Abbi Jacobson (L) and Ilana Glazer (R) from Broad City.
“I’m definitely not shy,” says Ilana Glazer on the phone from New York. “Comedy and making stuff is an excuse to get into shit I wouldn’t normally get into.” It’s that spirit of raucous, boundary-pushing originality that infuses the 27-year-old comedian’s much-discussed series, Broad City, which The Huffington Post dubbed ‘the best new show you’re not watching’. Created by the young comedic duo of Glazer and her creative partner Abbi Jacobson, the show has harnessed word-of-mouth recommendations and critical buzz to become must-see television.
Glazer and Jacobson first came together through Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, a hothouse of improvisational talent on the NYC comedy scene, while Glazer was studying psychology in college and Jacobson had just hit pause on her dreams of becoming a dramatic actor. The pair found they weren’t being picked for the house teams of the theatre, so instead joined an outside ‘indie’ improv group where they met.
“We really clicked,” says Glazer. “We were the only women [on the team]. We had a clear connection. We made each other laugh. So we were like, ‘Why don’t we make something ourselves?’”
I scene from Broad City.
That ‘something’ ended up being Broad City, a hilarious television series that first hit airwaves in the US earlier this year and is now bound for Australian screens. Glazer plays Ilana, a potty-mouthed, crop-top-loving free spirit, while Jacobson is Abbi, the slightly more responsible one of the duo. (In the debut TV episode, Abbi rejects attending a Lil Wayne concert saying, “I’m so close to finishing season one of Damages and I made this, like, amazing cashew stir-fry for the week, so I’m actually pretty booked.”) While the characters might have the same names as their creators, they certainly aren’t carbon copies. “Both of us have much more drive and are much less frustrated than our characters in the show,” says Glazer.
Their comic creations, especially the fictional Ilana who Slate dubbed ‘a new poster child for IDGAF’, are unashamed in their appetites for fun, sex and weed in a way that is rare to see on-screen. The pair are anti-heroines in the mould of an Elaine Benes or a Roseanne Conner, characters who are not beloved for feminine virtues of ‘kindness’ or ‘niceness’, but for living their lives unapologetically. Glazer says she feels particularly thankful about finding a like-minded creative outlet who didn’t try to smooth out those rough edges, jokingly describing The Comedy Channel as being like a ‘sweet and open-minded partner’. (FX originally passed on the show with their development reported to have had the two renamed and Abbi working in a coffee shop.)
Broad City began on a much smaller scale in 2009 as a series of webisodes created by Glazer and Jacobson. That incubation period as a DIY production seems a crucial part of the show’s DNA, as it’s rather unlikely that a program about two female pot-smoking slackers would have made it past the idiosyncrasy-crushing rigmarole of focus group testing. The web series became a cult hit and the characters organically grew a fervent fan base online.
A still from Broad City.
One of those amassed enthusiasts turned out be incredibly important in bringing the show to the small screen. Parks and Recreation’s Amy Poehler (who is also one of the founding members of Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre) agreed to appear in the finale of the web series and also lent her support again in executive producing the television series. Glazer pinpoints Poehler’s backing as a turning point in her comedy career, inspiring the comedian to quit her job working at a discount e-commerce website (the real-life inspiration for Deals Deals Deals on the show).
“When we found out Amy was going to do the finale webisode is when I gave them my six weeks’ notice – I know you’re only supposed to give two but I’m very cautious and nervous about that shit,” says Glazer. “I had this feeling that I was going to be able to support myself in another way besides a day job – and I did.”
The feminist politics underpinning the show has been a strong factor in Broad City’s critical success (it seems little coincidence that female pop culture critics such as Willa Paskin, Karen Valby and Genevieve Koski have championed the series). Journalist Megan Angelo dubbed its show-don’t-tell approach as ‘sneak-attack feminism’ in The Wall Street Journal and it’s a label Glazer says she is happy to embrace.
“We had certain messaging or sexual politics in our mind, but our goal is a cool adventure story about two friends. I’d be lying if I said we didn’t ever think of what we’re trying to represent, but it’s not funny to start from that place,” says Glazer. “I love Planned Parenthood, but if I were trying to write a TV show based on Planned Parenthood ethics? It’s not funny.”
Glazer is starting to get used to being recognised on the street as her profile increases, but admits she still often mistakes fans for school acquaintances so unfamiliar is the attention. The warm reception of the show does continue to thrill Glazer however. “It’s a complete whirlwind. I feel like we dreamed about this stuff, but then to really see something materialise is so mind-blowing. I feel like I’m tripping, but it’s long-term. Every day is like, ‘No way!’”
Want more? Here are some other important things on Ilana's mind:
On pot smoking...
There’s some incredible timing at play. Weed has this cachet now that it’s being taken more seriously than it used to. You’re not just a fucking idiot if you smoke weed, you can be a really productive stoner.
On the characters...
I’m 27 now. I started Broad City when I was maybe 22. And if you’re talking to a 50 year old, there’s not too much of a difference between 22 and 27 – but there is though. You learn how to work and you learn how to present. It’s a really tough time. Even as someone very privileged, it’s still an anxious, depressing time filled with existential dread.
On where she finds inspiration...
We take stories from friends. I just steal, steal, steal. There are so many hilarious stories to be told and Abbi and I definitely haven’t lived all of them.
On what they learnt at Upright Citizens Brigade...
Abbi came to New York to become a ‘dramatic actor’ at the Atlantic Theatre Company, which is David Mamet and William H. Macy’s theatre school. She always said that she was stuck in her head, like ‘Think about the intention’. Whereas UCB’s motto is, I’m not even joking, their motto is ‘Don’t think’. It’s different from what an acting school would teach people. It’s actually just being yourself in the scene, you’re not transforming or being a vessel for whatever, you’re just being in the scene and seeing what happens.
Her current obsession..
I am currently obsessed with, get ready, vegie skewers. I recently acquired a dope, super legit barbecue. You just chop up peppers, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, stick them on a skewer and grill ‘em. It’s like, ‘I should be eating this all the time’.
The first episode of Broad City airs July 23, 8.30pm on The Comedy Channel (Foxtel).