Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson on Comedy and the Troc
PM: So you’re pretty deep into production for season two of Broad City?
Abbi: Yeah, we’re actually done tomorrow, so it’s really nuts. I’m standing in the middle of Prospect Park in Brooklyn. I’m watching the crew shoot a scene with Ilana [Glazer, her Broad City partner] right now.
PM: Were you the class-clown type at Conestoga High?
Abbi: A little bit. They had this cool show called the Junior Cabaret, and I got to be one of the comedic hosts for the night. That was my first time performing in front of that many people. I took classes growing up at the Walnut Street Theatre and the Actors Center downtown on 3rd on Saturdays — my parents would drive me in. I was kind of obsessed with SNL, but I didn’t think comedy was an option at all.
PM: Did growing up in this area shape your sense of humor?
Abbi: Abbi on the show is from Philly. I try to play that up as much as I can. I don’t know — I think my parents are really funny. I had a pretty cool childhood. I definitely draw all of my material from my life.
PM: The Abbi character seems like you, with certain traits amplified.
Abbi: Yeah. I like to use a lot of the details of my life, but then we try to amplify what makes Ilana and me different. So Ilana is not as crazy as she is on the show, and I don’t think I’m as insecure. It’s just fun to play up those differences. I definitely exaggerate things.
PM: I read that the show was initially pitched as Laverne & Shirley meets Louie, which sounds pretty accurate to me. Maybe with a dash of Bridesmaids thrown in there.
Abbi: I would describe our show as two best friends trying to figure out their early 20s in New York, and every episode is a day in the life, and it just never turns out how you think. That would be the quick answer.
PM: That sums it up well.
Abbi: Comedy Central really gives us the freedom to say what we want to say. Sometimes we’re saying something smart by being dumb — if that makes sense. It’s a really fun character for me to play because it lets me be so many different versions of myself. A lot of the time, at the end of the day I’m like, “Who is this girl? Who the fuck am I?” I’m a crazy bitch.
PM: You push the envelope pretty far, even for cable TV. Are your parents concerned to see you smoking so much weed? Or cleaning Fred Armisen’s house in your underwear for money?
Abbi: There were a couple of years when it was sort of like, “What am I doing with my life?,” y’know? The show is basically my life in my early 20s. I would hand out fliers at Equinox, a high-end gym, and do a lot of other shitty jobs — not cleaning out pubes, we made that one up — to get a free membership. We tried to do comedy for so long, and I think my parents, even though they were always supportive, were a little nervous. So they’re nothing but completely thrilled. I’m actually nervous that this upcoming season has a couple of episodes where I’m gonna have to call them — I’m waiting until right before they air, like, “Oh God, this is happening in this episode and you need to know.”
PM: Can you give me a hint?
Abbi: I honestly can’t. It would be such a spoiler. When you watch it, you’ll know which episode I’m talking about.
PM: The show feels true to the spirit of your Web series that started it all.
Abbi: We talked a lot about this — that we want the process to feel like an expanded version of the way we did the Web series. There’s a lot more people on our crew right now, and there’s a lot more money that goes into making the show, but it still feels very DIY. Like, don’t tell Comedy Central this, but it’s still this low-budget show where we’re running around doing all of these jobs, everyone is really collaborative, it’s okay to be like, “What if we shot this way?” I love that about it.
PM: So you’re basically admitting that you’re taking a huge chunk of the network’s budget, putting it into some sort of offshore account, and doing the show on the cheap.
Abbi: No, we use all of the money. We could maybe use a little bit more, if they read this, just for some music. [laughs]
PM: The show has a passionate fan base and overwhelming critical acclaim. What’s been the key to your success?
Abbi: There’s a couple of things. I think that trying to maintain the way we’ve always done it, even though everything’s gotten bigger, is a big part of it, and I hope it doesn’t change. It feels like we’re making this show with our friends. A lot of why this all happened was timing. We had planned to go to L.A. to pitch this show when we finished the second season of our Web series. But when we were writing the finale, we’d never really gotten any cameos. We were like, “Let’s get a famous person.” Because we came from UCB [Upright Citizens Brigade], we asked Amy [Poehler, a UCB alum], and she said yes. It was such a merging of being ready for her, and her at the time really wanting to get into producing. [Poehler now executive-produces Broad City.] I think that is where you get lucky. But you have to be ready.
PM: You were prepared when the opportunity came.
Abbi: Right. And so when we went out to L.A., it was very different pitching a show with Amy, so that really did change a lot.
PM: Any advice that Amy has given you — comedy-related or on life in general — that’s stuck with you?
Abbi: She told Ilana and me that you need to treat yourself like you would treat your daughter — because it can get very stressful doing all of this. You can say this advice to anybody. If you get stressed out or things get overwhelming, it’s a really good thing to be like, Go easier on yourself, everything’s going to be fine. You need to be kinder to yourself.
PM: The live production of Broad City comes to town this month, at the Trocadero.
Abbi: Which is crazy! I used to see so many jam bands there in high school.
PM: What can we expect?
Abbi: We’ve been putting up this live show at UCB for a few years now. And it’s us — it’s Abbi and Ilana in real life. It’s sort of a variety show. You’re hanging out with us. It’s really fun, and it’s very different from us on the show, which is exciting for us to do.
PM: Maybe a guest jam-band appearance?
Abbi: I mean, I always bring my own jam band. Always. That’s the key to success.
Originally published in the November 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.