Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson are the creators and stars of Broad City — a web series Splitsider has been following since our site began and one that was recently ordered to series by Comedy Central, thanks largely to Amy Poehler's influence. A 10-episode first season is expected to debut sometime in 2014. I spoke with the duo about translating 4-minute webisodes into half-hour scripts, concerns over facing the same feminist comedy expectations Girls encountered, and why you don't need to get on a UCB Harold team to get a Comedy Central deal.
How did you two meet and come to start making videos together?
Ilana Glazer: Abbi and I were taking classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade comedy school in 2007. We didn't have any classes together, but we were fortunately asked to be on the same practice improv team. We auditioned for the house improv and sketch teams and were not getting on them. But you know, if you want to get better, you need to get yourself in a group and practice frequently and do shows as often as you can, and we weren't doing that in classes. So we joined this team, and it was called Secret Promise Circle. And we were so grateful for that, this time that we got to play, without thinking, oh, let's monetize. But then at a certain point, we both wanted to make something that would last, that we could send a link to our parents and be like, "Hey, we're doing something," rather than like, "This improv show I did was great!" And then it came to a certain point where we thought, 'Hey, we could do it about us.'
Things really took off for you guys when Amy Poehler got attached to Broad City. How did that come about?
Abbi Jacobson: Amy wasn't really part of the web series until the last episode. We had been doing the series for about, what, a a year and a half? Is that right, Ilana? Two years?
Glazer: A year and a half.
Jacobson: It had been a year and a half. And we knew we were going to end the web series, and we were in the middle of writing the pilot, and we were thinking about going out to LA and pitching it. We had a manager at the time – who's still our manager, Sam Saifer – and she was encouraging us that this could be a real thing. So when we were ending the web series, we were like, let's end this with a bang, and see if we can get somebody who not only we really admire but would be, like, crazy to have in it. And because we had come up through UCB, we thought that Amy would be somebody who like, why not? And one of our teachers was nice enough to reach out to her for us, and she had seen the web series and liked it, and was totally on board to be involved. And then the day of the shoot, we just hit it off. And when we sent her the finished product – which was the season finale of Season 2 – we asked her if she would ever consider being the executive producer, and she said yes. You can imagine that moment was a little insane for us.
Bring us up to speed with what happened at FX and how the show landed at Comedy Central.
Glazer: It was August and September of 2011 and Abbi and I had – let's say prematurely – quit our jobs. We just wanted to take time off and do some pitching, do whatever it takes, and figure it out later. So we pitched to a bunch of places. Comedy Central was interested in it; they wanted it. But FX ended up purchasing a script commitment from us. They were like, "We want a 22-minute pilot script from you." So we developed that and wrote it, and sent notes back and forth. And by the time summer rolled around, we heard back from FX that the script wasn't right for their channel.
Jacobson: That experience was nothing but a positive experience working with them. They just ended up passing on it for whatever reason.
Glazer: We've been talking lately about how grateful we are for the way everything happened because we learned so much at FX. And when we went to Comedy Central, we at least had some experience. We just learned a lot. Obviously, FX makes great content, and they're great about giving notes. And then in the summer, Comedy Central purchased the script back from FX and committed to a pilot.
Jacobson: We were just so fortunate that FX let us keep moving forward. And when we got back to Comedy Central, Brooke Posch was the new development head, and she was a person who we loved working with. I'm so glad we ended up there because I couldn't imagine working on the show with anyone else. A year earlier, Comedy Central was still settling, and they were figuring out who was going to be running what, but by the time we came back to them, they were raring to go. It was just beautiful, beautiful timing.
I feel like what's so great about Broad City is it's so loose and free-form. There's no specific narrative structure or theme – just these two friends and the moments they share together. How do you go about translating that into a half-hour show? When you're pitching it, do they want you to change anything?
Jacobson: To a certain extent. When you look at the episodes we're working on now, you definitely see more of the world that they live in. And what we're pitching and what we're excited about is exploring a day in the life. Potentially each episode will just be a day in the life. It's still very playful, and you'll still see these characters walk into these specific and crazy New York situations. But it is a little bit more of a structure, in terms of you're seeing a full adventure that they would go on.
Glazer: It still feels like those moments, but whereas in the webisodes you'd see one moment, in the 22-minute version, you'll see several moments, surrounded by context. So there's this arc, but each arc is its own little moment.
I see that you guys have Louie producers Dave Becky and Tony Hernandez on board. Do you think shows like Louie or Girls helped pave the way for Broad City to be on television?
Jacobson: Totally. I mean, we started Broad City before those shows were out, but I think there's a movement that's happening all at the same time. Those shows were on the air before us, and the fact that they were successful I imagine can only be a positive thing in an executive's eyes.
While you guys might be part of the same movement as Louie or Girls, I would say you guys have a more positive, "sunny side" tone. That might just be because of the shorter format of a web series, as opposed to the longer, more conflict-prone narrative format of a TV show. Do you see Broad City's tone evolving on TV?
Glazer: I mean, it has to. We even watched the pilot become its own vehicle. We were talking about changes we saw by the end of the first season of the web series. Abbi explained it that we had this tiny window that's the size of a YouTube video, and now we just want to expand what's already there. We wanted to open the window on television. I mean, it can't be the same on a different medium. Yeah, I think it feels a little more sketch because there's more time to explore that.
Jacobson: I would agree that our tone is pretty positive on our show. Even if there's lots of shitty things happening, it's still positive. It feels like a bright perspective on New York. The lighting itself is bright. When I watch Louie, it feels much darker and grittier. Ours feels like a brighter point of view.
When you guys made your web series, you were operating on little-to-no budget, shooting around the city without permits. How does having a budget and a professional production crew change the process?
Jacobson: We were working with like no budget before. And when we were shooting the pilot, on stage there was this constructed apartment, which was so surreal for us. But part of the show that will remain the same as the web series is we shoot a lot of it outside in New York. So with the show it just felt like a bigger crew, but that we were still kinda stealing shots, which is real fun.
What can we look forward to in the show?
Glazer: We don't totally know. You can definitely look forward to spending a whole day with us. You can look forward to seeing a lot of great talent on the show. That's something we're really looking forward to — just taking advantage of this whole New York community that fostered our whole experience.
In the web series, you had Amy Poehler and Kristen Schaal in the final episode, in addition to cameos from comics like Hannibal Buress and Eliot Glazer. Any more cameos lined up?
Jacobson: We definitely do. I don't think we should say any of them. But we have a few amazing people in the pilot.
Glazer: Our comedy friends who are not yet famous are the like the next generation. So we do have some big names in our pilot, but we also have the future big names throughout our series.
Comedy Central has a reputation as a network with a lot of "bro-centric" programming – Tosh.0, Workaholics, South Park, The Jeselnik Offensive. Are you guys concerned that you'll face similar expectations that Girls faced, to be some kind of feminist posterchild?
Glazer: I'm not worried about it as much as I just already know it's going to happen. I'm kind of excited about it. I feel like good content is good content. We can't control people's reactions. We can only take them in. So I think it's just exciting to see what happens.
Jacobson: I think it's even more exciting to be one of the only shows on Comedy Central like that right now because I think it's about time and people have been waiting for that. And I don't think it's a girly show – I think it appeals to everyone. So I'm not worried. I guess I'm just curious. I don't know, no matter what response we get, it's just incredible that we're getting a response. It's like, bring it on.
Erik Voss is a writer and performer living in Los Angeles. He hosts the Evil Blond Kid podcast and performs improv on the Harold team The Cartel at the iO West Theater.
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