Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer expand upon their popular web series with Comedy Central’s hilarious Broad City, premiering Jan. 22 at 10:30pm ET/PT.
Broad City is very funny, and has, for me, a Seinfeldian feel to some of it. The series expands upon Glazer and Jacobson’s shorter Broad City web sketches and strings humorous concepts together in each episode to chronicle the fictionalized lives of the two young women in New York City. Like Seinfeld, the characters aren’t always necessarily doing likeable things — and, in fact, can be self-absorbed — but you still have fun visiting with them.
Broad City hits the airwaves just as HBO’s Girls has recently begun its new season, and while this show may initially draw comparisons with Girls, it really has a different feel, with more of a sketch-comedy atmosphere about it while still telling a full story in each episode. Amy Poehler, no stranger to great sketch comedy, is notably behind this project, serving as an executive producer, and directing and guest-starring in an episode.
Poehler also serves as a mentor of sorts to the two young women behind the scenes, as Abbi and Ilana told me in a recent interview. Abbi and Ilana are alumna of the Upright Citizens Brigade sketch/improv troupe, which Poehler co-founded, and Abbi told me that, “We tried to bring as many people from that world as we could.”
During our chat, the two were as fun and sharp as their exaggerated characters are on the series. Here are some highlights from our conversation.
How did you go about expanding your web series into a TV series?
Ilana Glazer: Abbi and I had made 18 episodes in the first [web] season, and we were looking to the second season as a mini-TV show. We wanted to release content regularly, where it was more consistent than the first season. We had bigger scenes, we had this miniseries within the second season called Hack into Broad City, which was episodes about video chatting. We just had more cohesion in the second season. [Our manager] said, “This could be a TV show. You guys should write a pilot.” And we hadn’t pictured it as this expanded TV show. And it clicked. We were like, “Listen, we’ll do whatever the hell you say. We’ll write a pilot.” But [we did it] before the second web TV season game out, [and] it kind of all garbled at the same time.
Abbi Jacobson: So we had this pilot written, and then when we were shooting the last episode of our second season we knew we wanted to go out to L.A. and try to pitch this pilot, and at the same time we were shooting this [web] finale we wanted to try get somebody in it and we thought of Amy Poehler because she co-founded the UCB. We asked her through a friend. She said yes to being in the web episode. And then we met her and we really hit it off, and then we ended up asking her if she would ever consider being a producer on the TV version. And she said yes, which was completely insane and amazing. … So we ended up going out to L.A. as we had planned, but now we had Amy Poehler attached. Obivously an incredible addition. And we sold it. It’s just been pretty amazing.
The episodes I’ve seen almost seem like sketches run together to very effectively form a cohesive storyline. Is that what you planned, and will all the episodes be like that?
Abbi: That’s exactly kind of how we pitched it. We wanted it to retain some of the weblike qualities — short little vignettes, but have them threaded together through a 21-minute episode.
Ilana: We talked during the process of making it, of “straddling.”
Abbi: But we mix it up a little bit as the season goes on. There’s some more stylized episodes. I think it veers a little bit away from feeling sketchlike. We’re just trying to keep it feeling diverse and feel like a fun surprise every episode, every act, every scene.
How close are the stories in “Broad City” to experiences in your own lives? The characters on the show are named Abbi and Ilana. Are these fictionalized versions of yourselves?
Abbi: We’re definitely exaggerated versions of ourselves. We try to make it a point in the writers room — we have four other writers with us — and most of the storylines, I think, derive from us, come from truth. It’s either us or one of the writers’ stories that we go off of.
Ilana: It’s stories that we either experienced ourselves or heard. We find it most creatively fruitful for ourselves [that way]. Either we experienced one of these things, or a writer did, or they just heard about one of their friends doing it. That’s were we start from, to plant the story in reality.
The chemistry between you two on the show is great, and a lot of fun. How close are you in real life? Have you known each other a while, and do you hang out in your personal lives?
Abbi: We actually really don’t get along [both laugh].
Ilana: We are very good friends. We met in 2007 in an improv practice group within the UCB community. … I grew up in Long Island, Abbi grew up outside of Philly. … We see each other every day and talk constantly. We hang out, but mostly, just because we have so much to do, work always is sort of part of it.
Abbi: Having space allows us to feel like, “Ah, I have things to tell you from my weekend.”
Where did the title “Broad City” come from? “Broad” can be a derogatory term, so why that word?
Ilana: We came up with this term when I was working a day job. Abbi was working a day job herself. She met me after my work at a Barnes & Noble on 5th ave and, like, 40 something. We were gathering, bit by bit, ideas for this new world we wanted to create, and, kind of microcosmic of our creative dynamic, Abbi was saying different names. … Like, GIRL this. Like, ABCDEFG. [Then she said] Broad City. I’m like, “Oh shit, that’s the one.” And she said, “No, we need to keep going,” and I said, “No, I think that’s the one.” It was very early in the brainstorming. Abbi’s like, “Let me keep going.” I’m like, “No, bitch, go back to Broad City.” It’s a kind of classic word. It can be said in a derogatory way. It can also be reclaimed and said stronger. It also means New York is a broad city full of opportunity.
So many series have taken place in New York. Is it hard to find New York-set storylines that don’t seem derivative?
Abbi: For us, a main thing was the city is a huge character. We made it a thing, we shot outside so much. It’s something we set out to do [to show our New York].
Ilana: How can anything even be new? We wanted to find the Broad City version of x, y and z. We wanted to crystalize what the Broad City world is.
How many episodes of the TV show are there, and will you make any more “Broad City” web episodes?
Ilana: There are 10 TV episodes. We’re not going to make webisodes in the same way that we did before, but there definitely will be exclusive web content from the creation of the TV show. … We really like owe it to our base of fans. It really grew from them.
As a producer, what sort of input has Amy Poehler given you?
Abbi: Throughout the whole writing period Amy’s on all the notes calls, she directed the finale episode of the show, and she’s also in it. She just gives feedback on all the stuff, and she has a broader view of the series, and our careers. She’s a great role model in this industry. … She’s like this mogul. She’s sort of calm and just like a boss bitch.
Broad City premieres Jan. 22 at 10:30pm ET/PT on Comedy Central.
(l-r): Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson of Broad City — Linda Kallerus/Comedy Central