broader than broadway: meeting the duo behind our favourite comedy

In an industry populated with men, Ilana and Abbi stand proud of the comedy pack, two young women whose work is a progressive and interesting comedy masterpiece that explores the often ugly, sometimes funny, truth behind being a 20something in New York.

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23 November 2017, 4:26am

Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, the writers and stars of HBO’s sitcom Broad City, are the forward-thinking face of US comedy. As an industry historically over-populated by white men with insecurity complexes begins to fray at the seams, there’s space for progressive, interesting work. Et voila, Broad City. A masterpiece of New York comedy that encapsulates the daily struggles in millennial culture without patronising or pandering to them. It’s also hilarious. While proudly political and refreshingly clear when it comes to tackling issues of sex and inequality, Abbi and Ilana are, at their core, just really really funny. If you’ve watched previous seasons you’ll be familiar with their unique blend of absurd humour and physical comedy. As a duo they hit a magical balance between imaginative, insightful and impulsive. In season 4 they grapple with employment, imaginary relationships and male circumcision, and that’s about 4 minutes into an episode.

i-D caught up with the pair to discuss the new season, their influences and the most useful jobs they’ve ever had.

Heading into season four, what past aspects did you want to continue and what did you want to do differently?
Abbi: Every time we approach a new season, it’s like -- where are we at? What are we interested in saying? This year, the main thing we shifted was the actual season. We usually shoot in the summer but we realised we're making a show about New York City, so we have to do at least one season in winter. That informed a lot of our creative brainstorming; it's colder, it's darker.

What are some of the things you associate with winter in New York as opposed to summer?
Ilana: a lot of the tone of the show has been dictated by weather -- I’ve felt really horny, flirty, fast, outward and cocky in the sun. On the other hand, winter in New York can be really depressing, solitary, cold and dark. That was the shift we were looking at, which really sets the tone for plot lines and character changes.

How much of your content comes from real life experiences, and how much is you both just coming up with the most ludicrous ideas you could have?
Abbi: Most of our best storylines start with something very truthful, whether it happened to us, a friend, or a friend of a friend. Then we either completely change it around, tighten it up or flip it somehow.

Every season has been political in its own way, but last season was explicitly political. Why did you make that decision?
Ilana: When the election happened, I think there was a big shift in the world’s perspective and for us that meant going from implicit political messaging to explicit. It’s not like every episode is necessarily related to politics, it’s more the characters and the importance of articulating beliefs, intentions and motivations. As real friends, we were talking about the election, like holy fucking shit -- is this really happening? Is this where our country’s at? And the characters are doing the same.

You have the same names as your characters -- how much of yourselves are they? Do you improvise a lot of the script or is it all very specific by the time you start filming?
Abbi: It’s extremely scripted. We pretty much write and rewrite every season countless times. But we also came up doing improv, so when we’re on set we do the scripted version but allow ourselves to improvise. Essentially it’s versions of ourselves. We know these characters very well -- they're the core of us. We’ll take our insecurities and heighten them. Our characters are a slice of us both, 15% or 20% of our real selves blown up and filled out to make a full 100% human.

"Essentially it’s versions of ourselves. We know these characters very well — they're the core of us. We’ll take our insecurities and heighten them. Our characters are a slice of us both, 15% or 20% of our real selves blown up and filled out to make a full 100% human."

What is it about female friendship that you find so significant and interesting, and how much is related to your real life friendship?
Abbi: We started to do the show we were on an improv team together and we hit it off immediately. When we started doing a web show together we didn't sit down and say, ‘Wow, we have an incredible female relationship,’ we just knew our dynamic was really funny. Both of us have a lot of other friends, and we make friends individually, but this one felt different, new and really funny.

I just watched the episode where Ilana becomes the hostess with the mostess at a Sushi restaurant. What is the worst job either of you have ever had?
Ilana: I waitressed for so many years. I actually think it is a great job, it's fucking hard. I’ve had shitty gigs, but waitressing is so empowering and it was like, ‘Fuck, I have this cash, time is money.' Our writer and director once said that waitressing is the best practice for directing, and I feel the same way about show-running. It’s such good practice for being on set. But that waitressing shit is hard, it almost makes you older and that the same way I feel about show-running a show -- you age at a faster rate.

Abbi: Once you start waitressing for real and you click into it, you're like, 'Oh, this is a game.' You have to know exactly how to be, you have to figure out each table, each personality, and how you can manage the situation at every table. You finish the day and you're exhausted, you feel it in your feet.

Who would you cite as your main early influences?
Abbi: I was really influenced by early SNL, Gilda Radner and Jane Curtain. I also loved Whoopi Goldberg. We talk about the show Roseanne a lot.

Ilana: Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were my earliest influences -- I Love Lucy was on Nick At Nite when I was a kid, and I also had these VHS tapes I ruined because I watched them over and over. Everyone who Abbi said, too -- she and I definitely connected through our common influences. I watched so much TV as a kid -- Seinfeld, The Simpsons, The Nanny, Fresh Prince, The Wayans Bros, and cartoons.

Would you do a Broad City movie? Or do you prefer the 20-minute format?
Abbi: I don't know if we'd do a Broad City movie, it works so well right now within the confines of a 21:15 episode. Who knows what the future holds, but it's exciting to work within those guidelines, it has allowed us to test what we can do within the limitations of a half hour.

Ilana: I believe my dynamic with Abbi would translate into other mediums, but as far as the project Broad City goes, I see it as the format it is in now, yes.

How do you pick your celebrity cameos and do you have any dream guests for the future?
Abbi and Ilana: We usually write the episode and cast afterwards, but we definitely have so many actors who we would love to work with. It's all about what feels right for the show.

This article originally appeared on i-D UK.