For the last five years, Broad City has been the most reliably funny (and feminist) show on TV. Here, the show’s creators and stars, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, sit down with writer and comedian Phoebe Robinson to discuss the end of an era, the future of their friendship, and pooping.
Building a career in Hollywood is a bit like tending to an orchid: you expose it to the sun, but not too much; you water it, but again, not too much; you talk to it and sometimes people walk in while you’re doing so (on more than one occasion, my boyfriend—who I call “British Baekoff” because he’s my British bae—has walked in on me as I’m doling out the ole, “Clear eyes, big heart, can’t lose,” speech to my orchid). The point is, you do what you can. But deep down, you know that so much in a career in film and television, like an orchid blossoming, is kind of out of your control. The ups and downs happen on someone else’s terms, and the wisest thing you can do is to dig deep, work hard, stay the course, and most importantly, work on yourself, which no one tells you.
When you’re not in front of the cameras, or in an editing bay, or revising a script that’s due in half an hour, who is the you that you wake up with every day? You have to do the work to grow and evolve in order to become the deliciously full, complex, powerful being you’re destined to be. If you don’t, not only will Hollywood swallow you up, but so will life.
And I have to tell you: as their friend, I’ve watched Ilana Glazer, 31, and Abbi Jacobson, 34, do the work in both their professional and personal lives. They’ve painstakingly built incredible comedy careers, thanks in part to their decade-old project, Broad City—a show that began as an indie web series and blew up into a five-seasons-long, critically acclaimed, pop-culture touchstone on Comedy Central that they wrote, starred in, produced, and frequently directed. And yes, while the show is coming to an end this year—on Abbi and Ilana’s own terms—and I’m so proud of this amazing body of work they’ve put out, I’m prouder of who they’ve become. They’re smarter, braver, funnier, kinder, more creative, and more politically and socially outspoken than ever. So don’t fret about the show ending. Their solo efforts are already making waves—Jacobson just authored the best-selling essay collection I Might Regret This; and Glazer, who has recently turned in memorable performances in the films Rough Night and The Night Before, is developing several TV projects, including mine for Amazon.
As I’ve seen personally during all the hours I’ve spent with them privately, they continue to mature into inspiring women. And as you’ve probably already guessed, they’re just getting started. For this interview, we got together at my apartment in Brooklyn, British Baekoff made us brunch, and we plotted our next steps for total world domination.
Phoebe: Thanks for coming over! I was gonna cook, but then Baekoff was like, “Let me cook so you’re not stressed before your interview.” So, we’re having a little avocado toast with some scramby eggs and fruit.
Ilana: What an amazing man you’ve got as your partner.
I lucked out, it’s like one-on-one reparations. [everybody laughs] How are you feeling about Broad City ending?
I: We chose for this to be the last season at the end of 2017. It’s such a privileged position, to be choosing the end of a show that struck a chord, you know? So it’s bittersweet. It’s sad, but it’s also exciting and wonderful. It’s a strong choice.
Abbi: Yeah, I feel really good about the decision. We finished shooting two weeks ago. But I haven’t really been able to process it. It doesn’t quite feel over because of the editing part. But I’m so happy we made this decision. The way we ended it feels very right.
Ilana, you just brushed the tiniest crumb from Abbi’s face. It was so sweet. [everybody laughs] You guys have been working together, including on the web series, for 10 years. So it’s probably one of the longest relationships of your adult lives!
I: Absolutely the longest.
But this is not a breakup. You created this wonderful thing together. And now you’re spreading your wings and it’s.... [Phoebe rips a massive belch, everybody laughs]
I: I love it!
A: That was such perfect timing. It was like a pivotal point in the sentence that was very meaningful.
It’s not a parting of ways where you’re never going to see each other again. It’s more like you guys are giving each other the space to grow and create individually. How do you think your relationship is going to change?
I: We’ve spent much of the last 10 years being together every day. So, whenever we stop, it’s so weird. It’s like not seeing your partner, you know? We were weeping on camera two weeks ago. But I’m also so excited to have some fucking space to be friends. Human friends. We’ve had to fill up so much of our time together with work, so I’m very excited to ask Abbi, “What’s going on?” and have it not be about work.
A: Also, we prepared for this by going on hiatus. We had four months not working on Broad City last year when I was in L.A. We’ve been talking so much about other projects that we’re working on. Those always fueled the show, and now we’ll just be supporting one another.
Abbi, in your book, you write about how, when you first sold Broad City, you were like, “I’m going to learn how to write for TV. I’ve never done that before. I’ve never had to direct....” You guys are a testament to learning as you go. I think sometimes people hold themselves back because they think they have to have all the knowledge before they can pursue something.
I: I do think women hold themselves back and I think women are actually better at getting shit done the first time because they’re always under such scrutiny. Women can handle it because they’re used to being, like, “No I got it! Fuck!” And then making it work. Men are often given the opportunity to try new things, but women are told, “I don’t know if she can handle it.” I’m just so proud of us. I do feel like women multi-task more and I’m excited to see women get the opportunity to learn as they go along.
A: There is definitely a level of faking it ‘til you make it. We were thrown into it and had to figure it out. On Season One, we were like, “How does this work? What do we do? Let’s figure it out.” We said it out loud. You have to acknowledge that. And I think that’s the difference between people who are successful and people who aren’t.
I: Amy Poehler has this quote, “Great people do things before they’re ready.” And I always think about that. ‘Cause what does “ready” mean?
What do you think the value has been in you guys just diving in as producers, creators, performers, and writers?
A: We didn’t know the rules so we didn’t follow them. Like the structure of Broad City, besides commercial breaks, is not the same episode to episode.
I: We follow our own rules. And one reason that we’re like, “OK, we gotta end this,” is we began mimicking prior episodes. Shows have their own voices. But we really figured out our own formula. We made something new that we’d never seen before.
Can you speak a little about how you have grown as women over the last 10 years?
I: I’m really enjoying how my brain is starting to connect the dots between relationships and patterns of behavior. Before, these were more like individual data points. Now, I’m able to connect the dots more as a person and as a comedian. When we first started the show, as a web series, and people were calling it “feminist,” it didn’t even register, to be honest. We were just, like, “Oh yeah.” I mean, of course we are strong women and we believe in women and we know what it’s like to be the one woman in a room full of men. But it’s been a privilege to have a raised consciousness about our platform—other people being like, “This is what the show means to me.” When I was younger, I was just putting shit out—stand-up, sketch, improv, video. But lately, it’s really been striking me—I’m an artist. I’m not just a comedian. I’m not just a businessperson. I’m an artist. And as artists, we observe and start to connect the dots so that we can say something about what we’re seeing around us.
People also listen to what you guys say on social media about certain issues like the Women’s March or the midterm elections.
I: I find myself needing to make boundaries for myself so I don’t feel like I’m beholden to posting all the time. Social media is a really useful tool, but it’s also making human consciousness fold in on itself. I’m trying to make more time for no-phone living.
A: I struggle with posting about something I really care about, like the recent fires in California. Uncontrollable fires are the new norm and it’s without a doubt because of global warming. I’m using that as an example because literally every day there’s some tragedy. And I could re-post something every day and acknowledge that I feel this way. But then, I’m not actually doing anything about the thing. It’s like I’m saying, “Well, I want you guys to know that I know about this and I care and I’m on the right side.” But I just pressed a button on my phone. I haven’t done anything. If I donate to something, that’s better, because people who look at my Instagram might donate, too. It has to point to action. Or it should.
You guys do a good job of not just latching onto everything. What you post about is attached to you in a personal way and it feels real.
I: There’s a balance between entertainment and information, action and directives. It’s really wild to get the opportunity to talk about it because I’m, like, ashamed? It’s just this thing you do between you and your phone—posting. And talking about it out loud feels idiotic, actually. But it’s not idiotic. It’s actually the most powerful immediate tool that I use the most. It’s really helpful to talk about it.
How do you think your comedy voices have evolved over the course of the show?
A: We were telling stories in Seasons One and Two, but they were very different. I love that you can see the show really change as you see these characters growing up. They are getting deeper, they tell more intense stories. In the beginning, they were rougher, faster, and sillier, and now there’s more. They have more to talk about, more to deal with.
I: And individually—I learned most of my comedy skills through Broad City. I didn’t even know what I stood for before. I was just doing my thing and now I’ve become more aware of all these different parts of myself. Like, my character used to joke, “Everyone’s gonna be caramel and queer.” That was a joke that Ilana was telling on the show, but like, that’s not a joke. It’s fully true, and it’s happening. Something I say often is, “There are no jokes.” I used to say things like, “I really want to go out with you...just kidding!” Nobody says that, but just like: There are no jokes.
I did that with Baekoff when we first started dating. I texted, “I can come visit you in Portland when you’re off the road.” And then I wrote, “LOL.” I was so scared, I was trying to defuse it, but I fully meant it.
I: All the stuff about our identities—race, ethnicity, queerness, straightness. All these things that used to be a joke—they’re actually becoming vehicles for story rather than like, some off-the-cuff [fart noise] fartin’ it out joke. It’s exciting to take elements of my characters more seriously. Not serious as in void of comedy. Serious as in acknowledging how rich and beautiful these parts of myself are. They’re not just parts of myself that slipped out like a fart. This is the core of who Iam. And having Abbi as a partner through this—it’s what makes this possible.
A: We were these hyper-amplified versions of ourselves. And now, we’ve been asking, “Wait, who are we? Who are the actual Abbi and Ilana?” This is one of the main things I was writing about. I needed to write the book because I needed to distinguish myself from Abbi the character, even though we’re so similar. I’ve been asking, What is the difference between me and her? This other person has been defining me, but I’m not exactly her.
I: It’s true. We’ve been creating these alternate versions of ourselves, and those are fucking real to us. We live and breathe them. We choose their clothes. We choose their apartments and the way that they move through a space. We’re enacting them. We’re getting in their brains. When we’re editing, we choose between their actions—it’s bizarre.
When you were talking about “caramel and queer,” it made me think about ’90s sitcoms. Like on Friends, there was so much gay panic, where the joke was that two men were hugging. It’s so weird.
I: I used to do this stand-up bit with Sex and the City and it’s the same with Friends and Seinfeld. The absence of people of color is eerie. It’s eerie! And the gay panic is also crazy, ‘cause Chandler was fluid. So was Ross. And Phoebe. I love the term “gay panic,” because it was like [makes freaking out, panicking noises]—I WAS PUTTING MY COAT ON. AND I DIDN’T MEAN TO TOUCH YOUR BUTT! And that counted as a joke!
Broad City is so respectful of people just being who they are and liking who they like and that’s why it’s a really important show for millennials to have.
I: It’s so kind of you to recognize this about our show, but also, this is who we are. Do we even deserve credit?
It’s not about deserving credit. It’s about allowing that space to exist. Society is growing, and comedy is certainly growing. I’m sure when I was young I would have laughed at the “Oh my God, two guys hugging,” joke.
I: It was just recently that gay panic was a legitimate joke on “Must-See-TV Thursdays.” That was so recent! That was our childhoods. Anita Hill was so recent. So we got to this place on Comedy Central and then it was like, Ugh what a relief! To be able to make this fucking space. To take up space for this idea of inclusion.
I know we don’t have that much time left....
I: I am gonna poop here.
Oh, I need to fart.
I: Cool. [Phoebe releases a small fart] Oh, that was little. [laughs] I’m, like, tempering my anus right now.
A: Ilana, I love that you checked your phone first. Why did you do that? She checked her phone and was like, “I am gonna poop.” [everyone laughs]
I: Just checking my poop app.
A: What are you checking?
I: Well, we’ll go to about 11. And I’m thinking, It’ll take me three minutes to poop...so I’m just timing myself.
I just have a few more questions left. I want you guys to look into the future and tell me what you envision for your lives 10 years from now.
I: In 10 years, I hope to have the slate of work that I’m brewing up now completed. I hope to have a better work/life balance where I get out of the city regularly. And I think I’m gonna have kids. I want to make production more inclusive and get the next generation of people started on their projects. I can help usher them in through my experience. You know, it’s just Broad City, but I could say, This is how we did it. I hope to share that knowledge.
A: Yeah, me too. I hope to work with people who I can potentially help while still doing my own stuff. I want to write, act, produce, direct, and do longer-form writing. I like essays and I want to try fiction. And I really wanna get back into visual art. It just feels a little quieter and I definitely need that balance.
Final question. What do you each love most about the other and what are you going to miss most about the other?
I: Her ass. Oh, her ass. [everyone laughs]
A: I think what I love most about Ilana is the openness that she has to people and to ideas. When I met you, I was like, “Oh my God, this person is hysterical, but also, a genius.” You know what I mean? You were cracking me up, saying stuff like, “caramel and queer, baby,” but you were also predicting the future like this little wizard.
I: A quizzard.
A: Ilana’s very honest in who she is and she helps other people feel that way about themselves. That’s my favorite thing. What I’m gonna miss most is the silliness. The ridiculousness. It’s not that far away from us when we really hang. But I’ll miss embodying those versions of us.
I: One thing I love most about Abbi is her excitement about creation—her enthusiasm about artistically nurturing something. I really learned how to be and feel like an artist from Abbi, and I’ve learned so much about taking myself seriously as an artist. She’s such a dreamer. I’ve always been really inspired by Abbi’s capacity to dream big. And what I’m going to miss most is—on set, just hugging her, and getting in her hair, rubbing her little back. I just love to touch her. I need to make sure I have plenty of that in the days ahead.
By Phoebe Robinson // Photographed by Nadya Wasylko // Styling by Rachel Gilman // Makeup by Kerrie Jordan // Nails by Chiharu Natsume // Hair by Peter Butler using Phyto USA @ Tracey Mattingly
Top Photo: ON ABBI: SIMON MILLER JACKET; A PEACE TREATY SWEATER; RACHEL COMEY PANTS. ON ILANA: VEDA LEATHER JACKET; PH5 DRESS.
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2019 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!
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