This exclusive interview is from BUST's Feb/March 2015 issue, on stands now!
Female fans around the world are downright obsessed with Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer’s hit comedy series Broad City. Here, the pair gets real about Girls, plays “Fuck/Marry/Kill,” and recalls how Amy Poehler made them freak out
Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer are two of comedy’s hottest stars, and they are about to drive a convertible off a cliff. Rather, they are sitting in a borrowed convertible and they are not driving it at all, especially not off any cliffs, because it is parked in a Brooklyn studio. Still, as they re-enact the iconic final scene of Thelma & Louise for our photographer, their hands clasped together and raised in the air, I get a bit of a lump in my throat. The characters that Jacobson, 30, and Glazer, 27, play on their breakout Comedy Central hit Broad City, while exaggerated versions of themselves, are not exactly aspirational. The pair are relatable, sure, and no doubt a refreshing change of pace for TV, with their endearing affinity for sex, weed, Lil’ Wayne, and each other; but here in this studio, in front of this green screen that someone will Photoshop a desert onto later, the power of their friendship feels totally genuine and very strong.
Later, after the convertible has pulled away and the girls have traded the day’s wardrobe of light-wash denim and dirt for clean faces and their own clothes, Glazer will tell me what Jacobson told her while they were shooting that moment: “This is like what we did.” I know she doesn’t mean that they went out together in a blaze of glory after a crime spree and an epic standoff with law enforcement. But I get it—it’s been a wild ride, and they couldn’t have done it without each other. Numerous times throughout the discussion that follows, both Glazer and Jacobson mention how surreal it is to be where they are; indeed, when it comes to origin stories, theirs is a pretty great one.
“I thought she was Maeby from Arrested Development,” says Jacobson about the first time she met Glazer, at a practice for their improv team. The two were taking classes at New York’s Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, the storied comedy training school co-founded by Amy Poehler, and according to Jacobson, “it didn’t seem crazy that [Alia Shawkat] would be on an improv team.” After practice, while hanging out at a bar, Jacobson realized that Glazer was not, in fact, starring on one of the funniest television shows ever (not yet, anyway), but she was still pretty cool. Jacobson snaps her fingers to demonstrate how the two hit it off that night. “We were quick friends,” she says. “Immediate friends.” Glazer nods. “I met her, and I was like, ‘Yup.’ It was just solid.”
The two palled around for a couple of years before deciding to start a Web series together in 2009. They knew they wanted it to be based on their lives as young women in New York navigating a surfeit of awkward situations, but they needed the perfect name for the project. Glazer recalls, “Abbi was spitting out names for it, and she said, ‘Broad City,’ and I was like, ‘Fuck! That’s awesome.’ And she was like, ‘OK, let’s keep going, though, just to make sure…Broadville? Girl City? Titstown?’ And then we were like, ‘No, Broad City. Yeah!’” Later, I look up the history of the term “broad” and come across an entry from Jane Mills’ Womanwords: A Dictionary of Words About Women that defines a broad as “a woman who is liberal, tolerant, unconfined, and not limited or narrow in scope.” That certainly applies to these broads, whose early YouTube offerings were short on time (the first episode of Broad City clocked in at just two minutes) and production values, but not on charm. Like Elaine Benes before them, Abbi and Ilana made the often-dubious day-to-day decisions of a New York lady look downright hilarious as they quickly escalated in absurdity, like the episode in which Ilana started hooking up with a guy just so she could use the washer and dryer at his apartment.
But to compare Broad City to Seinfeld—or, as is more often the case these days, Lena Dunham’s Girls—would be reductive. When the expanded TV version of Broad City first premiered on Comedy Central in January 2014, in the same hour as the network’s wildly popular Workaholics, the bro-iest of the Workaholics fanbase were quick to accuse the newer show of simply inserting women into the proven formula of feckless friends minus money plus drugs divided by ridiculous plot = success by way of failure. But there is something different about Broad City, which blends whip-smart subtlety with off-the-wall physical comedy in a way that feels unlike anything else we’ve seen young women do on television. Its imperfect-but-proud, strangely empowered female protagonists are a breath of fresh air, even when that air is subsequently exhaled with the familiar cough of a 20-something stoner hotboxing before another shift at her crappy job.
Asking Jacobson and Glazer how they really feel about all those Girls comparisons has been done a million times by now, so when it comes up, I try not to linger on it, though I do note how strange and unfair it seems that critics so often praise one show by putting down the other. “I read a piece the other day that called Broad City ‘the show that Girls would be if it were funny’ in its opening line,” I mention. “That just seems unnecessary and lazy to me.”
Jacobson sighs. “It’s so insane,” she says. “I mean, whatever; people can compare them. I’m just a little over that, because it’s like, What? They’re not trying to be the same show at all. And they show really different forms of friendship. I really love Girls. And I’ve had those kinds of friendships, and I love watching it because I’m like, ‘Oh, I know that.’”
Glazer calls both shows “legitimate and relatable representations.” She continues, “With TV and film, so often shit is thrust upon people like, ‘This is you, right?! This relates to you!’ And, well, what if it doesn’t? It so rarely does. It’s a real privilege to be on the creation side of it, and it’s also just so strange. Our whole lives, we’re consuming, consuming, consuming, and now we’re putting stuff out to be consumed; it’s bizarre. It feels really important to us—we do take what we represent very seriously. Our goal in general is inclusion. Unless you’re, like, a fucking asshole. Then you don’t need to be at the party.”
This leads me to the portion of every BUST interview where we ask the person appearing on the cover of the magazine if she’s a feminist. In this case, however, I don’t really have to ask, because Glazer and Jacobson have already said that they are feminists, most notably at the Critics’ Choice Television Awards last June when PopSugar asked if they were “cool with” the word. The Wall Street Journal referred to Broad City’s “sneak-attack feminism” back when it was still a Web series, and other sources have called them “femininjas.” So I’m curious about just how conscious they are of feminist issues when writing.
“When we sit down in the writers’ room,” says Jacobson, “there’s not an agenda. But we hire people who have the same….”
“Ethics,” Glazer interjects.
“…As us,” Jacobson finishes. “So everyone we hire on our show is a feminist, male or female, and it’s never an issue. The writers’ room is so difficult in terms of coming up with stories, and keeping it fresh and new and funny, that, like, we don’t even want to have to deal with that ever. So it’s just always there. We are two women, and we based [the show] on ourselves, and we, without a doubt, are feminists, so the show is seen in that way.”
“When we write for these characters,” Jacobson continues, “who are exaggerated versions of ourselves, I think the thing that we talk about the most is like, well; What would we really do? It’s just real. And maybe that’s part of feminism—showing real women versus what we had seen on TV for so long.”
“Even dudes aren’t represented in a real way, though,” Glazer says. “Dudes on TV are really hot, but they’re considered ‘normal guys.’ You know Dan on Veep? He’s a normal guy on TV. But [Reid Scott, the actor who plays him] is hot. Jason Bateman on Arrested Development is fucking hot. But he’s supposed to be like, an average guy. Nothing’s real on TV.”
That sentiment rings especially true when it comes to Glazer and Jacobson, who very clearly only play slackers on television. “I have this problem where I need to be so completely crazy-stressed busy,” Jacobson tells me when I ask what they do when they’re not really, really busy. “I need to write lists of things I have to do, and I have to have my next thing ready, and I’m trying to work on this other project, and it’s like, what is fucking wrong with me? That’s my way of relaxing. All I want is, like, a day to work on this other thing. I don’t want to be like that.”
“We’re…it’s not competitive as much as it is, like, mutually motivating,” Glazer says. “We motivate each other and inspire each other to work, but we don’t inspire each other enough to chill the fuck out. Maybe we will in, like, our 40s?”
“I get this natural high from finishing something,” Jacobson says, and Glazer nods enthusiastically as Jacobson expounds on how much she loves making charts and lists, a trait that has served her well ever since she was an ambitious kid stealing chores away from her brother to make more money.
It’s incredibly inspiring to hear two smart, successful young women talk about their work with such passion, but that doesn’t mean I don’t also want to play “Fuck/Marry/Kill” with them. Glazer and Jacobson often incorporate several rounds of the game into their monthly live show at UCB; when I go to see the show a few weeks after our interview, they play with special guest Susie Essman (Curb Your Enthusiasm) who shrieks, “Kill! Kill! Kill!” at most of the options presented to her. “Alright,” I posit. “Fuck/Marry/Kill: the original Ghostbusters.”
“OK,” Glazer says, thinking hard. “There’s Jeff Goldblum, Harold Ramis….”
“Jeff Goldblum was not in Ghostbusters,” I remind her, and we all crack up.
Glazer recalls that Ernie Hudson was hot (after first checking with me to make sure he wasn’t Danny Glover), while Jacobson says there’s “just something about Bill Murray.”
Then Glazer wonders aloud, “What’s up with his dick?” and this sets us off on a tangent about sexy senior citizens. Glazer reveals that her boyfriend’s uncle is a total hottie, the kind of geriatric gentleman you’d actually want to bang instead of just admire. (“It’s like, Sidney Poitier is a gorgeous older man,” she explains, “but you’re not actually going to fuck him.”) I admit that I had a crush on Diagnosis Murder-era Dick Van Dyke as an adolescent. “Is he still…with us?” Glazer asks. I confirm that he is, and she responds, “I’m glad. He got ill recently; he doesn’t do the New Year’s Eve thing anymore.”
“No, that’s Dick Clark!” Jacobson corrects her.
“And Dick Clark is dead,” I add.
To help her process the difference between the two Dicks, Jacobson starts singing “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” Van Dyke’s chimney sweep song from Mary Poppins, with an impressive Cockney accent. Then we swerve back to the fuckability of non-Ghostbuster Jeff Goldblum (“You could totally hit that,” Jacobson assures me) before confirming that the game has run its course.
When I ask the pair to describe their earliest big Oprah-style “A-ha! moment” in terms of their career, they first make gestures of reverence at the mention of Winfrey. “I’ve been waiting to talk about Oprah,” Jacobson says. (On Broad City, The Queen of All Media is a major source of inspiration for Abbi—her character reveals an Oprah portrait tattoo in the episode “Hurricane Wanda.”) “There are a bunch, actually,” she continues. “When we put out our first video, Lucia Aniello, who now writes for and directs the show, wrote us to say, ‘This is something. I love what you guys are doing. I just want you to know that.’ She was someone we respected, and having her respond was really big for the Web series continuing. I think the biggest Aha! moment, though, was when we had been doing the Web series for, like, a year and a half, and we had also written a pilot and were planning on going to L.A. with it. We were discussing the season finale [of the Web series] and we were like, ‘Let’s get somebody big to be in it. Let’s get some celebrity we could never get.’ So we reached out, through a friend, to Amy Poehler.”
If you’re a fan of the show, you know how the rest of that story goes. Poehler became the executive producer of Broad City on Comedy Central (and also made a memorable appearance in the first season finale as a bitter chef fighting with her waiter boyfriend at the fancy restaurant where Abbi and Ilana go to celebrate Abbi’s birthday). When she agreed to a cameo on the Web series, though—after letting the girls know she had, in fact, seen the Web series—Jacobson says, “That was even bigger than when she agreed to executive produce. We were freaking out. The way we reacted was as if we had sold the show.”
“When she said that she would do the Web series,” Glazer says, “it was almost like we knew, in our hearts, that we were gonna make the show.” She pauses, then adds, “We’re lucky that we have each other. If we were alone, I don’t know if we’d be repeating this as much and knowing our own personal history as well. It’s nice. It’s kind of like having a sibling. You’re like, ‘Remember when Grandma did that? That was weird.’”
“Lucky” seems to be the word that is uttered most often throughout the course of our conversation, but it’s obvious that it’s not just luck that has landed the pair where they are. They’re ambitious and they possess a kind of natural appeal that seems to radiate from their bodies, whether they’re dancing super hard to Black Box’s “Everybody, Everybody” at UCB as a pre-show warm-up or slouching in their chairs. They are also generous, especially to fellow comic actors (UCB alum make frequent guest appearances on the show) and to other women (the live show I caught featured a video by sketch writer Celeste Ballard, and a standup set by The Daily Show’s Jena Friedman). When I tell them how proud my UCB friends are of them, they visibly swoon. “That is so awesome,” Jacobson responds. “That’s the best thing that we can hear, because we’re very conscious of that.”
“The timeline trips me out,” Glazer says of their rise to fame. “When I think about myself 10 years ago, 18-year-old me, and even two years ago, I think—was that real? It’s crazy to get older, period. It’s weird. Your foresight grows.”
Jacobson grins. “I thought you were gonna say….”
“FORESKIN!” we all exclaim in unison. For what seems like the billionth time in our one-hour hangout, the ladies of Broad City have made me laugh so hard I snort. We’ve covered a lot of ground today, and I feel like I’ve really gotten to know Jacobson and Glazer. But there’s one more thing I need to find out, and that is which Muppets they would have sex with.
“Gonzo is the one with the nose?” Jacobson asks, noting apologetically that she is “not a Muppet lady.”
“His nose is a dildo,” Glazer says frankly, before revealing that she would “be Janice and fuck Animal.”
“Kermit’s a Muppet, right?” Jacobson asks.
“Kermit is dope,” Glazer responds, nodding. “Kermit is husband material.”
“I think I’d have a degrading three-way with Statler and Waldorf,” I offer.
“That would be degrading,” Glazer says, laughing.
I ask Glazer how she feels about Sam the Eagle and she takes a moment to think it over. “He’s, like, mean-hot,” she observes, “which I’m not usually into. But if it’s a puppet, it’s fine.”
By Bridgette Miller
Photographed by Danielle St. Laurent Styling by Kemal Harris
Makeup by Sarah Eagan Hair by Marcel Dagenais for Oribe Hair Care
Prop Styling by Chelsea Maruskin Hand Lettering by Cristina Martinez
This story appeared in the Feb/Mar 2015 Issue of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!