Monday, November 1, 2010

Interview: Broad City

Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer are best friends with hilarious chemistry -- so they decided to write a web series about it. Broad City chronicles the real and imagined adventures of the BFFs "exploring life, love and lipstick in the Big Apple." Together with their partner-in-crime Rob Michael Hugel, who directs and edits the series, Broad City has more than one YouTube user admitting to elaborate fantasies where "Abbi and Ilana are my best friends."

Demonstrating the show is true to life, the Broad City gang finished each other's sentences while talking to UCB Comedy about their writing process, acting with Abbi and Ilana's moms, and their sold-out LIVE show coming up this Fri., Nov. 5 at 92Y Tribeca.

How did Broad City get started?

IG: Abbi and I were the only girls in a long-dead improv troupe known as Secret Promise Circle.

AJ: You don’t have to call it “long dead,” though.

IG: I think it’s funny. It’s dramatic. We became friends.

What year was this?

IG: I think 2003?

(Long pause.)

AJ: What?!


RMH: You were like sixteen!

AJ: Ilana, I was in college in Baltimore in 2003.

IG: It’s 2005 right now, right?

RMH: It’s 1981.

IG: What year is it? We met in 2007. I feel working relationships feel so much longer. I was just saying the other day that it feels like I’ve known you guys since middle school. So, the improv team ended and we were like, “We are so cute and funny! What do we do with this?”

AJ: We also wanted to write something for ourselves.

IG: But I really do think it was, as narcissistic as this is, we wanted to do something with our dynamic. Right?

AJ: Yes. We were like “Oh, this is funny. We constantly fight with each other.”

IG: And also, Abbi had this Capes Coaching class that was very inspiring --

AJ: I really wanted to write my own material.

IG: And that inspired me too, because she was talking about writing down goals.

AJ: It was seriously a year ago. My year was Oct. 22. Capes is not paying me for this [plug] but I will welcome that!

IG: Now we’re looking back over a year. So, we were at that pizza place across from UCB and we said, “Maybe we could do this thing about us and our relationship.” We were so stoked. I think you can feel it’s a project that you want to do and when you’re really going to like it. You can fucking FEEL IT!

AJ: We wrote so many ideas of possible episodes. Probably half of our episodes -- even just anecdotes -- came from that meeting. And then so we started writing --

IG: -- but we were like, how are we going to get someone to shoot? And to edit? But then we were like, “Let’s collaborate with people!” And we did that for a while with directors. Initially, we were going pay Rob as an onetime thing.

RMH: For the first episode.

AJ: We were friends with Rob. But not good friends.

RMH: Once a year at Harold auditions, Abbi and I are always in the same group.

AJ: And Rob wanted to do it --

RMH: -- I was just going to edit that one episode.

IG: But over the season, as we worked together more and more, Rob heavily contributed to the voice. We consider ourselves each a third of the voice. Not only was Rob’s editing like, “That’s exactly what we wanted!” -- but the working relationship? Oh my God, I’m getting CHILLS. Inspiring! He was comfortable saying, “I don’t like that idea.” Not that everyone has to work that way, but it matched our way.

What’s the process behind each Broad City episode?

IG: I’m huge into defining the process. They make fun of me because I act like I'm in a college class, like, “Um, Professor, can we define the process?” We’re still finding the rhythm. We were increasingly prepared throughout the season.

AJ: Tried to be, I will emphasis that. But we do leave room to improvise. And while we’re shooting, there’s always something that pops up.

IG: At first I was like, “Let’s make a chart! The first week we’ll do this..." but you can’t set the process until you do it.

AJ: A big part of the series is that we want it to be based on truth: either something that has happened to us, or a friend.

IG: Abbi is the anchor for that. “We’ve got to bring it back to reality.”

AJ: I think reality is funny. It’s important.

IG: On the other hand, I could be like, “And then we get in a hot air balloon!” And Abbi will be like, “Hold up. Good idea but...”

AJ: We write about things that we find funny about our own lives so other people relate to it.

IG: People are like, “Oh my God, that happened to me!”

AJ: So we brainstorm things that we think are funny that happened to us. Most of the time, we’ll write on our own, because apparently we’re never apart in our lives.

A&I: (in unison) We work together.

Wait. Your day jobs are together?

A&I: (in unison) Yes.

AJ: We write a lot, mostly because we’re together all the time, and bring these outlines and scripts to Rob, and then it’s a collaboration from there.

IG: We decompress a lot in the beginning of our meetings, where we like "update" for a half an hour. But those conversations become the material.

RMH: In general, the process starts with a personal story that we think was funny. And then we do an outline, and look at it together, and say, how does this work? And at that point, we have someone in mind who will be “the guest” and know what their strength is, so we know it’s going to be funny -- we just need to find the direction of who the guest will be.

IG: It’s like creating the most ideal improv situation, where we’re like, this guy is going to be hilarious in this situation -- like Johnny McNulty is so funny in the "Laundry" episode as a smooth douche.

AJ: Shannon O'Neill's episode was one that wasn’t based on reality but we wrote that part for Shannon.

IG: We wanted to write for Shannon's strengths -- this really weird character, ambiguous in so many ways.

AJ: She’s one we keep talking about to use in other things. She’s so unique.

IG: We’re like, “How can we get Shannon in next?”

AJ: But there’s so many people that we want to use. We have the whole UCB community to play with!

RMH: There’s a million more people we want to use.

IG: And in some episodes, we’re not even using their funniest part. Like, in "Mom Brunch," Paul Downs is the waiter. Paul Downs is playing the straight man waiter and he is an AMAZING character actor.

Let's talk about "Mom Brunch." Do your Moms have any acting training?

IG: I have to say Abbi’s mom was incredibly impressive as an actress. My mom nailed it as a mom actress.

RH: But they had no training.

A & I: (in unison) No training.

AJ: My mom memorized the whole script. She wanted to be comfortable enough to improvise.

Had your moms met before?

AJ: No, just earlier in the day.

RMH: They were pretty amazing. I wasn’t working on that episode -- I was just there -- and at first they were being side-coached, but then it got to the point they were just going off on their own. And some of the funniest lines they improvised. Ilana’s mom goes, “Abbi’s a fucking drip, and when I took at her, I want to take a nap.”

IG: We were like HOLY SHIT!

AJ: And then my mom goes, “Ilana is such a slut, she should put her phone number on her chest.” And at one point, it didn’t make it in, but Ilana’s mom was just like, “You two should just go fuck each other.”

IG: With like, fuck hand movements. We were like, what??? And Abbi’s mom improvised the last line!

AJ: She improvised the button.

RMH: She did a call back!

IG: "Mom Brunch" is a good example of the following: we wrote a whole script out but we treated the script as though it was bulleted. I never would’ve thought of the word “drip.”

RMH: It’s old timey.

AJ: In every episode, someone has said a line that we could never have written.

What is your schedule for releasing episodes?

IG: At first, we released videos weekly, like, “we’ll keep this up for five years!” But now we’re releasing them every two weeks, just because we have them in the bag. We’re hoping to lock down more of a rhythm in season 2 and be able to release.

When will Season 2 start?

IG: We released our first video in Feb. 15th and within a year, we’ll have 18 episodes and a short film that we’re working on now. I imagine Season 2 will start in Feb. or March.

Can you tell me a little about the short film?

RMH: We’re in the planning stages.

AJ: Some of the episodes tell you more about the characters, while some of them are just snips of their life. This will be a longer journey with the characters -- to sit with them a little bit.

IG: It’ll be an extended version of an episode.

AJ: My hope is that it maintains the same fun --

IG: and the casual tone --

AJ: But the film will be a little more in-depth --

IG: And invested.

RMH: So far, we’ve never really followed a story arc. For this one, that’s our goal: do what we’ve always done, plus a storyline that is a true arc.

IG: We’re considering more emotional storylines for the characters. We want this to be funny. We don’t want it to be sappy --we don’t want to be boxed in as touchy-feely women -- we want to keep it light and funny. Actual shitty, heartbreaking stuff can happen, but as long as we’re like, “bada-dump!," we can keep a casual tone where we don’t take stuff too seriously.

What else is new with Broad City?

AJ: Mackenzie Condon is part of the team now. That’s been fun, working with her.

IG: Mackenzie's vibe, and energy and mind -- she just fit in immediately. And is so helpful as a reference, even helping us with stupid little decisions, like emails and shit, she’s just so fucking good. She’s a bad ass bitch.

Abbi, an illustrator, created the poster for the live show (and Broad City's titles.)

92Y is hosting your big SOLD-OUT live show on Friday. How did you get involved with them?

AJ: Over the summer, we were part of this short film festival there called The Iron Mule.

IG: It was fucking awesome --

AJ: And they didn’t tell us, but they featured us in the NYTimes. So there was a huge picture of us in the Times.

IG: We opened the Times and it was like WHAT THE FUCK! Abbi texted me about it and I died.

AJ: It legitimized everything, everything about New York City, just to be in the Times, and it wasn’t even about us. We were just the intro --

IG: The intro was something like “make them laugh, but don’t take all day,” which I took to mean, “Right, Broad City?”

AJ: We won the Judge’s Choice, which was awesome, and forged this relationship with 92Y.

What can audience members expect from the live show?

IG: Stand-up from our past guests, like the awesome Sara Schaefer from our "Yoga" episode and Jon Friedman and Hannibal Buress from our "Date Night."

We’re trying to invite bad ass bitches, New York women that we know and love, like some comedians and shit or like writers. If you’re a bad ass bitch, we’re like, “Please come.”

Our moms are going to be there.

AJ: The live show is going to premiere the finale and it’s very exciting. It’s a guest director, we shot it a while ago, and it’s very special.

RMH: It’s a break from the format.

AJ: We’re treating the live show like an event. It’s a 70-seat theater and we want the audience to be full of people who have supported us. It’s been a great year and there have been so many people who have gone out of their way to support the show.

RMH: In general, this whole thing has surprised me in a big way because I’ve never felt crazy support for anything like this. People are supportive in this community, but it’s kind of hard sometimes to feel like you have a place --

IG: It’s simultaneously competitive.

RMH: It is. You see other people do great things and you think, “Why haven’t I done anything great?” But it’s just so amazing how supportive people have been for this show, all the comments we’ve gotten from like friends or strangers, people who say really nice things.

IG: It’s like hol-eeeeee shit. I’m such a cynical bitch, when a guy likes it, I’m like, “Oh, you’re a special dude” -- how fucking patronizing, but I really can’t believe it. It’s like, thank you so much! It’s so cheesy, but it’s such a fucking amazing way to figure yourself out, and create a relationship with people. I’ve made friends with people who have said, “I like Broad City." I’m like, "Let’s TALK!” It’s so inspiring. I always say my chest is going to burst because my heart is growing. I say that all the time.

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