It’s not completely clear exactly when and how the “women aren’t funny” bit started to circulate in mainstream comedy, but it’s a ridiculous notion and obstacle that all women in the field have had to face since. Mindy Kaling addresses it perfectly in her book by saying, “Anything about putting into question whether women are funny or funny writers, I can’t comment on because it’s just so ridiculous…It kind of keeps the argument alive..It’s like a nonsensical argument that we choose to keep alive by commenting on. It’s just beneath everyone by having it be a debate.”
But even though the myth is purely a product of sexism, it is true that male and female comedians have never occupied the exact same space. There exists this nebulous sphere of “stoner” and “vulgar” comedy that men seem to have a monopoly on and women aren’t allowed to venture into because it’s not commercially appealing to audiences. This brand of comedy is exemplified by TV shows like Workaholics and the famous movie duo Harold and Kumar. It’s gross and ridiculous, and they smoke more weed than conceivably possible, but they’re engrossing and charming, and everyone wants to hang out with them.
But there’s a new show on the block that’s proving what we all knew – women can tackle unapologetic and physical comedy with laughs all around, but more importantly something that’s new: It can also be a commercial hit and connect with a mainstream audience. This beautiful concept comes in the form of the comedic duo Illana and Abbi in Broad City. What began as a humble web series featuring two best friends traipsing around NYC has since transitioned to a full-fledged show on Comedy Central.
Illana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson originally met while taking classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade and started uploading small 3-5 minute videos to a YouTube channel in 2009. They reached out to Amy Poehler for a cameo and Poehler obliged, after which she decided to take on the project as a producer and help bring the web series to a network. These are three hilarious women behind the creative force, and the product is gold.
Both Glazer and Jacobson play fictionalized and exaggerated versions of themselves in the show. Illana is a slob, the kind who throws up on the bathroom floor while simultaneously reaching for a slice of pizza. She has a job at “Deals, Deals, Deals” that she doesn’t take seriously (always taking naps and waking up when it’s time to home) and a male friend (played by Hannibal Buress) who wants more of a relationship than Illana is willing to give. Abbi is a bit more subdued. She works as a cleaner at the gym where she dreams of being a trainer and harbors a painful crush on her neighbor. But Illana is always getting Abbi caught up in shenanigans. Their sexual escapades are often horrifying and ill-fated, they’re broke and have to cut corners in unfortunate ways, and they avoid their problems by getting high. They’re adults by definition, but don’t fit into the foreign world and all the caveats that come with being one—a feeling we can all relate to. Because seriously, how many people under the age of 25 really understand “doing your taxes”?
When writing for their characters, both Glazer and Jacobson don’t try to constrain dialogue and actions to their genders. “The characters definitely have vaginas, but that’s not what we’re thinking about when we’re writing,” Glazer said.
Jacobson adds, “I don’t think [the characters] are aware that they’re women. Most of the time they’re talking to each other, they’re not thinking about the fact that they have vaginas.” And it’s a wonderful way of approaching the comedy because there are no restraints.
Illana and Abbi are 100% comfortable with each other, and it’s a natural dynamic that’s entertaining and over-the-top. In one scene, Abbi is unable to flush the toilet after “exploding” upon it (a social fear of hers) and begins to freak out when her next-door neighbor and crush arrives at the apartment. Illana attempts to be a great wingman by promising to “get rid of it by any means necessary.” While the show has a lot of wit, there are scenes like this one that is utter toilet humor, kind of disgusting, and appeals to the giggling idiot in everyone. Abbi and Illana pull it all off with a perfect combination of charm and reality.
With all the aimless meandering and smoking and all the gross bits in between, it might not be your cup of tea. But props where props are due, and these ladies are killing it.
Cover image courtesy of Fast Company.