'Broad City' and 'Pen15': A Group Chat About the "Pain" and "Pressure" of Making TV

THR-Enter a Group Chat Between 'Broad City' and 'Pen15' Creators  - Illustrations by Adam Cruft -H 2019
Adam Cruft

Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson share insights with Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle on working as part of a partnership: "It's such an intense mirror."

What transpires when two pairs of female creators get together? Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, creators of Comedy Central's Broad City (whose five-year run ended in March), and sophomore showrunners Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle of Hulu's PEN15 have all written and starred in their own semi-autobiographical TV shows. So when they fired up their laptops for a four-way video chat in early November, they had plenty to talk about. The funny foursome (all ages 32 except for Jacobson, who's 35) delved deep into work-life balance (or lack thereof), exploring the agony of asking for what one needs, and pondering the pros and cons of working in a partnership.

ILANA GLAZER How are you guys? Where are you in the process of your show?

MAYA ERSKINE The scariest part. We're basically in the second week of shooting [season two].

ABBI JACOBSON You guys are doing it in a more adult, thoughtful way. I think that we maybe got the show when we were younger, so we were even more like, "Fucking fuck, this is crazy."

GLAZER We had one day off between finishing editing season one and starting writing of season two. We worked straight from 2012 to 2016, literally.


ERSKINE I think we're learning this season how to let go a bit more. Because you're getting so many emails like, "Can you answer this?" It's such a big load. We would just agonize over every single detail. But this season, I do feel a lightness in terms of the fact that we've set the show.

JACOBSON I wish that we'd had that agency to be like, "Hold on, we need to live and get material." We were having no life experience.

ERSKINE That's like Phoebe Waller-Bridge when people ask, "Are you going to do another season [of Fleabag]?" She's like, "Maybe when I'm in my 50s and I've lived more of a life and can come back and bring some more stories."

GLAZER With Broad City, we ended it. Our contract was for more seasons. Comedy Central was like, "Ooh, ah …" and we were like, "Wait, how much longer can we go?" I feel like I'm relearning how to live. I don't know how to be a real person. It was like this constant [imitating Gollum], "Don't ever make space. Never." [Evil laugh.] It consumed us in a beautiful and painful way.

JACOBSON You guys must feel like, finally, you have all the creative power, you can make the show whatever you want to make it. That's such a rare thing. Then for people to fucking love it, it's like, What? Ilana and I felt so much pressure in it, but now we feel so much pressure after.

KONKLE Me and Maya didn't expect to be doing this. PEN15 came out of being, "Nobody's going to like this and nobody likes what I like." Then for people to like it is so incredible, but it, one, hasn't really sunk in and, two, I feel pressure for a second season. It's like, "What did I do? Can I do it again?"

JACOBSON One thing I would say: The positive of not having much time is you don't think as much about what everyone else wants from it.

GLAZER There's this thing of, "Who am I servicing here?" While it's still important to progress the culture, it's also — this is freaky deaky — servicing your mind, body, spirit. You can't be in all places at once. We are limited to these bodies. So I love a freakin' duo, at least you have a partner.

KONKLE Totally.

GLAZER I don't know if you guys find this, but when I'm in partnerships, I'm sometimes like, "They take up that space, I could never take up X, Y, Z's space." I've been thinking about if I didn't have a partner like Abbi, how ... it's a way to force myself to take up the whole space.

JACOBSON That's amazing.

GLAZER Because the things that we make ourselves [in partnerships] is so annoying. [Cartoon voice] "I'm only the fat, hairy dumbshit." And I don't think that men don't have these feelings, I'm just so sick of the repeating record of the female's script in my head. I'm over it.

KONKLE Sadly, my thought when you're saying this is, "Oh, that's how I feel." For me, the mantra that I have is, "When Maya's in the scene, it's fine."

ERSKINE But that's how I feel with you.

GLAZER It's important to also swing the pendulum the other way, "Well, I do this and that must help Maya." And, "I do this and Anna loves that."

JACOBSON But I want to say: The longer Ilana and I did the show, we learned to infuse all the stuff that we were struggling with in real life into it.

KONKLE Do you guys ever look back and wish that you worked with a separate showrunner?

GLAZER We had other hands in there, but there was never a person we could rely on to make our third showrunner. So Abbi and I just sharpened our unit showrunner spear.

ERSKINE I want to pick your guys' brain so much. I'm curious, because I still don't know what is in our power. I don't know what we can ask for and what is too much to ask for. I still apologize to ask for things even if we're running the show.

JACOBSON I think you should never apologize for asking.

KONKLE I could trip on the sidewalk and apologize to someone next to me that I didn't even touch. Truly, that happened yesterday. [Laughs.] And then really go to the other side of things and be like, "No, this is what's going to happen."

GLAZER [We apologized] all the time and felt like [timid voice] "Could we, um, maybe …?" We were on the streets of New York City with no trailer for a couple of seasons. And then [we had] the half-trailers. I could only take a nap on the floor. But up until the very end, we were like [timid voice], "We really think this song would make the episode." [Laughter.] It's so scary, to look back and be like, "Yikes, I have deeply embedded self-loathing for being a strong woman."

ALL Yes!

ERSKINE It's just learning that it's more of a conversation of, "Hey, we really need 20 extras for this scene. I know you're saying we can't afford it, but where else is that money going?"

GLAZER It's making me think about how men's roles are always about their intellect and talent! Then women, it's like, "How is my personality coming across?" It's like jogging through mud, it's so frustrating. I feel like when we were in Broad City, I had to have blinders on to just move forward. But I think with space now to process, I have a lot of anger, even toward myself and the bigger picture. I've never worked with a male showrunner and asked, "Do you hate yourself?" [All laugh.]

JACOBSON The creative part is so difficult, but in the back of our minds, we know we'll figure it out. The hardest part about making a show is communicating with everyone. I'm not in a relationship right now, but that was such practice: There are real stakes with that work family. It makes you afraid and angry, and there are so many different dynamics and hierarchies and egos.

GLAZER It's a really awesome, dank path for self-actualization, you know? It's such a privilege to turn your soul inside out and peel a layer off.

KONKLE Oh my God, it's such an intense mirror.

GLAZER It's so cool though, like with PEN15 and Broad City, when you are responsible for the art, everyone you're working with knows that you're horny, slutty, a stoner, queer, weird, nuts, brilliant, fucking R-word, whatever. And yet, you still are the boss. And you do have all the answers. It's pretty fucking phenomenal. You're, like, humping a pillow and like, "This light is too bright," and you're brilliant in both scenarios. It's fucking dope.

ERSKINE This season, I'm singing to a voodoo doll that's representing a boy I'm stalking, and I wanted to weird out so I asked for a closed set. It's so nice to be able to have that agency.

GLAZER I'm like, "Thank you, black Jewish Jesus that you guys started writing," because what the fuck could you have been in that would have been more culturally progressing than this?

KONKLE I remember when your show came out and a few of my progressive guy friends were like, "It's so funny and it's two women."

ERSKINE Mind-blowing to them.

GLAZER The culture is so gross that men are like, "My sister loves you. My girlfriend loves you." When a man tells me he loves me, I'm like, "You are a special man." Men are afraid that they're gay if they relate to female protagonists. It's insane.

Conversation edited for length and clarity.

This story first appeared in the 2019 Women in Entertainment Power 100 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.