clock menu more-arrow no yes
Estelle Caswell / Vox

A guide to Broad City’s weird and wonderful world of jokes

TV comedies love callbacks, running jokes, and hidden Easter eggs. In this video, we explain the difference between those three devices — and how Comedy Central's Broad City uses them all to make its fictional world weirder and more wonderful with every episode.

Broad City is a hilarious, profane delight. Since its Comedy Central premiere in 2014, the series has breathed life and a take-no-shit attitude into the New York City hangout comedy, an old standby that was flailing before stars Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson got a hold of it.

But make no mistake: The show's chaos can be deceiving. If you peel back the layers of the duo's ridiculous adventures and mishaps, you'll find that they're quite meticulously put together.

Estelle Caswell / Vox

Broad City's scripts are densely packed with humor that aims to do more than make you laugh. By using callbacks to previous jokes, running gags that span the entire series, and a variety of Easter eggs, Broad City has built an immersive world for its fans to explore — as many other successful comedies have done before it.

Seinfeld was one of the first TV comedies to regularly use callbacks and running jokes. As the show amassed a loyal fan base, it could make callbacks to older jokes and characters its audience would remember — and rely on running jokes to get knowing laughs. There weren't many shows before Seinfeld that could air an episode like season four's "The Contest," which pitted the characters against each other in a battle of wills to see who could avoid masturbating the longest — and then repeat its punchline more than a full season later and in a totally different context (in "The Puffy Shirt") to an uproarious response.

Seinfeld certainly wasn't the first comedy to use these tools. Both Cheers and Frasier, for example, made running gags out of Norm and Niles's ever-absent wives (which Broad City alludes to with Abbi's roommate, whom we've never actually seen). But they've become a lot more common in recent years thanks to the rise of streaming and binge-watching. Now that audiences can more easily revisit past episodes and comedies are more likely to "serialize" their stories, writers have more opportunities to use callbacks, running jokes, and hidden Easter eggs that only diehard fans can catch.

Basically, the point of these devices is to let a show wink at its most loyal viewers. If a comedy uses them correctly, it can make its jokes more rewarding to those who are paying attention by adding extra layers of enjoyment.

Broad City uses so many callbacks, running jokes, and Easter Eggs that we couldn't include all of them in our video. Plus, the lines between them tend to be blurry. Depending on how a show uses these devices, the nature of a joke can change in a single line of dialogue — which is why we decided to dive into Broad City's gloriously silly world to parse the differences between the terms.

So how exactly does the show reward its fans? Watch our video explainer to find out.

Video

How Vox built a YouTube channel with 10 million subscribers

Video

Why so many new buildings are covered in rectangles

Video

Why Hollywood loves this creepy bird call

View all stories in Video

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for The Weeds

Get our essential policy newsletter delivered Fridays.