Abbi Jacobson, from MICA to 'Broad City'

Co-creator of Comedy Central series discusses college, life after school and more

  • Abbi Jacobson (left) and Ilana Glazer co-created and star in "Broad City" debuting Wednesday on Comedy Central. Jacobson is a 2006 grad of Maryland Institute College of Art.
Abbi Jacobson (left) and Ilana Glazer co-created and star in… (Lane Savage )
March 24, 2014|Wesley Case | The Baltimore Sun

If you are one of the 1.2 million viewers the Comedy Central series "Broad City" attracts on average each week, you might have noticed a nod to Baltimore in the recent episode "Stolen Phone."

When a distraught Ilana — one of the show's two protagonists — bangs on the door of her phoneless best friend's New York City apartment after a panicked search, Abbi calmly greets her in a black-and-teal Maryland Institute College of Art sweatshirt.

No, it was not a thrift shop find or a random hoodie selected by the wardrobe department. It was displayed prominently on purpose, because "Broad City's" Abbi is Abbi Jacobson, the 30-year-old MICA alumna and co-creator of the hit series, whose season finale airs Wednesday night. Just like the character played by the other creator, Ilana Glazer, Jacobson's 26-year-old best friend on and off screen, the show's Abbi is a slightly younger, heightened-for-comedic-purposes version of Jacobson. But it is still her at the core.

"Those are specifics I want to shout out to," Jacobson said on the phone last week, taking a rare break from the writers' room in New York. "What, am I going to make up a new college? Why not just shout out to MICA? It's just a cool thing that I know about. It gives the character a real feel."

Executive-produced by Amy Poehler, "Broad City" tells the story of two friends navigating their early to mid-20s. The series' first scene establishes the show's raunchy, did-she-just-say-that humor and the contrast between the two characters' personalities. As the more conservative Abbi stares at a sex toy marked with a Post-it note reading "Tuesday 7 a.m.," she receives a Skype video call from free-spirited Ilana — who, we soon discover, is having sex. Where Abbi is cautious, Ilana ignores consequences in the name of adventure, and the results are often hilarious.

In less than 10 episodes, "Broad City," which was first a webseries from 2009 to 2011, has earned its reputation as one of TV's sharpest and funniest new offerings. There has been no shortage of critical praise either, including an "A" grade from Entertainment Weekly and USA Today's description of it as "one of the funniest shows on TV."

The quick success has led to a hastened commitment from Comedy Central. The network already ordered a second season, which Jacobson and Glazer are working on now.

Like other shows on Comedy Central, "Broad City" has scatological one-liners, absurd narratives and an overt pro-marijuana stance. ("The smoking element has definitely struck a chord," Jacobson said.) Similar to the characters on "Workaholics," which directly precedes "Broad City," Ilana and Abbi are more involved in finding one-night stands and scrounging money for a Lil Wayne concert than in their unexciting day jobs.

But it is the duo's take on post-college life — and its authentic mix of anxiety-driven malaise and invigorated-but-directionless liberation — that has resonated with audiences.

"Some people really react to the surface-y jokes on the show," Jacobson said. "But it's awesome when it goes to other levels."

As the show caught on, Jacobson began receiving questions from fans seeking advice on her Tumblr blog. An example: "dear abbi, first let me say that you are a true delight and your show is pure comedy gold. now my question ... how do i stop constantly comparing myself to my peers?" Another fan in search of performance tips began with, "Hey Abs, can I call you Abs? Can I just say you and Ilana became my heroes within like 30 seconds of watching Broad City?"

The sincere responses were a sign that the show's underlying, subtly serious themes — searching for purpose, dissatisfaction at work and being broke, to name a few — were not missed.

"It made me feel excited that that the show is addressing issues," Jacobson said. "It's not addressing serious issues, but it's addressing this age and what happens to people.

"It's a very condensed time of every emotion," she said. "I think there's so many expectations set up for you in your 20s ... to become whoever you're going to be career-wise, socially, all those things. But in reality, those things can come, especially now, whenever."

Jacobson — who grew up in suburban Wayne, Pa., idolizing both her older brother and Gilda Radner, and said Phish concerts were "a big part" of her high school years — was not always on a path to comedy. At MICA, she majored in general fine arts with a concentration in video. She was known for drawing colorful bird's-eye views of neighborhoods where she once lived.

When she took a contemporary drama course, Jacobson said, she became serious about acting — so much so that she transferred to performance arts-focused Emerson College in Boston at the start of her junior year. The change of scenery was short-lived.

"I hated it immediately," she said. "[Emerson] was a little blip in the middle there."

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