Broad City is one of the funniest shows on television. Uncomfortable and smart, the show dares to talk about race, sex, and gender.
On its surface, Broad City is yet another story about twentysomething girls living in New York City, trying to figure out who they are. That theme has been all over TV — and especially cable — these last few years. But beneath that, this is a show about being a messy person, growing up, and learning how to function in society. The second season premieres tonight on Comedy Central, and you can dive in, even if you haven't seen season one.
I sat down with Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, the creators, writers, and stars of Broad City, in October to talk about how they created their characters and how women are portrayed on television. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Kelsey McKinney: The fictional Abbi and Ilana feel like real people, unlike a lot of women on TV. They have flaws and are unmotivated. What was the process of creating these characters?
Abbi Jacobson: My gut instinct is to say that I wish there were a logic behind the construction of the characters. But really, we based them on us, and they're extensions of us, so it always starts there. And then... do that percentage thing. [motions at Glazer]
Ilana Glazer: I just wanna say, we construct our female characters the same as our male characters, and men are minimized in their representation in media as well. Minimized. They look like assholes, and they look like dummies on a lot of media.
And the other thing is that we consider these characters a scary 15 percent of ourselves that we blow up to the full 100 percent.
AJ: So it's mostly the 15 percent of ourselves that are the most different.
IG: Because you know, we have to have a lot of overlap to be able to work together. I feel like when we first met, we were drawn to each other, because we had similar values. This is somewhat of a marriage, so it was really about connecting, whereas what made us laugh about ourselves were the moments in which were just, like [raises hands at Abbi], "agree to disagree." We have differences that we're not going to solve, and we don't want to sand each other's edges. We like each other's edges.
I think it's about pluralism and duality. Like yes they have motivation, but also, for example, Abbi in [the episode] "Working Girls" will skip work to get a package. But then on the phone with her mom coming home, she wants to be a good girl to her mom, you know?
I think men and women in television and in film get one side of things. Really, it's much more interesting to see both sides. With these girls, you're seeing two sides of women in their 20s. Isn't that more interesting than [in a sing-song voice] "All the girls are the same. All the boys are the same."
Everybody can relate to sadness and happiness.
AJ: We also talk about, these characters are us before we started doing the web series. We play younger on the show, but it's us even younger than we play.
IG: We met when we were 19 and 22, and Broad City gave us this purpose and this agency that its hard to remember pre-Broad City, not because of getting to have a cool interview with Kelsey, but because of the agency that we have.
AJ: But when we write the characters, the situations they end up in, Abbi and Ilana now would...
IG: We would never! We would be, like,"It's dangerous! Get outta there!"
AJ: The choices we make for them are very different, and we have to remember that we didn't know yet what exactly we wanted. Or that that is a responsible thing to do, or that is completely inappropriate. But those are the most fun things to play and to write about.
You asked about our female characters, but I think the Lincoln character [played by Hannibal Buress] is more us now. He's sort of the voice of reason to the girls, but also it's so fun to get to write a character for a guy that is responsible and an amazing character.
IG: And we know a lot of guys like this too in our real lives. A lot of the guys I know are so smart, and they have this high emotional intellect.
AJ: Even the [Matt] Bevers character [played by John Gemberling], who is the most annoying person in the fucking world, and then he'll turn and say something so smart. We love to show that duality where when I walk in on him, he's saying something into the phone that is so intelligent, but the way he presents himself and lives isn't that way. His social cues are, like, not there, but it's so fun to get to play all of those things.
IG: Sometimes, he is both the things at different times, but sometimes he is both at one time. I feel like Abbi does this really well. She'll act two emotions at the same time really well.
KM: You said you both play yourselves as younger than you are. That's really interesting because both of your characters on the show are floundering at times, but you are both highly successful women who are running a TV show. That itself is a very interesting duality.
IG: It feels fucking insane sometimes, and we feel like the characters on the show.
AJ: I do. I feel like them.
IG: We ask ourselves, why aren't we doing this eloquently? Why aren't we doing this without anxiety? But you know, because you have to go through it first. We'll do it eloquently later, but we sometimes feel nuts.
AJ: To be able to expose or write about floundering and messiness, you have to have gone through it. We're definitely still floundering and messy, and there's definitely shit where I'm like, "That was inappropriate, what I just did there." But it's not so with these characters. They wear their mess on their sleeves, and they're a lot more bold with these emotions and those actions. And we are just ... six years older.
IG: We are. I think we are trying harder than the characters. Abbi and Ilana on the show allow us, the businesswomen, writers, and creators, to make mistakes and think they are funny, rather than flog ourselves. I'm grateful to the characters for that.