Last night at Kaufman Concert Hall, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer–the friends, writers, producers, and comedic trailblazers behind Broad City--talked with another stage and screen talent, Amy Ryan (who was a guest star on the show last season as a Park Slope mom). The 92nd Street Y venue is not small, but it was packed; this should not be a surprise to anyone who is privy to the cult of Abbi and Ilana, which consists of, well, pretty much everyone who has watched 5 minutes of it. Broad City, which covers the friendship and misadventures of Abbi and Ilana’s younger twenty-something selves in New York City is critically acclaimed beyond being popularly adored, and so was unsurprisingly renewed this winter for a third season on Comedy Central.
But despite the duo’s glowing reviews, it was still somewhat surprising to see, sprinkled among the throngs of 20- and 30-year-old ticket-holders who had trained it from Brooklyn to the Upper East Side, many people who were not just in the Upper East Side, but of it, and whose houndstooth blazers and kitten heels were as far away from Abbi’s naked Lady Gaga dancing tendencies as one could get. And yet: There they were. And they were just as excited to get to their seats and watch Jacobson and Glazer break it down as the outer borough audience members. Amy Ryan made perfect sense of this phenomenon when she assessed Abbi and Ilana’s gift to their audience: “There are young people and old people who just can’t get enough of your show because I think it portrays the truth of women, and friendships, and again, of New York. It’s like a tonic we didn’t even know we were missing. It’s like, where have you been all our lives? But thank god you’re here.”
Sitting down with Ryan–Jacobson in red heels and a roomy dress with an outer space-esque pattern, and Glazer in a short white dress and brown booties–the performers delivered one-liners which were a refreshing reminder that, no matter how scripted their show (which, very) and no matter how meticulously they produce and polish it, Abbi and Ilana met doing improv at Upright Citizen’s Brigade; it was only when they began doing a web series on their own that Amy Poehler caught wind of their talent and helped boost them onto TV. But the improv background came through at the times when Ryan would open a question with something like: “A while ago I saw a great documentary,” and Glazer would quickly interject, in a monotone goofiness, “Me too,” like she had known all along what Ryan was going to say.
At times, it felt like the crowd was laughing at things that were not even meant to be funny, just for the pleasure of hearing Abbi or Ilana say it, but this was understandable—it feels like forever since the last episode of Broad City aired. And the women were themselves: relaxed, honest, pretty outrageous, and frighteningly quick. And so, in the spirit with which Ryan closed the evening by looking ahead (“I know Broad City is just the tip of the iceberg; you guys are so smart and talented, and I can’t wait to see what you’re going to do after this, together, and separately, and on an on and on, until you’re old ladies on the Upper East Side”), we give you the ten best moments from last night to tide you over till season three of Broad City starts, or to get you excited if you’ve never watched before. And if you haven’t? As Ryan aptly said, “We are envious you are about to discover them.”
Abbi and Ilana’s parents love their creative daughters: “Our moms text each other all the time,” said Ilana, whose own parents were in the audience. “They’re like, did you see this. They’re so open minded.” This seems especially generous for parents who have watched their daughters wear strap-ons, stuff weed in their private parts, and have sex with an unconscious Seth Rogen (at times, an act called by another name). “They’re just, like, stoked,” said Ilana. “They’re not like, ‘That was weird, they’re just like [points ahead, pretending to be parents watching the show], ‘Ha, ha, ha!’ They’re just thrilled we’re on TV in the first place. They’re so accepting.”
You can call them by their names on the street and they will pretend like they know you: “For a tiny bit we wrote the script [for Broad City] for FX and we had different names—Carly and Evelyn,” said Abbi, pointing first to herself then Ilana. “But then our producer walks in and he was like, ‘I think you should have your names.’ We knew that it did need to be that, but it’s like, ugggh, that’s like, our names. We were like pretending that it does not have to be our names, but it does.” If you happen to spot Abbi and Ilana in Brooklyn—where it is possible you will spot them tooling around—since you know their names, you can give them a shout. “It’s a very weird thing. If you watch our show, they just say your name. It legit takes me so long to understand if somebody legit knows me.”
They will make you believe that you, too, can make things up, put it on Internet, and get famous: It might seem rote by now that a person can put herself on YouTube, or Vimeo, build up millions of followers, and proceed to become famous based on her own tenacity, as well as money-backed organizations with influence. Uh, it’s just that simple, right? Well, maybe? Abbi and Ilana reiterate the power of the Internet, stressing that it can, if you put in enough effort, help you get the exposure you need with things you just made up with your friends at home: “I do love that people that like the show know the way the show came about. Just the fact that you can find friends and make something, and then who the fuck knows?” said Abbi. “I like that this can happen. Just make stuff! And then see what happens.”
In spite of their success, they long for a time before the Internet (and their own fame): Abbi and Ilana have become famous. And now that they have their own show, they have to mine material all the time from their own lives and turn it into TV. We are lucky for this, but it can be tiresome, they say. “The characters on the show are just enjoying life and don’t have some larger agenda that capitalizes on that fun,” said Ilana. “Every time I have fun I’m like [makes mocking thumb-writing gesture] ‘hee-hee-hee!.’ We email like ‘Ideas’ in a subject, or like, ‘Experiences.’ People didn’t used to email ‘Experiences’! “I love the way the characters live their lives,” Abbi added with with a genuine wistfulness. “I want to do that more!”
Broad City is the new Ambien for nervous flyers (according to Amy Ryan, that is): You could pop pills and forget you were ever on a flight—or you could download Broad City and wish your travels never ended, like Amy Ryan did last year. “I’m a nervous flyer, and I had to travel a lot last year. The one thing that got me through it was watching your show,” she said to Abbi and Ilana. “‘What do you mean we’re landing!’ I was looking forward to these flights I had to take to Atlanta through hurricanes because it truly was therapeutic to just keep laughing and laughing out loud.”
You will understand why the apartment on Friends had to be unrealistically enormous (it has to do with genitals): Abbi and Ilana are concerned with the authentic–portraying what life really, truly feels and looks like in New York. So when they started filming, they wanted to absolutely convey just how tiny the living quarters are for twenty-somethings making a go of it in this abusively expensive city. But realities of television production won the day: “When we started the show we were like, ‘These apartments need to be tiny, ok, tiny. Really tiny.’ And it’s like, you don’t want to, like, smell camera peoples’ genitals. And then we did it and we were like, ‘Gotcha.'”
The Internet and TV don’t portray real people, but Broad City does: It’s a weird shame that men get to be messy and act irresponsible publicly, or at least they do on the Internet and TV, but for women to do the same is considered kind of distasteful. Or a grab for attention. Or false. In real life every one is messy and irresponsible and crude. It doesn’t mean you’re the odd woman out, it means you’re a woman. So Abbi and Ilana wanted to make sure to portray this reality–that women can be hilarious and put-together, and also not put-together at all and do weird sexual things, and still (kind of) hold down jobs and have friends and at least romantic interests, if not boyfriends. But that’s the other important thing: Broad City is about the women, the broads first. “It’s just true to our lives,” said Abbi. “I think the central focus of the show is this friendship, so those other relationships (with men) were always going to take a backseat. They exist but that’s not what we’re focusing on.”
“It’s a bummer that it’s such a shock,” said Ilana. “Once we started making the show, I’ve seen so many other TV and movies where women are just like so often yappy, and not giving any information, and the story is not moving forward, and it’s a bummer that so much media is still stuck in the 90s. It shouldn’t be that way. I don’t think TV and film reflect reality most of the time.”
Despite appearances, Abbi and Ilana do write with a moral code: There is regularly material on the show that shocks. There seem to be very few boundaries Abbi and Ilana will not cross. On the contrary, they say. “Sometimes you pitch something horrible that you don’t want to do, that you want the other person to do, but you just gotta say it,” said Ilana. “But we definitely have ethical boundaries [the audiences laughs here], and weirdly all the things that you named (peeing out a condom, watching penises bounce at the West Fourth Street basketball courts), it’s like, those are your ethical boundaries? But you see guys go down on these gals a lot on the show, blow job angles from girls in one scene, and it’s like, ‘Ok, we don’t have to do another one of those.’ We just have certain ethics that guide the writing. A lot goes into that. More than you would think.”
Abbi has never eaten a hamburger and Ilana want to go to France with Amy Ryan: It’s on Abbi’s bucket list but it hasn’t happened. Life is art (specifically for them), so it seems possible we could have the privilege of watching the big moment in season three. “I’m saving it for the right moment,” said Abbi. “I think it’s a fun thing to throw a party and do. I’ve been polling people where to do it. I don’t think I want to eat two hamburgers, but just one.” Ilana’s bucket list sounds strangely similar to that of a fourteen year old girl. “I took French in middle school and high school and I wanna take French classes and like go to France and use it,” she revealed. Then Amy Ryan said she should go to France with Ilana, after explaining that her bucket list is more of a “should” list. “Yes, you should do that. I agree,” Ilana added.
The read-through for the final scripts of season three was this morning, and if Abbi and Ilana’s improvisational showing last night was any indication of what’s in store, we should be excited: Last night was a little peek into what Abbi and Ilana must have been like before they were famous, when they were just goofs on stage improvising, trying to get selected for UCB parts. And it was also a peek into why they rose to the next tier of comedy: They are really, truly, in-the-moment funny. A fan named Stephanie wrote and asked: If you could be a piñata, what shape would you be and what would you be filled with? Ilana answered in one second, “Oh my god: I would be a classic, like, donkey piñata, filled with loose Nerds.” The audiences erupted. The certainty was so immediate for something so strange. “It’s a mess!” she said. It didn’t seem like Abbi could top that, but she managed to equal it, at least. “Maybe I’d be like a ball, like a basketball. And then, what if I was filled with cotton candy? It would just kind of fall down.”