The pair, who are co-creators and executive producers of HBO Max “Hacks” with Jen Statsky, wound up postponing the ceremony originally set for May 2020 wedding to September of this year. When the nuptials at Tuscany’s Villa La Foce were rescheduled for Sept. 10, 2021, the two had no idea they’d be rushing back to the States a few days later to snag big Emmy wins for writing and directing Season 1 of the series that has garnered enormous acclaim and another Emmy for star Jean Smart.
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The whirlwind of activity on top of the jet lag from the trek to Aniello’s native Italy made the Sept. 19 Primetime Emmy Awards an even more surreal experience that it would have otherwise been. Downs and Aniello have been partners in love and production for 15 years, working on such series as “Broad City” and 2017’s “Rough Night.” Knowing how much of a grind it is to get any TV program or movie off the ground, two never envisioned riding the kind of sleek rocket that “Hacks” has become.
“The jet lag added to the out-of-body experience” of winning Emmys, Aniello told Variety earlier this week. Aniello won for comedy directing for the first episode of “Hacks.”
The trio of Aniello, Downs and Statsky won the comedy writing trophy for the same episode. The two stress that they genuinely didn’t give any thought about what they might say because they did not expect to win the face of tough competition. “I didn’t prepare anything until it came out of my mouth,” Aniello said.
One of those things was the nod to the fact that she and Downs had finally tied the knot at a ceremony officiated by Statsky. Smart did not make the trip to Europe, but “Hacks” co-star Hannah Einbinder and others from the series were on hand. The contingent of Hollywood creatives were intrigued to learn that the final two episodes of Season 3 of HBO’s “Succession” were lensed at the same picturesque villa and gardens.
“It was bizarrely kismet,” Downs says.
The pair are spending their honeymoon back in Los Angeles in the writers room – with no complaints and two pieces of Emmy hardware to show for it. In his enthusiasm on Emmy night, Downs even joked backstage “this is better” when he was asked about Aniello’s mention of the wedding.
Two days later, Aniello and Downs were back at work but took a moment to reflect on how the turmoil of the pandemic period affected not only their personal lives but likely the reception for “Hacks.” The national mood was very different when “Hacks” arrived than it would have been without 2020’s string of public health and social crises.
“It’s so hard to get a show made and to have that great cast and crew to be so nimble during the pandemic, and to have ‘Hacks’ come out at a time when people needed to laugh – it’s just been so special and we are lucky that got to make it,” Aniello said. “We are just overwhelmed by it.”
Aniello and Downs met in New York at a class offered by the Upright Citizens Brigade improv comedy troupe in early 2007. The pair consider UCB stalwart Amy Poehler a key mentor. She helped connect them with “Broad City” creators Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer. Aniello directed the pilot for the 2014 Comedy Central series and worked as a writer-producer on the show. Downs was a regular in the role of Trey Pucker and was also a writer.
The do-it-yourself ethos of YouTube and made-for-internet productions like the original online “Broad City” shorts were a good education for up-and-coming creatives at the time, Aniello notes.
“Teaching ourselves to edit so we could make our own content — it could seem like a small barrier, but it really opened the world of creativity for us,” Downs said.
The two have solo pursuits outside of their creative partnership in Paulilu Productions – Aniello is a director and executive producer on Comedy Central’s “Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens.” She is also writer-director and executive producer of the Netflix series “The Baby-Sitters Club,” a project that she assembled after chasing down the rights to the popular YA book series at Walden Media.
Downs is a regular on “Hacks” as the ever-scheming agent Jimmy, who is the connective tissue between Jean Smart’s aging Las Vegas comic Deborah Vance and Hannah Einbinder’s young comedy writer Ava.
The heart of “Hacks” turns on the relationship between two women of different generations struggling to find their voices in a changing world. Aniello’s advice for how they’ve managed to thrive as a couple in all areas seems much a like a scene that could play out on “Hacks.”
“Always endeavor to make the other person laugh,” she said. “Also, wine.”
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