Sandy Honig, Alyssa Stonoha, and Mitra Jouhari are Three Busy Debras. Credit: courtesy adult swim

They’re all named Debra. If asked about the root of their friendship, that’s the level of introspection one could expect from the deranged housewives portrayed by Mitra Jouhari (High Maintenance, The Big Sick), Sandy Honig (Vice Live, The Late Show With Stephen Colbert), and Alyssa Stonoha (The Chris Gethard Show, The Special Without Brett Davis) in Three Busy Debras. Though their sketches are filled with incongruous, grotesque dialogue and props, the comedians hold their Stepford-esque characters to three ground rules: “All Debras are small, all Debras are busy, all Debras are quiet.” Before their Adult Swim series premieres this spring, Jouhari, Honig, and Stonoha are bringing Three Busy Debras to the Hideout on January 18 for a sold-out show as part of the 2020 Tomorrow Never Knows festival. (“They just flew into Chicago and BOY are they all named Debra!” the event page smirks.)

The group’s work satirizes the point where complete self-confidence dissolves into groupthink. Beyond the titular Connecticut housewives, they have embodied this vapid contradiction as middle-aged businessmen, white feminists, and more. The group’s comedy makes perfect sense for the era of the deep-fried meme and cursed image in that it runs on a healthy stream of nonsense.

The three comedians learned of each other’s work through Twitter and began performing together in Upright Citizens Brigade shows in 2015. Their dead-eyed Debra characters originated in an improv exercise and soon became the focus of a proudly gonzo one-act play. Despite delving into “incest, necrophilia, the Holocaust, 9/11, Kony 2012, kidnapping, pedophilia, suicide, matricide, masturbation, infidelity committed with ghosts, and brunch,” it sold out The Annoyance Theatre’s now-shuttered Brooklyn outpost. The following year they brought an expanded musical version to Carnegie Hall, performing with no crew in a recital hall rented via Kickstarter donations. Soon after that, Saturday Night Live and Parks and Recreation star Amy Poehler contacted the trio with an offer to produce a television series through her company Paper Kite.

Last spring, Adult Swim announced a first season order for Three Busy Debras, which depicted the daily lives of the characters in the fictional affluent suburb of Lemoncurd, Connecticut. The quarter-hour series will mark the first wholly created by women in the channel’s history, a gender imbalance widely criticized as the cult favorite channel has grown in popularity.

Whether preparing for the live show or the TV series, it’s worth getting acquainted with the best sketches from Three Busy Debras.

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Honig fumbles with an all-knife cutlery set, preparing an all-white table for brunch. She wears all white in a white void of a room. Stonoha apologizes for being late, her eyeline perpendicular to Honig’s face. “I was at my son’s school for the PTSD meeting,” she says. “It’s nice to get in a room with other parents and talk about the war. And snacks.” It’s a setup/punch line combo that would make Mel Brooks proud, delivered in the eerie forced joviality of a personal assistant.

During what Stonoha calls “the makeover,” Jouhari gives Honig a black eye, then pulls blood-red thread out of her forehead. It’s a brief sample of the world of Lemoncurd, equal parts thrilling and revolting.

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“Three Fuckable Men”

Sandwiched on either side by Stonoha and Jouhari, Honig bolts up from a twin mattress in a brown mustache and bellows, “We need business cards!” Here the comedians play middle-aged men Dick Clit (Stonoha), Chab Michael Murray (Honig), and Doritos Twix (Jouhari). Though the men boast of interesting occupations, like Twix as an “interior decorator for Cars 2: Herbie Fully Loaded,” the video shows them failing to purchase business cards from a lipstick-saturated cashier played uncredited by Conner O’Malley in drag. Their proposed method of payment is disgusting, but so are men.

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“Three White Feminists Screw In A Lightbulb”

Three cooler-than-thou women whose knowledge of feminism begins and ends with Urban Outfitters T-shirts struggle to change a lightbulb. They don’t converse, they parrot, speaking in catchphrases. They’re just as vapid as the Debras, women these “feminists” would surely mock before wishing their girl crush Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a real person. “What’s the matter, boys?” Stonoha growls. “Never seen a strong, aggressive, annoying woman before?”

Before entering the group’s official website, a user must click through three separate videos of each member drinking milk from a long stem wine glass in front of a dirty window on a sunny day. Stonoha chugs while gazing resolutely into the distance, stopping only when the video begins another loop. Honig and Jouhari each take a sip then smile like they’re caught in a fond dairy-based memory. It’s jarring enough to be a great introduction to the trio’s style.

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“Cha Cha Slide”

The Debras sing “Cha Cha Slide” over a canned instrumental, accompanied by a blood-soaked publicity photo. They alternate between mimicking the immortal commands and immortal-er sound effects of Chicagoan DJ Casper’s 2000 hit in nightmarish three-part harmony. It’s like a karaoke night in Hell.

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“A Fashion Improvisation With Three Busy Debras

New York Magazine‘s fashion blog The Cut invited the trio to improvise using couture clothing as props in a short directed by Sandy’s brother Jake Honig. The format is clearly inspired by “Brunch” but includes motifs from elsewhere in their work, like an off-key rendition of “Happy Birthday” and milk. The spine-tingling highlight comes when Honig pours milk from a ridiculous pitcher into Stonoha’s mouth, and she then spits the liquid into a wine glass for Jouhari to gleefully slurp through a straw. The sketch concludes as the three comedians sigh blissfully and chime “The busy life of a Debra” in perfect unison.   v