Hacks Is Showing Us the Future of Gen Z Comedy

Comedy Features Hacks
Hacks Is Showing Us the Future of Gen Z Comedy

There always has to be a show on TV making fun of TV shows, and in our current moment that responsibility falls on Hacks. The Max comedy presently finishing its third season is the latest in a lineage of great skewerings like 30 Rock and most recently The Other Two that understand all the absurdity of contemporary entertainment.

But Hacks’ greatest addition to the genre is its decision to center the impact of the latest demographic influencing entertainment: Gen Z. Hacks’ Gen Z characters aren’t background jokes; their influence is central to the show’s story and they are fixed at the heart of the series’ narrative action.

Hacks also feels special because it’s one of the first shows to depict Gen Z characters not just as sparkly silly teenagers (and yes, this is a Euphoria callout) but as adults with careers. Hannah Einbinder’s Ava Daniels is a promising writer (and a millenial/Gen Z cusper) who is part of the older end of the generation that is starting to find career success. The always excellent Megan Stalter’s Kayla is a nepo baby with responsibilities in the world of entertainment as a talent agent’s assistant.

Through Hacks’ three seasons its older characters are constantly learning more and having their points of view challenged by their younger counterpoints. The innovation of Deborah’s material through Ava’s Gen Z lens is the central method of change for Deborah’s character. She’s the quintessential washed-up comedian with a Vegas residency that’s too old for a dated city that’s about to be pushed into irrelevance by someone younger that appeals to younger people.

Parallel to Deborah and Ava is the pairing of Jimmy and Kayla. While Jimmy isn’t as much older than Kayla, her larger than life attitude and approach to the business of entertainment helps Jimmy reframe his own perspective of how to make a name for himself. They both got their jobs because of their fathers, but Kayla’s youth is another obstacle to being taken seriously. In Season 3 we see that she has the ingenuity to use her privilege as a tool by asking her dad and getting a Fatty Arbuckle movie made or putting aside her hangups with her high school bully in order to land a new client. Jimmy may think less of Kayla due to the way she acts, but her young reckless abandon is consistently shown to be more in line with how to get things done in the entertainment industry.

In Season 3, Deborah’s Ava-induced transformation becomes the most apparent. It’s not just her act that has changed; it’s her entire sense of self. She can’t enjoy jokes about crazy bisexuals with a bunch of legendary old school comedians at a colonoscopy party anymore. Her fight with Ava afterwards is one of Deborah’s great turning moments of the season. Ava makes Deborah realize that she can be funnier and smarter. She can’t be satisfied in the old bubble anymore. 

In Episode 8 “Yes, And,” Deborah and Ava go to the symbolic centerpiece of the youth’s cultural influence: Berkeley’s college campus. When a compilation of Deborah’s past offensive jokes comes out she is forced to truly reckon with breaking away from the status quo of never apologizing for a joke. For the first time she listens without talking back.

But Hacks is working on two levels. While its characters are learning from their Gen Z counterpoints, so is the audience. Hacks is also introducing its viewers to the Gen Z perspective. It it can still crack jokes at their expense (Ava thinking that Deborah’s actors with dwarfism playing elves is offensive but she doesn’t know why is a great example), but ultimately Hacks is one of the best TV shows that depicts the comedy stylings of Gen Z.

Hacks’ Gen Z breakout star is Megan Stalter. Every line reading as Kayla is pitch perfect. But she also depicts the effortless ability of a certain kind of Gen Z comedian to weaponize being carefree. It’s an evolved version of the experience of walking by a group of middle schoolers who start laughing at you, except you feel comfortable laughing with them.

Hannah Einbinder’s Ava represents a very niche brand of Gen Z/cusper comedy that comes from being chronically online. She knows the language of the social justice warrior and who the Twitter main character of the day is. Ava’s role at Marcus’s bar trivia night is the epitome of her comedy skill, crying over a tumultuous breakup while knowing the name of the Big Bad Voodoo Daddies. She turns someone people may only see behind a screen into a fully realized person that can use their addiction to pop culture as an endless source of comedy while also allowing the audience to laugh at her own contradictions.

Hacks has also become a showcase for rising Gen Z comedy stars. It was one of the first TV shows to feature Cailtin Reilly, the comedian who became popular on TikTok for her impressions of WASP moms or your brother’s girlfriend who thinks she’s going to get proposed to. While Reilly herself is not Gen Z, she was one of the first masters of the specific TikTok comedy structure of the POV video—a style of TikTok that frames the viewer as interacting with a specific character—that has a solid base among Gen Z viewers.

“Yes, And” also has a surprise cameo appearance from Justin Lupo, another POV TikTok creator who became popular with his impressions of frat boys playing… a frat boy! It’s a caricature that leans hard into exaggeration but shows the crossover effect of TikTok’s comedy ecosystem that is being driven by Gen Z creators and audience members (see also, POV TikTok creator Sabrina Brier’s guest appearance on Abbott Elementary during Season 3 as Jessca).

Both in the world of the show and on our TV screens, Hacks is depicting the influence of Gen Z in comedy. It’s not just another demographic; it’s a group that is developing their own comedy stylings. Gen Z is coming up into positions of power in entertainment. They have tastes and opinions that will be affecting the media getting made in the next few years. But Hacks is not fighting back against the old sentiment that young people are a plague on culture. Hacks knows Gen Z is here to stay, so it’s giving them a welcome introduction to the rest of the world.

Leila Jordan is a writer and former jigsaw puzzle world record holder. Her work has appeared in Paste Magazine, the LA Times, Business Insider, Gold Derby, TheWrap, FOX Digital, The Spool, and Awards Radar. To talk about all things movies, TV, and useless trivia you can find her @galaxyleila.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin