Inside ‘Psusy,’ New Zealand’s Answer to ‘Broad City’
The web series Psusy unabashedly proclaims itself to be the Broad City of New Zealand. The series stars Jaya Beach-Robertson and Aria Dehar as Karen and Sharee, two friends who in each episode get into escapades that go from the seemingly realistic to completely absurd, gross, and over-the-top circumstances that effortlessly segue into something with deep, profound undertones.
The second season was posted online late last year and Beach-Robertson, who both stars in the series and writes it, was joined by Anna Duckworth, who is both the director and a producer on the series. In the series of short episodes, they tackle strippers, abortion, yeast infections, racism, consent, walking in on your mother hosting an orgy, and haircuts, along with plenty of sex and drugs. They’re funny, thoughtful, gross, and occasionally disturbing – often in the span of a couple minutes.
I spoke with Beach-Robertson and Duckworth about the project and what they have planned going forward.
Psusy is a weird combination where the show is really funny but then in each episode you want to make a point. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes it’s more overt. Talk a little about how you write the show.
Jaya Beach-Robertson: A lot of the writing, particularly for the second season, came from talking with a lot of my friends about weird shit that happens to you. We keep saying to each other in the creation process, “Have we seen this sort of thing on screen before?” And if we hadn’t, we’re like “Okay, this is a good place to start from.” After the first season people would just come up to me and start telling me weird shit. They’d be like, “Okay, this is a person that does weird shit, I can tell her about all this weird stuff that happens to me.” And I’m like, “Oh.”
Anna Duckworth: I think a person’s universe can be quite surreal. It can go from the very normal to the very abnormal, so for us, nothing’s off the table.
Jaya: There were no rules. Well, obviously budget, and Annie is an ex-producer so she does think of how much it’s that going to cost or just thinking practically-minded. I also had my flat mate, who helped a lot particularly for this season with the props – the knitted vagina and the drug boxes. If she had said no, those things might not have progressed. So it was a lack of someone saying no and the world of Psusy being completely bizarre to not put any rules down. If you’re talking about the issues that we talked about, it was basically stuff that was really important that we didn’t see being talked about.
That first episode this season is a good example. Sharee is getting a lap dance and is a little uncomfortable. The stripper has a knitted pussy, which I did not see coming, the two get stoned together and they talk about women in strip clubs. It goes a lot of places in just a few minutes.
Jaya: In three minutes, yeah. That’s what people like. There’s no lulls or chances for you to catch your breath, which is just the nature of a web series. You have no time to waste, because if people get bored or there is a lull, they’re going to click to another tab and check out Facebook. If you’re not holding their attention with this weird stuff, you’re going to lose them.
Anna, you weren’t working on the first season — how did you get involved?
Anna: I knew Jaya and we had worked on a few other projects together. I cast Jaya in a feature film that I was producing, and we had discussed other projects so we knew each other. When she made the first season of Psusy I gate-crashed the release party and after watching it I was like, “Shut up! This is so good. Where have you been hiding this?” I was mad. How could you be this good and I didn’t know? I was like, “I have to work with you on the next one.” It was like a rolling progression of involvement, from advising on story ideas and giving notes on scripts and then working with various people, and it slowly became more and more until I became the director.
You saw your job from the beginning as being a sounding board and helping Jaya to realize this idea, but also taking away some of the work from her?
Anna: Yes. The first season was just so stressful because she was trying to direct and essentially also produce. I have a lot of experience with low-budget filmmaking so I was like, “Don’t do that. First, get a production person, and then take the directing off your shoulders while you’re shooting.” We worked together during pre-production and discussed everything together, but on the actual shoot it’s good for Jaya not to have to be answering questions. Also, a lot of the time Jaya writes these things that are really great and I’ll read it and go, “So it’s about this?” And she would go, “Oh, yeah.” It’s good to have someone with this external eye who can see that.
The fifth episode of the first season jumped out at me, and I say this as an American, but I went “Holy crap, those are the laws around abortion in New Zealand?”
Jaya: People constantly say to us, “That’s not really the law is it?” No, that is the law.
Anna: So many young people don’t even know about it. It’s crazy.
Jaya: That’s why I wrote it. I said before, I had this whole other episode planned, but in the lead-up to making the show I came across this and I was so disgusted. I was like, “That is not okay. I’m making this thing so I have to talk about this, because it’s really messed up.” It was done quick, the location was a little bit fucked, but we made it work.
You walk in and ask, “One abortion please,” and the counselor goes, “Um, no.”
Jaya: Part of our mission statement with Psusy is to handle serious issues without tiptoeing around them. We try to make things funny, or at least talk about it in a lighthearted way, even though sometimes it might feel that’s inappropriate. It’s better to open the floor to discussion than to just be tiptoeing around these things. I think it’s a real turnoff when people are seeing videos where it’s like abortion is very serious. No. We question ourselves. Like the episode where they take meth. We wondered, “Should we be doing this?” Well…people take meth.
Anna: We’re not advertising it.
Jaya: Yeah, you probably shouldn’t do it. [laughs]
This season you have one episode, “Yeast Beast,” which I think is both the most disgusting you’ve gotten and the most hilarious.
Jaya: I’m not sure if everyone finds this bit disgusting, but I think the most disgusting part was the squirting bit. That came from Lauren, who’s a script advisor. She didn’t make a huge amount of suggestions, but she suggested that we use a squirting bit at the end. When she suggested that I was like, “That’s disgusting.” [laughs] And then I went “That’s perfect,” because if I can make myself react that way, that’s where I should go. But yeah, it’s pretty gross.
Anna: That part’s not super relatable, but the whole idea of having thrush is something almost all women experience. At the start where she’s itching at her job, so many women told us, “I feel you, I’ve been there.”
The problems with treating it. I’m a guy but I thought, “You couldn’t have made this up. This is so stupid, it has to be real.”
Jaya: It’s based on my own experience – aside from the fantasy squirting bit. I actually got really high and I was trying to figure out this thrush cream: How does it work? This is not just me, this is actually confusing stuff. The whole anxiety about having to put medication inside you. I imagine it would be similar to putting a suppository in.
Anna: You want me to put what where?
Jaya: It’s these weird icky feelings that people don’t discuss. We can share in our own icky feeling-ness. The main thing that we talk about is if someone can see this and feel less like they’re only person who feels that way. It makes them feel slightly less alone and makes them feel more that this is just funny and weird. I remember feeling so gross about my body as a young person, and now that shame has turned into, I tell everybody everything!
You’ve been very up front about Broad City being the model for what you wanted to do. What was it that made you go, “I’ve never seen something like this before, this is brilliant, I can do this?”
Jaya: The main thing for me was I came from a purely acting background, so I never saw myself as a writer or director. The first thing was I saw them and I was like, “Holy shit.” They don’t look like the normal girls you see on TV or in comedy shows. They’re not cookie-cutter pretty, they’re not stick thin, they have flaws and they do really weird stuff. It was hilarious, and I can relate to them because they’re not perfect. They weren’t your classic leading ladies, and I don’t see myself as that so I was like, “Oh! They’re the stars of a comedy, so that means I can do it!” I connected with them and I related to who they were. They’re just different and that was the main thing — just seeing true difference. Ilana’s got crazy curly hair and she’s weird and loud and inappropriate and amazing. Abbi is amazing and neurotic and gets nervous around boys and is cute and beautiful.
Anna: Also, when you see something like Broad City that is just so incredibly good, that’s really inspiring.
Jaya: There’s so many more female based comedies out there now, like Fleabag. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is beautiful but she’s not a classic leading lady. She has a mole and she didn’t cover it up. Her show is about this lady who’s a fleabag. I was like, “Yes.”
Anna: Chewing Gum.
Jaya: They’re doing great things.
Having done two seasons of short episodes, have you started thinking about a third? Are you interested in telling longer stories?
Jaya: It’s literally all based on funding. I used my savings for the production and then we crowdfunded for the post-production. So it’s really a matter of funding. We definitely want to make more. We’re planning on making a 25-minute pilot, and then I’d really like to make more. I’d like to find a producer who could take us to another level where we could get funding. Probably not from government agencies.
Anna: It’s quite a niche thing, this gross-out humor, super in-your-face lady stuff. There isn’t really a large enough audience in New Zealand. That’s why it’s online. A lot of New Zealand funding bodies, their mandate is to make stuff exclusively for a New Zealand audience. They’re not trying to make a breakout series. Flight of the Conchords was turned down for funding in New Zealand because it was considered too niche. So it’s just a case of us finding a producer or a partner who’s like, “I love this, I want you guys to make more of this.” Between now and then we could make season 3 in the same format or we could make a 25-minute pilot. Either way we’re trying to work towards longer form.
Jaya: There’s so much more stories that we have to tell. Aria Dehar, who plays Sharee, is this treasure trove of just weirdo experiences. Because she’s half-Maori, she’s got a really interesting take on things. Her being in between people saying she doesn’t look Maori enough and then sometimes she’s too Maori. Being in the middle like that is a story that so many people in the world can relate to, particularly now. Also, her experiences of being an indigenous person and being discriminated against and stereotyped against, that’s just not a story that we see in New Zealand. There’s just so much stuff that I want to tell. It’s about how do we do that. We need a producer and we need some money!