What’s So Funny about Hacks?

A current trend in TV is the “comedy” that’s not actually funny. There seems to be an inordinate amount of shows that promise laughs yet are downright depressing. We’re all for dark and twisted humor, but sometimes the humor is missing and all that’s left is darkness.

Then there’s HBO Max’s Hacks, which just returned for a second season. It’s one of those shows billed as a comedy that’s actually a comedy. Not wall-to-wall laughs, because that wouldn’t be realistic, but its exploration of different styles of humor across dividing lines of generation, gender, class, and race is wide ranging. And while there are some heavier moments, Hacks balances them with delightful zingers from its quick-witted characters.

If you’re not caught up on the show yet, or just need a refresher, Hacks centers around Deborah Vance (played by the remarkable and Emmy-winning Jean Smart) a Joan Rivers-esque comedian who has been the queen of Las Vegas standup for years. In an attempt to freshen up her act, Deborah’s manager Jimmy pairs her up with one of his other clients, a young TV writer who can’t get hired anywhere else. Enter Ava (Hannah Einbinder), an entitled Gen Z-er who doesn’t want to be there any more than Deborah wants here there. Eventually, though, they find common ground and form an unusual and endearing bond. The series was created by former writers for Broad City, and best of all, Hacks is a great binge: each episode is only 30 minutes long, making it easy to watch the entire first season in one sitting. Which we recommend you do before reading on, as there will be spoilers for Season 1 to follow.

In case you don’t believe us that Hacks is low-key one of the funniest shows on TV right now, we’ve got the receipts. Here are just a few of the best comic bits from Season 1.

Every Time Deborah Roasts Ava’s Fashion or Looks

Deborah establishes that she is not an insult comic; she’s an observationalist. Throughout the series, she observes Ava’s looks with a dry and witty eye. While her comments are sometimes a bit harsh, most of them are hilarious, especially considering how condescending Ava is to her. Some of the best ones include:

“They look like catcher’s mitts. Your manicurist must use a paint roller.” — Deborah on the size of Ava’s hands.


“While I’m gone, didn’t you say you wanted to get your mustache waxed?” — Deborah follows up Ava’s denial of this with, “Oh I guess I just thought it.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you not wearing pants. Did someone die?” — Deborah upon seeing Ava in a dress.

When Deborah and Ava Get High

When Deborah goes to get “a refresher” (i.e. plastic surgery), Ava goes with her for moral support. Noticing that Deborah is in pain, Ava offers her a weed edible. The two get incredibly stoned and play a prank on Nurse Perla, in which they pretend that Deborah has died. They later bond over McDonald’s fries. While the prank is mean, it’s also hilarious, especially when Deborah pops up alive and well.


When Deborah Hurls Her iPad into her Pool

In the first episode, Deborah is told that her Vegas slot may be filled by acapella group Penatonix. She later watches a video of the group, utterly confused by why they are appealing. As she speaks to her manager, she throws the iPad into the pool. The creme de la creme of this scene is when she tells her assistant she needs him to go buy her a new iPad.

Every Time Ava Overshares

Throughout the series, Ava reveals way too much information about her private life. Most of these TMI moments involve one of Ava’s sexual experiences or a fact about bodily fluids.

Ava explains to Deborah what a DivaCup is. When she tells Deborah that you’re not supposed to put them in the dishwasher but she does anyway, Deborah quickly quips, “Remind me to never have dinner at your house.”

When Deborah rudely asks Ava if she is a lesbian, Ava answers her question, but she reveals way more about herself than Deborah ever wanted to know. Ava details how she is more emotionally attracted to women but sometimes needs “penetrative sex.” Deborah is horrified by her answer.

When Ava goes to meet with the producers of a new sitcom, she tells them about one of her recent sexual exploits. They think she’s just shocking them with a joke.


Deborah Leaves Ava in the Desert

After Deborah and Ava get a flat tire in the middle of the desert, Deborah calls a mysterious friend for a ride. Ava complains that Deborah is too hard on her, to which Deborah promptly puts Ava in her place by reminding her just how difficult a career in comedy actually is. It turns out that her friend is part of the local news team and arrives in a helicopter. Deborah hops in and tells Ava she has to deal with the car. While it’s a little cruel of Deborah to leave Ava in the desert, it is funny watching her try to eat a melted chocolate bar.

Every Time Kayla Interacts with Jimmy

Deborah and Ava’s manager, Jimmy (Paul W. Downs, also one of the show’s co-creators) doesn’t just have to deal with both Deborah and Ava; he also has to deal with his insufferable assistant, Kayla (Megan Statler). Kayla fails as his assistant: she forgets to give him messages, forgets his lunch order, and even gets the pair a honeymoon suite in Vegas by lying and saying they are a couple. Jimmy can’t stand Kayla, but he can’t get rid of her because she is the daughter of the CEO. While another actress could make Kayla obnoxious, Statler perfectly nails how spacey Kayla is and somehow manages to make her likable. Hopefully we will get to see more of Statler in other comedies.

When Deborah Takes Down a Sexist Comedian

When Deborah and Ava go to Sacramento to test out Deborah’s new material, Deborah and a fellow lady comedian reveal the sheer amount of sexual abuse they were subjected to. Ava tells Deborah how sorry she is that Deborah had to go through that. After Deborah sees a sexist male comedian harassing one of the women and the same comedian tries to make fun of her, she completely owns him on stage and even offers him 1.69 million to never set foot on stage again. And yes, that includes podcasts.

Every Time Ava Asks Ray for Something

Deborah houses Ava in the hotel she performs at, The Palmetto, and Ava manages to make the receptionist’s life a living hell. Ava constantly asks Ray (Joe Mande) for toothpaste, toothbrushes, and help with her TV. Ray’s frustration is palpable but also hilarious, especially when another guest asks for toothpaste and promptly hands it to Ava.


The new season of Hacks starts with the first two episodes premiering May 12 on HBO Max. You can read our recommendation Season 1 here.

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