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We Spoke to the Stars of 'Broad City' About the Writers' Room and Working with Amy Poehler

"We literally crack up writing it."

by Hanna Hanra
Feb 24 2015, 3:00pm

Screen shot via Comedy Central

"Are you up to date with Broad City?" seems to be the bones of most bar conversations right now. The Comedy Central show is a true departure in female-centric comedy, and every woman I know can't get enough. Maybe because it's the polar opposite of that other famous show about young women trying to navigate adulthood in New York, Girls, which, while valuable in its own right, sort of hinges on them all not really liking one another very much. Broad City is also a retreat from any other film or TV show that places romantic plots and stunted careers in the foreground over meaningful female relationships.

Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer demonstrate what so many women actually experience in their 20s: loads of disappointing one-night stands and unfulfilling working days that peak in the five-minute breaks you take in the disabled toilet to inspect your ingrown pubes. You get stoned, drink reduced-price alcohol the color of urine, and laugh about it all on video chat because, well, that's all you can afford or deserve. And it's fine, because you have each other.

In the show, Abbi is a struggling illustrator who earns her rent money as a cleaner, wiping up post-class pukes at an equivalent of Soul Cycle. Super-stoner Ilana works at a sales agency—"Deals Deals Deals"—where she rejoices in long morning shits before falling asleep on the toilet (she even brings her own pillow) and seems to have a special knack for pissing everyone off. From the outset, you expect Ilana to be the hedonistic one, but it's Abbi who loses a condom inside of her and later melts her neighbor's bespoke strap-on. Ilana is the one who smuggles out, ninja-style, a colossal turd that Abbi blocks a toilet with. Find me a better metaphor for true friendship, and I'll clean your kitchen with my fingernails.

Pop culture has been desperate for proper, imperfect female leads for ages. But instead of vaguely "indie" Hollywood actresses pretending to be struggling, Abbi and Ilana aren't caricatures. They're real-life friends who wear tuxedos they've stolen from catering jobs to weddings, cycle down Fifth Avenue with no pants on, and you believe they've seen their fair share of free-loading, sofa-sore-covered roommate boyfriends. They're writing for themselves, and you believe it.

That Broad City began life as a series of YouTube skits and is now executively produced by Amy Poehler is a remarkable trajectory, but when you watch the show, it makes total sense. No one does the exploring-real-female-imperfections-without-painful-self-loathing thing like Poehler does. Or at least no one did until now. After months of trying to track them down, VICE caught 15 whole minutes between bong hits (kidding—it was 10 AM) with the duo, whom you can genuinely imagine hosting something like the Golden Globes one day, Poehler and Tina Fey theatrically doffing their invisible caps in the wings.

VICE: Hi, guys. What was the transition from YouTube to Comedy Central like?
Abbi Jacobson: Interesting. We knew that our characters' dynamic was the thing that wouldn't change—we just had to build the worlds around them, asking: What and who are we going to see from their lives on a regular basis? Basically, it was a question of how to go from making something that was three to five minutes long translate into 21 minutes. We decided that, for the most part, every episode would be the equivalent of a day. It's a good limitation to have—each episode is like an adventure.

Broad City stood out to me, like everyone else, because it paints a very real picture of the world right from the get-go. You're not fucking around.
Ilana Glazer: I think that was part of the tone from the web series. We still had to learn about story arc and building a world, and that's a huge part of it. It's like the cross between "life is crap" and wonderment. The city is so gross and throws shitty things at them, and that's part of the humor, but the other side of that coin is that they love the city and it's still exciting for them to live there. They are suburban transplants, so even when the city is gnarly, they are grateful to consider themselves New Yorkers.

Ilana making the most of great fitting-room lighting

How much of your own lives are echoed in the characters?
Jacobson: We used a few specifics from our lives: our names, where we are from, where we went to college. They were just fun ways that we get to shout out to those places. Ilana's from Long Island, and I'm from outside Philadelphia, so why not use the specifics of those places to make the characters funnier? We know them so well. When we come up with stuff, we talk about our own lives and then heighten those situations.

For instance, Ilana's job. It's like, how is she even still working there? The company she works at is based on this company called Life Booker where we both (and actually one of our directors) worked. So we heightened both the company and how we felt there—as long as we got a deal, the rest of the day was up for grabs. We flew under the radar a little bit. Ilana does just enough to make it by. That's a great example of how we use a personal experience.

Presumably you then take those real-life details to the extreme.
Glazer: Yeah. When we take real detail, the height to where we take it is where we find our brand of absurdity. For us, starting in the real place is what makes it so absurd. It's funny that it's relatable after it's been blown out of proportion.

Jacobson: I guess everyone has had that worst-case scenario, too. We just look at how we would feel and then heighten it.

It's not just you two writing everything, right? It must be exciting working with a team.
Glazer: Yeah! We got to hire some of our closest friends and peers, which has kept the show fresh. When you have a connection with someone it really shows. On screen you can really see, I think, that we are all real friends, and I think the writing feels like it's written by people who have real connections—we literally crack up writing it.

What's the atmosphere like in the writers' room?
Jacobson: Most of the stuff that ends up on the show does so because we were hysterically laughing at it. There's so much stuff that doesn't make it on, so if something does, it really means we had a lot of fun writing it. Most of the writers have come from a performance background; they're very playful. Sometimes we act something out and the writers have to play the other characters. It's hard work, but it's so much fun that we get to work with our friends and people we admire.

Do you still have time to hang out with the same friends you had pre–Broad City?
Glazer: Abbi and I each have an amazing circle of friends from home, college, and comedy, and those circles intersect more the longer we know each other. It's lovely to meet new people and new friends that you want to collaborate with, but the whole reaction to the show is really overwhelming. I cling to my old friends because of this newness. It's really relieving to have a good base. It doesn't matter what changes around you when you can be like, "Oh, hi, friends. I'm just an idiot joking around."

How did you get Amy Poehler involved?
Glazer: We invited her to be in the last episode of the web series. We really hit it off and asked her if she wanted to be attached to our project. We were starting to pitch it and had written a pilot and she said yes. We didn't expect her to, but we had to ask so we could say that we had asked. We just clicked. We had a similar work value. Since then it's been incredible to have her experience and her bird's-eye view on things.

When do we get more Broad City, then?
Jacobson: We start working this spring on writing the third season. I think it's going to come out the same time as the second season, like, January time.

Thank God.

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