Behind ‘Broad City’: Amy Poehler’s Girls of Comedy
Comedy Central's Broad City is love-in-the-time-of-sexting depiction of millennials. Fear not Girls lovers, there's room for more anxiety-ridden twentysomethings in New York City.
With Lucille Ball-like fearlessness and Elaine Benes-esque absurdity, Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson have earned every bit of the comedy world's love. Come asinine jobs, clingy roommates, and dwindling checking accounts, the duo behind Broad City are bringing new life to something we didn't know we missed: the funny girl next door. Or, in their words, the “independent tomboy improviser girl.”
Joining Comedy Central’s stellar lineup of gutsy shows Wednesday night the sketch comedy braves the world of broke twentysomethings’ New York City like no one before. A web series dreamed up by two Upright Citizens Brigade alums, the show boasts Amy Poehler as executive producer and an embarrassment of comedic riches as guest stars (Fred Armisen, Rachel Dratch, Amy Sedaris, and Orange Is the New Black’s Michelle Hurst, to name a few).
It’s an unusually warm January day in NYC when I sit down to breakfast with Broad City’s creators. “I’m sweating my balls off,” says Glazer, the younger, curly-haired member of the two, as she arrives. Ripping off her winter coat, the 26-year-old reveals a green plaid shirt that—save for one button—is wide open. It’s not until after she orders scrambled eggs and bacon with iced coffee that Glazer notices her wardrobe malfunction. “Oh my god,” she says suddenly looking down at the gold Hebrew necklace shimmering in view on her visible upper half. “This is like the bottom of my bra.”
It’s then that her Broad City partner in crime, 29-year-old Jacobson, calmly chimes in. “I was gonna say something to you about that but you would, like, be annoyed with—” Glazer, playfully taking on the voice of a 5-year-old, cuts her off. “It’s fine, MOM. Leave me alone, MOM.” Dressed in a grey top and black skirt, Jacobson is slightly more put together, but with no less of a “I woke up like this” vibe.
“We’re independent tom-boy type of girls who need their space,” Glazer says.
“Speak for yourself—I’m very dainty,” Jacobson says smiling.
What HBO’s Girls may lack in realistic depictions of twentysomething life in New York City, Broad City makes up for ten-fold. At the aggressively happy spinning studio where she works, Jacobson dreams of being a trainer while washing and drying sweaty towels. In between working at an Internet company that forgets to pay her, Glazer takes on multiple freelance jobs (like dog walking) at once. With tiny apartments and no significant others, the girls spend an entire day in the first episode, “What a Wonderful World,” looking for Craigslist ads that will earn them enough money ($200) for a secret pop-up Lil’ Wayne concert at Bowery Ballroom. Glazer’s early morning proposition to do just that—“Ab Ab Ab, today is the day we become Abbi and Ilana the boss bitches we are in our MINDS, are you with me?”—is met with skepticism from Jacobson, who has already planned a glorious night of Netflix-binging and stir fry.
If the stories sound real, it’s because they are.
“I’ve cleaned someone’s apartment, just not in my underwear,” Jacobson says, alluding to a scene in the pilot where the two vacuum Armisen’s apartment in lingerie. “It was so bad, [the woman] had cats. Not to offend cat people, there’s nothing wrong with cats. But whatever is in that box...you know what I mean... it was just gross.” Glazer has apparently never heard the cat detail of Jacobson’s real-life cleaning service story and looks horrified across the table. “That. Is. Disgusting. That is actually repulsive,” she says.
Jacobson, much like both characters on Broad City would do, defends the odd job. “I was so desperate, this is when I was selling my [post]cards in front of the Met. I was doing everything,” she says. When I ask Jacobson what the end game of this cat-cleaning service was she answers simply: “To...pay my rent. To live.”
For these two, life hasn’t always been Comedy Central TV deals and Amy Poehler love fests.
A native of Long Island, Glazer has been playing the funny independent tomboy role since roughly the age of six when she and her brother Elliot (also a writer and comedian in New York) ran an imaginary network they coined “Glazer Broadcasting Systems.” Twenty years later, Glazer is still playing. “I’m still doing a version of that. It’s just playing heightened because now it means my living. How I’m going to pay for my apartment.”
Jacobson’s brother and dad are graphic designers and her mom is a “found objects artist.” While pursuing a degree in fine arts at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), it was Jacobson’s minor in video that won her attention. After moving to NYC to pursue a brief stint in dramatic acting (“I HATED it. So much.”), she discovered UCB. Shortly after, she found Ilana.
Homes aside, it’s strangely the online beauty appointment booking service LifeBooker that played a key role in making the girls’ web series dreams a reality. “That job was the big logistical glue for us,” says Glazer. Sharing their ideas while together at work and their experiences via Skype while apart (a pastime they take to new frontiers—like sexing-while-Skyping—in Broad City), the two weaved their experiences into episodes. The result was a bizarre and hilarious love-in-the-time-of-sexting web series that won the hearts of the Internet and the attention of one of the comedy world’s queens.
I ask the girls to tell me the story of how they met (and quickly became the protégés of) Parks and Recreation star Poehler. "We’re all the same height we had similar independent tomboy improviser girl feel,” Glazer says. “We just clicked."
“We were wrapping up the second season of the web series and we were like ‘Let’s get someone awesome in this,’” Jacobson says. It was 2011, and after reading that Poehler was in NYC for work, she emailed a friend of a friend and asked her to reach out. “We had never met [Amy] or known her. This wasn’t something that we were waiting with baited breathe for. We were like, ‘She’s NEVER gonna do it.’”
But by some stroke of luck (or loyalty to students of the school she created, Poehler had not only heard of Broad City, but loved it—and wanted in. “It was like a cartoon where your mind explodes. We were like, what????” Jacobson says. “I was just silently exploding in our office,” Glazer adds. Fast forward two years and the girls got the nerve to email Poehler and ask if she wanted to be the executive producer of the show. Spoiler alert—she did.
Just a few days before the television premiere of a show they’ve spent the last four years perfecting, the two are oddly calm. That’s not to say that transitioning from 5-7 minute web clips to 21 minute television episodes has been easy. “It’s like those things with people balancing plates,” Jacobson says, while waving imaginary sticks in her hands. “You know, on the sticks?” she clarifies. “The thing on the plates with the sticks,” Glazer echoes sarcastically. “That’s totally what this has been like.”
After writing and filming each episode, the two are now in the editing phase where they face new hurdles—like commercial breaks. But with the help of their pals at the Upright Citizens Brigade, they seem to be sailing through seamlessly. “We have really amazing people working for us—smart, bright, enthusiastic, eager,” the two say of the Broad City team. “People that we just, like.”
See for the girls, the show is less about “being successful” than it is about being in love with what they do. “What was so cool about the web series is that we were just making it for ourselves. The two of us having fun and feeling purposeful was palpable,” Glazer says. By fun, she means anything from getting their mustaches waxed before a surprise party to boob-bumping their pal Amy Poehler before she faceplants on a bucket of oranges. “We want to keep up that sense of play,” Glazer adds. “That’s what success really is, isn’t it? Actually enjoying it."