Everyone is trying to crack the code of the average, modern 20-something. There are endless thinkpieces; GIF-filled Buzzfeed lists; and myriad TV shows, from CBS’s “2 Broke Girls” to ABC’s “Super Fun Night” to a certain dramedy on HBO starring Lena Dunham. ¶ Now there’s “Broad City,” a gritty, sharp Web series-turned-cable-comedy created by Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, that debuts Wednesday night on Comedy Central. The best friends and writing partners, who are armed with a solid improv background, try a slightly different approach to life in your 20s: Actual reality. Based on their lives in New York, the show delves into the everyday indignities that make being a young, single, broke person in a big city a fascinating, hilarious — but generally humiliating — experience.
How can Jacobson and Glazer speak with such authority on the subject? Because they’ve suffered through underemployment, dating woes and the vague feeling that everyone else has their lives so together. They’ve lived it.
Actually, they’re still sort of living it — if you disregard the fact that they’re on the verge of becoming breakout stars as they write, produce and star in what Comedy Central is hoping will the channel’s next big hit. The show already has a long list of celeb fans, including Amy Poehler, who serves as executive producer. Yet both women sound a little shellshocked while talking about their recent success, as if they can’t really believe what’s happening — and are still trying to adjust to the high-pressure atmosphere of their new gig.
Even if Jacobson and Glazer’s lives are changing, the key to the show is chronicling minor, relatable moments: Whether it’s awkwardly exiting an uncomfortable small-talk situation when you’re with an acquaintance going the same way on the subway or stealing office supplies to sell in order to scrape together cash for Lil Wayne concert tickets.
Okay, that last one may not be 100 percent true but the wackiness has some roots in real life. “We like to keep the plotlines based in reality, started from a real experience that one of us has had,” said Glazer, 26. She and Jacobson, 29, were on speakerphone from an editing bay in New York, putting the finishing touches on the seventh episode of the season. Warm and chatty, they frequently completed each other’s sentences and spoke in tandem. (“ ‘Scandal!’ Love that show,” they shrieked in unison when they hear the words “Washington, D.C.”)
They also rely on friends’ anecdotes for ideas. “It seems, like, really salient to use experiences that you know have happened, even if they haven’t happened to you,” Glazer explained. “Then you think, ‘Oh, what would I have felt in that situation?’ And it’s easy to write from a real place.”
Take a scene in the pilot: Ilana tries to convince Abbi (they play characters named after themselves) to go to the aforementioned super-exclusive Lil Wayne show. In an exaggerated take on their real personas, Ilana is a wild and bad influence; Abbi is more reserved, and it takes a solid minute until she goes along with her friend’s crazy plan.
“I wish that I could, but I’m so close to finishing Season One of ‘Damages,’ ” Abbi says earnestly. “And I made this, like, amazing cashew stir fry chicken for the week, so I’m actually pretty booked.”
A lame excuse? Actually, it’s completely plausible after a long day of work, at any age. “Part of our dynamic has always been that we felt like old people, even though we knew we weren’t,” Glazer said. “We felt old together.”
Their togetherness was what led them to create the “Broad City” Web series in the first place. They bonded several years ago as the only women on an improv team in New York — Jacobson had just graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art, while Glazer was attending New York University. They quickly hit it off, realizing they shared a sense of humor and established a unique style of back-and-forth banter in which they cracked each other up. After both struggled to get on the house teams at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre (the famed comedy training ground co-founded by Poehler) they decided to create material for themselves. In 2009, they started a scripted Web series based on their friendship.
“We just sort of thought a Web series would be a cool thing to be able to send to our parents to show them that we were, in fact, actually doing comedy,” Jacobson said.
They had day jobs to pay the bills — waitressing, working at a bakery — and met at night to write. Eventually, they both wound up at a local company that sold discounted health and beauty services. They were seated side by side and sent ideas to each other all day long via Gchat and were in each other’s presence almost constantly.
“It wouldn’t even become an argument, or ill will or anything, it was just hilarious,” Jacobson recalled. “It was just like, “I am exhausted of looking at you.”
However, being constantly together helped them hone the distinct voice of the series. In the first season, they relied on friends to film and direct. The first episode is a rough, two-minute sketch about feeling guilt over not giving a homeless man money. The videos, each a few minutes long, continue with random, sometimes bizarre, situations: Hooking up with a guy because he has his own washer/dryer; a boss throwing a fit because you won’t accept his Facebook friend request; the horror of watching two friends you introduced to each other suddenly become close pals.
People started to notice the quirky, homemade Web show, which got thousands of views on YouTube as the second season took on a polished, professional look. Things took a turn for the surreal when Jacobson and Glazer asked one of their heroes, Amy Poehler, if she would appear in the second season finale. To their surprise, Poehler happily agreed to the role that involved racing through the streets of New York and knocking over a box of oranges. (Long story.)
Not much later, they went out on a limb and asked Poehler if she would consider participating in a TV adaptation of the series — again, she said yes, and signed on as executive producer. So, in 2011, Jacobson and Glazer quit their jobs and flew to Los Angeles to pitch the series as a television show, with a very famous name attached.
While the process wasn’t easy — the show was originally developed for FX — Comedy Central ordered a pilot in fall 2012, and then last spring, picked up 10 episodes.
The first two episodes are weird and raunchy (the pilot’s opening scene is not at all safe for work), filled with one-liners, obscure pop culture references and lightning-fast banter. Guest stars include Fred Armisen as a creep who offers Abbi and Ilana $200 to clean his apartment in their underwear — they’re still trying to get money for those Lil Wayne tickets — while Rachel Dratch plays a frazzled worker at a temp agency.
In the second installment, Abbi calls in sick from work when she agrees to sign for her cute neighbor’s UPS package that has a delivery window between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. (“Once you sign for his package, you become someone he can trust,” Ilana urges.) This leads to a maddening, all-day adventure with her roommate’s boyfriend, who lives in their apartment and eats all her cheese and declines to pay for rent or groceries.
Such outrageous story lines (with some that involve some sad kernels of truth) were one reason Comedy Central picked up the show. Kent Alterman, the network’s president of content, development and original programming, admitted that while Poehler’s involvement was certainly a motivating factor, he was intrigued by Jacobson and Glazer’s “super funny dynamic.”
“A lot of their comedy really comes from an authentic place,” Alterman said. “I feel like they really reflect a time and a place in New York City right now, with young people scamming their way through life” and trying to figure out a plan.
Alterman says this isn’t just a grab for female viewers — he thinks the network’s core audience of young males will enjoy it as well. He immediately rejects the many comparisons to HBO’s “Girls,” calling it a “silly” question, even though the shows both focus on young women navigating life in New York. “They have such different tones and sensibilities,” he said. “The only reason people are really comparing them is because they’re created by and starring women.”
Jacobson and Glazer insist they’re flattered to even be mentioned in the same context of Dunham’s series, and echo the “Girls” star’s obsessive second-guessing. Such as with the name of their show, “Broad City,” which has a kind of double meaning that they both adored from the start.
But now, still new to this high-stakes world, they fret over all the details. “I’m so in the name right now that I can’t even tell if it’s good or not,” Jacobson said.
“No!” Glazer interrupted. “It’s perfect, it’s amazing, it’s classic. I love it.”
Jacobson considered this. “Yeah,” she sighed. “I love it, too.”
Glazer laughed. “Clearly, we’re still questioning and insecure,” she said. “But I think that’s just what happens with exposure. And it’s really exciting.”
(30 minutes) premieres Wednesday at 10:30 p.m. on Comedy Central.