Broad City has gone from a homespun web series to a legitimate cultural touchstone, and is about to kick off its third season (premiering tonight at 10 p.m. EST on Comedy Central). It’s an aspirational Cinderella story for content creators hustling their talents on platforms such as YouTube, but Broad City’s writers, creators, and stars Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer aren’t basking in the glow of a happy ever after just yet—they’re only getting started on building their comedy empire.
Fast Company: You two met as improv students at the Upright Citizens Brigade’s training center, created Broad City as a web series in 2006, and cranked out 34 episodes before the show was picked up by Comedy Central. Is anything lost when you transition from a personal project to something bigger?
Ilana Glazer: We’re really lucky that Comedy Central shared our vision and nurtured our creativity. They never put our balls in a vise. I think other networks are catching on.
Abbi Jacobson: Yeah, they’re realizing that they need to trust [content creators] more or else [shows] get canceled. Stuff gets canceled constantly because [networks] are trying to fit something into a box that they think [people] want, but it doesn’t work—nobody watches it.
There are so many entertainers on YouTube trying to get an ounce of the fame you’ve both achieved. How were you able to get noticed?
AJ: We took [the web series] so seriously. I didn’t know what to do after three or four years of day jobs and trying to do comedy at night. So when we started this, we both sort of duct taped ourselves together. Like, "We’re doing it!" We latched onto it so hard.
IG: No matter what, if you focus your energy on building momentum, you will be rewarded in anything—in a friendship, in a romantic relationship, in volunteer work, anything you do. That’s been the most maturing experience, seeing how time works. You put your time and energy into something and it comes out the other end.
AJ: You can’t just be funny—you have to be strategic.
IG: And if you are just funny and other people are using you as this funny puppet, you end up being less funny. The quality of your work will truly decline if you’re not behind the wheel.
Someone who’s helped you steer is Amy Poehler, a UCB cofounder who signed on as executive producer of the show when it moved to TV. What has she contributed?
AJ: Amy is really good at encouraging us to make there be significant moments—tender moments. I think that’s what she loves about the show.
IG: She has such great taste. There was one episode that she said we should fully scrap, and she was right. We were using a plot device that was too early in the series to use: origin story. We wanted to do it in the first season, and it was so painful because we loved that script. We didn’t think we were getting a second season—she knew better.
Each Broad City episode follows a fairly traditional setup: an intro scene and three acts building the story. But you have introduced an "outro"—a fourth act—in which Abbi and Ilana process what’s just happened. This reinforces the real heart of the show, Abbi and Ilana’s friendship. How do you weigh that heart against all the absurdity?
AJ: It’s a very delicate balance.
IG: We found that in season two, that act four of us just hanging, not necessarily recapping but checking in where we are now after the three acts of the story, was a useful tool. I like how chill those moments are. If the broads are nuts together, then the setting has to ground it—they’re being crazy within a very real, grounded setting. If the setting is nuts, then the broads are like, "What the fuck is going on?" So it’s about locating the absurdity or the grounded thing and balancing it out.
How are you two feeling about the show now that it’s in season three?
AJ: This is like the Wednesday of the series. It’s like, we gotta get over it and then . . .
IG: . . . we’ll have more of a direction of what it’s going to be.
There’s a long history of TV shows based in New York. Has that helped Broad City strike a chord?
IG: It always makes me think of Sex and the City—[people] would be like, "New York is the fifth character." But I feel like with Sex and the City, New York was more of this delicious backdrop, and it usually was beautiful and upper class.
AJ: [That show was about] the riches of New York. And ours is finding the riches in the non-riches.
IG: Yeah, it’s like finding the richness in the filth.
AJ: Our show is about why you would move to New York, why people are so inspired by it.
IG: With Sex and the City, those characters were using New York as their personal tool, and in Broad City we are drowning in the city and just trying to get some air and appreciate stuff along the way. The show is also about suburban-transplant love, when you’re like, "Oh, my God! Can you believe the piles of trash? I love it!" Continuing to be charmed by the muck—it’s very funny to me.
You’ve built Broad City from the ground up as a duo. How do you solve creative differences without damaging your friendship?
AJ: [The show is] kind of the voice—the in-between of our individual voices. We don’t always agree, but that would be crazy if we did. Someone not agreeing with someone’s pitch sometimes leads us to "What about this?" Sometimes in talking it out and disagreeing we find the actual thing.
IG: And it’s not always like, "We met in the middle—love it, sister!" Sometimes it’s like we did that Abbi [idea], we did this Ilana one, and that full moment felt "Broad City" because we averaged out in the middle. It does vary, but it ends up being a pretty cohesive compromise between our visions.
AJ: In the edit, we mostly agree on things. A lot of times, if one of us doesn’t like our own performance, the other will be like, "I disagree." Sometimes it’s hard to look at yourself from an unbiased point of view.
IG: The more I watch myself, the harder it is to watch myself and the more I find myself relying on your eyes.
Your collective voice can turn out some amazingly bawdy comedy, which doesn’t always go down well with the PC police. How do you handle that criticism?
AJ: It’s very tricky. It’s doing it in a way that isn’t offensive while you’re still commenting on the offensiveness of the world we live in.
IG: We weren’t around before shit was PC, and I’m like, thank God, because I like this era.
AJ: I can’t imagine having a TV show 10 years ago. In this era, if someone has a problem with something, they write about it online, and people talk about it. That’s kind of cool.
IG: Right, it’s just a point of discussion.
AJ: The "is it okay?" conversation is an interesting one to have.
IG: Feedback is so validating. I don’t care if they’re like, "Didn’t love this." I’m like, I can’t even believe you’re pressing send and publishing this.
A version of this article appeared in the April 2016 issue of Fast Company magazine.