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Wayne Native’s Comedy Series Scores Big
The tagline on Abbi Jacobson’s Tumblr account is disarmingly ambiguous: “I’m a visual and performing artist living in New York City. This is where I share stuff I make and find!”
If she wanted to get more specific, the 29-year-old Wayne native could have written that, in addition to making stuff, she also makes people laugh. A lot. So much so that she and her partner in prime time, Ilana Glazer, are starring in the new Comedy Central series, Broad City. The show, which follows the day-in-the-life exploits of two 20-something women in New York named Abbi and Ilana, just aired its fourth episode on Comedy Central. And they’ll be bringing a taste of it to Philadelphia next month.
Cracking the cable network’s notoriously male-dominated lineup — think South Park, The Kroll Show, Tosh.0 and Workaholics — was no small feat, considering that comedy was her second-choice career.
The longtime Camp Kweebec camper and counselor and member of Temple Brith Achim, the Reform synagogue in King of Prussia, went to the Maryland Institute College of Art so that she could become a graphic designer. “I have always been interested in comedy — I was obsessed with Saturday Night Live,” she says. “But my dad and brother are graphic designers, and my mom was a potter when I was growing up — it was in my family. It makes no sense, but visual art was an easier career path” to choose than comedy
Judging by her two coloring books (published by Chronicle Books), award nominations for her animation work on the Web series precursor to the Broad City television show and her self-produced line of greeting cards, she achieved no small measure of success in the family business. “I sold the cards to stores” in New York City, she recalls, but despite finding a market for them, “there are now thousands of those cards in my mom’s basement in Berwyn.”
Jacobson moved to New York after graduating from MICA in 2006 and began taking comedy classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade, the comedy school/performance group co-founded by Amy Poehler, who also serves as the executive producer of Broad City. It was while taking improv classes that she met Glazer. “We were the only two girls on the team,” Jacobson says. The two quickly became friends while working on their comedic chops. In 2009, after spending two years at Upright Citizens Brigade, they decided that the only way they were going to get more work in the industry was if they did it themselves.
“We both came to the point where we wanted to create material,” Jacobson says. The result was a 35-episode Web series that, while never generating viral numbers, was seen by many of the most influential people in the world of comedy, including Poehler, who agreed to come on board after guest starring in the pair’s final webisode in 2011. A few months later, FX Network signed them to a production deal, only to pass on the project in 2012. At that point, Jacobson and Glazer took their talents to Comedy Central, which had shown interest in the show before they signed with FX.
Broad City definitely doesn’t feel like a freshman sitcom. Jacobson says that focusing on the project so intensely for so many years has made for a much more assured result, allowing her and Glazer to develop “our process, how we worked together. It became easier for us to write adventures for the exaggerated characters of ourselves.”
The amount of creative freedom that Comedy Central allows, she adds, has also helped give the show an unhurried intricacy to its narrative structure that feels less like a sitcom than a documentary that just happens to be really funny.
And graphic — or, at least, as graphic as you can get on basic cable at 10:30 p.m., which, as it turns out, is a fair amount. In the first three episodes alone, subjects covered included FaceTiming in flagrante delicto, storing marijuana in nether regions and the unspeakable locker room horrors that Abbi’s character has to clean on a daily basis in her job at a fitness club.
As outlandish as some of the scenarios can be, the camaraderie between Jacobson and Glazer makes it feel like just another day in their world.
And on March 5, Jacobson says excitedly, they will be letting a few thousand Philadelphians into that world, when they bring “Broad City Live” to Center City’s Trocadero Theatre.
“It’s not a live version of the TV show,” Jacobson says, “but we do live sketches, a little duo standup and we have live guests. It will be like you’re hanging out with us for the night.”
Wednesdays at 10:30 p.m.
Broad City Live
March 5 at 8 p.m.
at The Trocadero Theatre
1003 Arch St., Philadelphia