"Broad City,” one of last year’s most critically acclaimed comedies, was born out of a quiet moment of “Fuck this.” Tracing its trajectory is a study in using rejection as fuel.
“It was almost a direct move against [Upright Citizens Brigade] to make ‘Broad City’ at the time,” says UCB alum, star, and show creator Abbi Jacobson. Her creative partner and co-star, Ilana Glazer, interjects. “Because we kept auditioning for house teams and couldn’t get on them. And we were, like, ‘Why are we even waiting for anyone else to tell us what to do? What? We know what we want to do.’ ”
“So as much as we love UCB,” continues Jacobson, “we were, like, ‘OK, we have to make our own thing now because you will not let us perform on your stage.’ ”
It’s worth mentioning that there are no hard feelings between the duo and UCB, the improv training playground responsible for Aubrey Plaza, Aziz Ansari, and their executive producer Amy Poehler’s comedic chops. Now, Glazer and Jacobson can say they’ve sold out several live shows at the theater, and that the success of their show has dwarfed dreams of joining a house team. However, the creators acknowledge their roots.
“ ‘Broad City’ would not have happened if we hadn’t taken those classes at UCB—no way,” Glazer admits, casting her eyes upward and pausing between her last two words for emphasis.
UCB honed their comedic timing (and connected them with Poehler), but it’s their special brand of unbridled humor that led to the sensation of “Broad City.”
Playing exaggerated versions of their younger selves, the onscreen Abbi and Ilana’s daily grind for rent money and fun times makes the show feel familiar, but it’s their hustle—from cleaning a house in the half-nude to afford Lil Wayne tickets to doing bong rips with college kids in their old dorm before taking back the air conditioner they left there—that renders them legends.
The commitment to their bits, both short-lived and long-standing, is so complete it’s admirable, and essential to the “Broad City” brand: bawdy, occasionally absurdist humor with a touch of “Louie”-esque surrealism that’s all inspired by a tangible, if not borderline obsessive friendship; lots of talk about sex and its oddities; and topped with a twist on the typical bro-y stoner comedy.
“Broad City,” without a doubt, caters to a specific demographic, an intentional and establishing choice by the creators who made branding an early priority. But the series has now transcended snap judgments about its use of such tropes as the buddy, pothead, and “20-somethings trying to make it in the big city” comedies. In turn, it’s made surprising fans out of people who were probably just as taken aback by their opinion on a new generation of comedians.
“You grow up thinking that ‘SNL’ is what comedy is,” says Glazer, “and then if you come to the scene, you see there are a lot of different branches off of it.... If you dive into it there are rungs there to climb.”
The two may not have climbed up enough rungs to be household names yet, but they have enough clout to get Hillary Clinton to appear on the third season—not bad for what started as a Web series made with poor production value but consistently killer scripts and scenes. Since then, the show has grown and matured, sparking commentary about the status of feminism and modern romantic relationships, and, most important, shown a new way to be broke BFFs in New York City.
In the Season 2 premiere, Abbi and Ilana are in a Topshop dressing room trying to escape the heat. With her pants down and her leg up against the wall, Ilana marvels at the “incredible” lighting and asks Abbi from the other side of the mirror for a tweezer. Her “va-yine-ya,” as she dubs it, is covered by a somewhat dark, pixelated blur.
“They wanted it to be like, nothing, like Barbie pussy or whatever,” says Glazer about the initial trepidation over the “hair down there.” “But we were, like, ‘That’s gross. I have pubes. We all have pubes….’ And our executives, they fought for it with us! And then Comedy Central’s legal team, they were, like, ‘We’re prepared to fight this if we’re sued,’ which is awesome! The Comedy Central lawyers were prepared to fight for our pubes! It’s our right to bare pubes!” she says before throwing up the peace sign over a cup of mint tea with honey.
The scene and the efforts behind it capture “Broad City” in top form. Not only is the script hilarious (and includes an impersonation of Colin Farrell), it showcases their almost uncomfortable comfort with each other, the trials and tribulations of squeezing into Topshop pants, and their willingness to be vulnerable for the sake of comedy.
It’s a defining trait that proved a challenge to uphold while writing Season 3. “We went crazy,” says Jacobson, before Glazer corrects her: “No, we went insane!”
“We were more conscious of ourselves,” Glazer continues. “We were, like, ‘Here we go. We’re coming to terms with who we are because we’re, like, figuring out the things that can’t stop popping up!’ It was so existentially dreadful. There were two episodes that we rewrote, like, five times. It was torturous.”
Working with their team through the angsty throes of this upcoming season, themes like growing up, loneliness, and codependence demanded expansion into something new and prompted the writing room to move away from its usual episodic formula into a more serialized arc. It also brought the term “work wife” to a new level, keeping Glazer and Jacobson toiling at least six days a week for months.
“It’s been good to see them grow as people and actors and business people over the course of the past few years,” says Hannibal Buress, who’s acted with the pair since their Web series days, and has built an impressive comedy career of his own (His next standup special, “Comedy Camisado” premieres Feb. 5 on Netflix.)
The hard work has evidently paid off, since the duo has managed to select their ideal team—Buress included—while so thoroughly fleshing out their characters and making jokes seem effortless—even if on an acting level it isn’t.
“It’s increasingly hard to tap into that part of myself because I’m an adult who, like, makes money and has a company,” Glazer says. “But it’s actually cool to strip away the differences and be, like, ‘What remains? What’s the same?’ But it’s more and more work. When we were making the Web series it was much closer to ourselves and now those characters are stuck behind us.”
Jacobson agrees. “It’s an ongoing weird puzzle of who and what part of ourselves are those characters? They are so us but they’re also these creations, so they’re very much our other writers. They’re very much Paul [W. Downs] and Lucia [Aniello] and they’re very much other influences, but at their core they’re extremely us. It’s very weird.”
As acting often is.
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