A Conversation With the Comedy Masterminds Behind ‘Broad City’

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Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, of 'Broad City.' Lane Savage

Comedy Central’s series Broad City, which follows the hijinks of two women as they get in and out of hairy situations in New York City, is one of the most wryly funny and savvy shows in recent memory. Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, Upright Citizens Brigade alums and talented physical comedians, began the show as a Web series in 2009. It caught the attention of former UCB godmother Amy Poehler, who signed on as executive producer and helped the pair adapt the show for television. Now in its second season, Broad City has become a viral sensation, spawning an in-person tour, a cult online fan base and gifs depicting every gag and joke. Newsweek chatted with Jacobson and Glazer about the show’s current season and what they’re working on right now.

I saw you guys interview Sleater-Kinney a few weeks ago at the Ace Hotel, it was rad.

Abbi: Cool.

In the talk, you mentioned that was the first time you'd done something like that. How was that experience for you guys interviewing such a storied band?

Ilana: I felt like we were…after the experience, I realized even more why that had been such a good fit. After talking to them, you know, it made more sense to me. I had come upon their music more recently, and it kind of made sense them worrying about not just their product, but also their process. Like, yep, I totally relate.

Abbi: Yeah. I think we went into this a little bit in the interview, but I left being just really inspired. It's very good to talk to people who are…I don't know. They're just this group that is very empowering and like they sort of take their artwork into their own hands.

Ilana: Right.

Abbi: It really makes you want to make and do and feel.

Ilana: And besides their music, Carrie [Brownstein, S-K and Portlandia member] being a music hero. You know? Her fluidity between comedy and music is so powerful. It's incredible how she navigates that.

I can definitely see the parallels. Sleater-Kinney, 20 years of accolades later, still feels like an organic and homegrown project, which is the same feeling I get watching Broad City.

Ilana: Thank you.

Abbi: Yeah, thanks.

Ilana, I know you're a drummer. Carrie did offer you guys a slot opening for Sleater-Kinney in New York. You going to do it?

Abbi: Ha. Yeah, she did! Which was so awesome. I don't think that we can. Their tour is right when we're going to be writing, and it's not…yeah, we actually talked about it after. It would be very cool.

Ilana: Timing is everything, right?

Speaking of timing: The new season of Broad City is fantastic so far. Are you surprised at the reception, and how people are discussing it further online?

Ilana: We don't approach any subjects that like….rather, we do approach all our subjects thinking "What's the funniest, what's the funniest?" rather than like, I hope this gets a cultural discussion going. But it is so cool that people are having meaningful conversations based off of our comedy. I mean, we're blown away with the reception. Same with season one. We're blown away. Super overwhelming, it's hard to process. Actually, we went on tour in November and that was kind of one way of processing it. Where it was like going out and meeting fans who, you know, these were people who loved the show. And that kind of made more sense, but it's very overwhelming and unbelievable.

Good overwhelming or scary overwhelming?

Ilana: Yeah. I think you just described overwhelming, even. It's a cross-section of things, not negative overwhelming—

Abbi: It's like, whoa.

Ilana: Just kind of neutrally whoa.

Abbi: Whooo.

Ilana: But so good and unbelievable and incredible. I think it's like one person alone at home going, Holy shit! Looking at the Internet going, oh my god!

How is your dynamic with Amy Poehler as a mentor?

Abbi: Yeah, it's sort of like…all of a sudden this person that you've admired and loved watching for so many years is your mentor, it's kind of exactly how you would imagine it to be. I don't think we could ask it to be better. She's an amazing collaborator on the show, and we really hit it off with her, and she adds to our humor. She's really great at notes and offering her point of view on things. It's been a very wild ride, and I feel like we're constantly learning from her along the way.

Ilana: She just brings a birds' eye view with her perspective. She's seen her career grow over time, 20 years, she really has this court vision (we call it) of the show. Before the first season I was just like OK, I get it, that's an analogy. But then going through season one we learned what that meant and what that climb feels like. She sort of gives us a heads up in general for our careers. We're so lucky.

How does that work exactly—does she help you hash out ideas, or do you come to her with something fully formed and you work it out?

Abbi: I mean, Amy gives us notes throughout the whole process. So in the writers' room we hand in outlines first and then scripts. And so she is involved in every stage, so she helps us with every step along the way. Casting choices, same with directors, episode order. Basically every decision or thing we need to like, think about, she has input.

Does that include editing? I know you do quite a bit of that.

Ilana: Yeah. Drafts we get in really early with notes from Amy and producers for every pass. And when you give notes, nobody's thinking like you're definitely going to take every note, but we have these experts in comedy and these TV experts at hand that can take the best of their knowledge, and that's the best of the best of the best. We have an incredible world surrounding our process.

You're working on other writing projects as well – how do you balance that, and can you talk a bit about anything yet?

Abbi: How do you know that?!

Ilana: Yeah how do you know?

I read it in your recent Grantland profile. Am I wrong?

Ilana: No, you're right. It's just…I don't know. I lose track of stuff I say, I guess. We are, and we each have projects going individually and other projects together. We hope that Broad City and stuff is…

Abbi: [sneezes]

Ilana: Bless you. We hope that Broad City is the first of, you know, a body of work as a pair and as individual [people].

Cool. My apologies, I didn't mean to press if that was something you weren't keen on talking about yet…

Ilana: Oh no, it's fine! We're both just working on other projects and haven't started Broad City yet. You know, it'll be interesting to plan for season three to work on other stuff that's not Broad City. It's cool to be working on other stuff.

Are you working on features, or another series, or is that not fleshed out yet?

Abbi: Yeah. I think maybe all of those things would fall into the category. We don't know if we want to say yet what we're doing…

On a completely different note, I'd love to know what the weirdest thing you've seen on the Internet lately has been.

Ilana: Just in general, or regarding this show?

In general.

Abbi: Uhh…oh, I'm not good. I don't know. There's just so much there.

It's kind of frightening how much we synthesize in a day, let alone an hour.

Ilana: Yeah. And there's also so much depressing shit, like the news…but weird is a nice departure from that. Uh…

Abbi: I don't think I have an answer for you.

Ilana: But good question. We haven't heard that one.

Abbi: Oh, I found this photo someone made of Kanye making out with himself. I thought it was funny, not weird though.

In light of the Grammys thing I imagine? It's crazy how that's blown out of proportion.

Abbi: I don't get it, really.

Seems like quite a bit of nitpicking.

Ilana: I'd agree. [Kanye] was just making a joke and it's like they're in rich famous music high school.

What have you been doing in your downtime? If you have downtime?

Abbi: I don't know what I do! I think I just wander around and read stuff and try to hang out with friends. And do nothing? Once you have nothing to do. I love the opportunity to stay in my apartment and do fucking nothing.

Ilana: Yeah, absolutely.

Any favorite places to wander in the city?

Abbi: Pretty much anywhere…I end up. I don't go somewhere and then wander, it's like, I'll have breakfast with someone and then wander. There's no bad wandering.