As surreal as our lives currently are, they come nowhere close to the Stepford Wives strangeness of Lemoncurd, Connecticut, the charming town filled with charming people where Adult Swim’s new show Three Busy Debras takes place. The titular characters, clad in pristine white, plaster deranged smiles on their faces as they try out for Cartwheel Club, kill an innocent pool boy and survive a nightmarish sleepover. They’re June Cleaver clones on Quaaludes.
Debras don’t simply appear at brunch, though, ready to trade competing anecdotes. The show is the brainchild of comedians Sandy Honig (Debra), Mitra Jouhari (Debra) and Alyssa Stonoha (Debra).
“We met doing comedy in New York,” Stonoha tells me over the phone (social distancing, folks). “Mutual friends of each of us told us, ‘Oh you’d love Mitra, you would love Sandy, you would love Alyssa!’ And um, we finally got together and we did improv together the first night we hung out and actually improvised a scene where all of the characters were named Debra, and we haven’t had a single new idea since!”
The decision was an accident—one of them named their character Debra and the others forgot which names they’d chosen for themselves—but a fateful one. The comedy collective cycled through several different monikers before settling on the Three Busy Debras.
“Well the first night we did improv we called ourselves Babies in Charge… because we were the youngest people that we knew doing comedy and pursuing comedy and everyone was very condescending to us about our age and we were like ‘We’re babies but we’re in charge,’ ” Honig explains.
Then there was the Not 27s Club and the Triplet Towers, before the group realized they were destined to be the Debras. From the start they knew that they wanted to do a TV show, and when Adult Swim took their pitch, Stonoha says it just felt like a “natural fit.” The comics imagined the show as a “live-action cartoon,” with Betty Boop and Spongebob Squarepants among their key influences. Like cartoons, they’re always dressed in the same outfits: Honig in a stereotypical ‘50s housewife’s dress, Jouhari in a sleek belted romper and Stonoha in a killer pantsuit.
Though their characters share the same name, they’re just as distinct as the creators.
“We kind of have a joke among the three of us that one’s a bitch, one’s a cunt and one’s an idiot,” Stonoha says.
Honig’s Debra is the self-declared leader of the group and “also very big and garish and attention-seeking,” Stonoha states, “And my Debra is rigid and cold and um, psychotic and very seemingly uncaring.”
“And somehow is the only one with a child,” Honig interjects, before they devolve into laughter.
Stonoha continues, “And Mitra’s Debra is desperately craving our love and… has the hardest time sticking to the, uh, theoretical rules that I would say Sandy’s Debra has probably created and I enforce.”
Their distinct personas came after years of stand-up and sketch honed each of their comedy perspectives.
“I think getting to do other stuff outside of each other lets us figure out, like, what we like to do as individuals and helps us sharpen our individual voice which then makes us better when we work together,” Jouhari explains, “But also, like, makes us appreciate how fun it is to work together because you have two people who you think are amazing who you can bounce ideas off of and grow your ideas.”
Honig elaborates, “When we first started, all of the Debras were the same character, but then as we all started figuring out more of our voices in stand-up and character work outside of it, I think it really helped to make each of the Debras more individual characters because we figured out what each of our strengths are, what we like to play, what kind of things are funny to us and our character, and it just funneled into each of our Debras.”
The real question, though: what are the Debras getting up to in quarantine?
“[My Debra] would go out and touch everything and lick everything and sneeze on everything and touch everybody,” Honig posits.
“You would be the person… to bring coronavirus to Lemoncurd and you, as punishment, would give it to everyone else so everyone has to suffer with you,” Stonoha jokes. She adds, “My Debra is survival Debra.” There’s no doubt about that; in one episode she dons a hazmat suit when she enters a bathroom, taking a blowtorch to a stray pube on the toilet seat.
Jouhari, who’s also written for High Maintenance, says, “I think mine would have, um, crocheted like real life versions of all of her friends and would be feeding them.”
So wash your hands, make yourself a nice big brunch and settle in to watch Three Busy Debras. After all, what else do you have to do?
Three Busy Debras airs on Adult Swim at midnight on Sunday nights / Monday mornings.
Clare Martin writes about comedy, music and more for Paste.