-sex couple — and even a knight’s helmet. “Do you think this house has ghosts?” Stalter wonders aloud. Cats prowl around her. Their names, according to their collars, are Santiago and Patricia Ourcat.
Is this like a typical day on set at Hacks? “Oh yes, but more,” Einbinder confirms. Indeed, the HBO Max comedy — produced by Universal Television, a division of Universal Studio Group — has emerged as one of the queerest shows on television. Hacks centers on Deborah Vance (Jean Smart), a veteran Las Vegas comedian seeking to reinvigorate her career with the help of a very rainbow retinue: Einbinder as a comedy writer and creative collaborator, Ava; Clemons-Hopkins as her CEO, Marcus; Indelicato as her personal assistant, Damien; Sibilly as Wilson, a water maintenance worker and Marcus’s love interest; Liu as Kiki, her favorite blackjack dealer; and Stalter as Kayla, the assistant to Vance’s manager.
Together, they represent the next generation of queer TV comedy. The plots have moved beyond the gay jokes to truly humanize the show’s LGBTQ+ characters (and actors), making them funny as flawed people, not tropes. And in the process, Hacks has endeared itself to audiences and critics alike. Smart, as a comedic diva reminiscent of Joan Rivers, has swept the awards circuit, which also graced Einbinder and Clemons-Hopkins with Emmy nominations.
Smart herself is honored to headline a show that uplifts LGBTQ+ storylines for a new generation. “I’m proud to be part of something that eases the stigmas and the pain, especially for young people,” she says. “Kids are growing up now knowing there’s a lot more colors in the rainbow than we were taught as a child.” And how does she feel to be a gay icon? “Doll! Are you kidding? I love it! Ever since Designing Women a lot of my most loyal, smart, and savvy fans were gay, and I’m forever grateful.”
Hacks creators and co-showrunners Paul W. Downs, Lucia Aniello, and Jen Statsky (all Broad City alumni) speak to the intentionality of the inclusive universe they birthed. “We always wanted to make a show that reflects the world as we see it, and as we’d like it to be — which meant showcasing LGBTQ+ people getting to live full, rich lives, and not ones where they are defined by stereotypes or only their coming-out story,” they say. “We wanted to show queer characters having the full breadth of nuanced experiences that heterosexual characters have gotten to for so long.”
“We are thrilled to be able to add positively to the depiction of LGBTQ+ people on screen, and we have to give a great deal of credit for us being able to do that through our wonderful writers and cast,” they add. “The audience connected with these characters because Hannah, Carl, Mark, Poppy, Meg, and Johnny are all such gifted performers who brought them to life in such unique, specific ways that only they could.”
This week, Out will post individual interviews with the LGBTQ+ cast members of Hacks. Stay tuned! And don’t miss season 2 of Hacks, which sees Vance going on tour to perfect her new comedic set, premiering May 12 on HBO Max.
LOUIS VUITTON All clothing and accessories available at select Louis Vuitton stores.
Talent CARL CLEMONS-HOPKINS @carlclemonshopkins
HANNAH EINBINDER @hannaheinbinder
JOHNNY SIBILLY @johnnysibilly
MARK INDELICATO @markindelicato
MEGAN STALTER @megsstalter
POPPY LIU @poppyrepublic
Creative Director BEN WARD @_benjaminward_
Photographer SAM WAXMAN @wamsaxman samwaxmanstudio.com
Styling MINDY SAAD @mindysaadstylist
DP ARIAN SOHEILI @arianshreds
Photo Assitant DAVID ZIMMERMAN @davidgzimmerman
Location STEVEN BARROW BARLOW @sbarrowbarlow DANIEL MORGAN @theairportbar
Grooming CAITLIN KRENZ caitlinkrenzbeauty.com
JONATHAN TAPAN @jonathantapan greymatterla.com
Make-up ROSIEKIA ARTIS @artis_Thee_artist
MICHELLE CHUNG rougeartists.com
Hair BRIAN FISHER
Hair & Make-up ERIKA VERETT
This article is part of Out's May/June 2022 issue, appearing on newsstands May 17. Support queer media and subscribe — or download the issue through Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.