The topic of work-life balance is all over this year’s awards season — and for good reason.
Following the COVID-19 lockdown, many are striving to lead much more intentional lives. While shows including Apple TV+’s “Severance” offer an imaginative take on boundaries pushed to the extreme, HBO Max’s “Hacks” offers themes of the exact opposite: blurred lines. “It’s always a struggle,” says Jen Statsky, “Hacks” co-creator and co-showrunner, of keeping the lines clear.
There’s no secret sauce, she adds, explaining that she’s less inclined to set boundaries around her own time than she is to plug into work.
“I have had to make a real effort to say, ‘OK I’m putting my phone away and I’m not going to look at it for the next two-hour-long dinner’ or whatever it is. You know, running a show is an all-encompassing job — from writing to long days on set to being in the edit.”
During the fifth episode of Season 2, comedian Deborah Vance’s joke writer, Ava, and Deborah’s brand manager, Marcus, are caught off guard when both are asked what they do for fun.
“It’s that feeling of like, ‘Well, this is what I do. I don’t do anything else. I would love a hobby. Any hobby,'” says Statsky, noting that her own life bleeds onto the page. “I can’t tell you how many times I have learned the first couple of guitar chords that you learn when you start guitar lessons and then absolutely never picked it up again in my life. Five years later, I’ll forget I did it and I’ll do it over again.”
Yet far from harboring resentment toward this schedule, Statsky chooses it. The drive is a part of her.
“There’s time where I could just be out with my friends or my husband having fun — when you care about the work greatly the way characters in the show do, it’s very much so a perfectionist mentality. Not only are you required to do it because it’s your job, but it’s like you can’t also turn it off — at any state.”
In fact, she met her husband, Travis Helwig, in her early 20s, doing what they both love: comedy. While she didn’t intentionally design it that way, nor was marriage a priority at that time, she insists — similar to the characters on “Hacks” — she was drawn to him because they “spoke a similar language.”
As they’ve grown together, it has been helpful having a partner who understands the demands of the industry. In fact, a key area where Statsky works hard to maintain balance is carving out space to keep her personal relationships alive.
“When driving home from work, I like to call a friend and check in. I get so much joy and energy from checking in with my friends and hearing how their work is going and how their personal life is going,” she says. “When you’re feeling overwhelmed with work, a phone call to a friend can feel so energizing and can actually make you feel better equipped and able to go back to doing the work a little more refreshed.”
To that end, many of her personal relationships are made up of “a collaborative circle of people where we’re all rooting for each other, and we all came up together doing comedy years ago and we’re all still friends to this day.”
As proof, she co-created “Hacks” alongside her best friends, Paul W. Downs and Lucia Aniello. In this way, Statsky’s paradoxically hacked parts of her own work-life balance less by compartmentalizing the two areas and figuring out how to harmoniously integrate them.
Ultimately, Statsky says maintaining balance is like riding a wave and she tries to be kind to herself. “It’s OK. It’s a process. You’re figuring it out. And hopefully tomorrow you’ll be better at it than you were today.”