New York Comedy Fest: Amy Poehler Talks 'Broad City' Roots and Weirdly Specific "Street-Level Feel"

The Paley Center for Media
Seth Rogen, Ilana Glazer, Abbi Jacobson, Amy Poehler, Lucia Aniello and Caroline Hirsch

"We actually had a minute where we were at FX, and then FX really blew it…. We benefited from being a little underestimated, I think"

Broad City, Comedy Central's show about two female best friends in New York City, was almost a hit for another network.

As part of the New York Comedy Festival, executive producer Amy Poehler joined the show's stars Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, writer-director Lucia Aniello and panel moderator Seth Rogen at New York City's Paley Center for Media on Sunday night, as she detailed Broad City's uncertain beginnings.

"We actually had a minute where we were at FX, and then FX really blew it," Poehler told the audience at the sold-out event. "They were doing a lot of different programming and couldn't quite crack it and, very nicely, kind of gave it back to us. We benefited from being a little underestimated, I think."

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With prior experience and connections at Comedy Central, Poehler then went to the network to resell her pitch. "I said, 'This is the right home for it, and I think we have made a mistake.' And it was very instant and immediate. Comedy Central is so excellent at trusting talent."

Broad City is such an oddball intimate program that such freedom has been central to its effectiveness. Before the panel, Glazer and Jacobson spoke about the personal nature of the show and the way it translates to viewers, who approach them with absolute familiarity.

"We're on tour right now and our whole show is like, 'Hang out with us,' " Glazer told The Hollywood Reporter, "It's such a fun, freaky, queer hangout. It is really weird, but it is kind of what the show is about, the TV show and the live show. It's strange but it's also totally pointed, so we can't be that surprised, right?"

"We try to stay very true to these exaggerated versions of ourselves," Jacobson told THR. "Everything is very grounded. We try to base everything on some sort of truth. Every story is the seed of something, so I get why it feels real. The point is to try and make it feel real."

Glazer and Jacobson met as members of the Upright Citizens Brigade and started filming web shorts in an effort to "make more permanent material," Glazer told the audience. "We wanted to send our parents links."

Poehler, a UCB alum herself, became involved as the two worked toward transforming the web series for television. "I've said this before," Poehler said, "but I feel like taking a web series to television is kind of like an organ transplant: you just have to make sure the heart doesn't die on the way to your location."

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Once at Comedy Central, Broad City stayed true to its roots, which dug deeply into the concrete of New York City. "It's impossible not to include it," Aniello told THR of the setting. "Even if you didn't want to, it's gonna get in your face." Aniello also told a story of a difficult season-two shoot in Chinatown that involved a butcher carrying sliced-open pigs directly through their location.

"We talk a lot about the idea of it being very street-level feel of New York," Poehler added at the panel. "There are a lot of New York stories that are seen from a bird's-eye view, so we wanted to feel the physical-ness of the street. You guys, I would say, shoot more in exterior New York.... The only other show is probably Law & Order."

Broad City also captures female relationships unlike most other shows, but when Glazer and Jacobson are asked about their hand in changing female television narratives, they turn silly and distant. "The characters definitely have vaginas, but it's not like on our minds when we're writing," Glazer said. And Jacobson, following her lead, said: "Most of the time they're talking to each other, they're not thinking about the fact that they have vaginas."

Season two of Broad City airs this January, and as Poehler tells it, fans should expect a Rogen cameo, a larger view of Abbi's and Ilana's world and some groundbreaking material.

"For the first season, we really wanted to make sure that everybody knew that at the end of the day, this show was a love story between Abbi and Ilana.… They're the couple, they're the two that you have to care about," Poehler said. In season two, "there are a couple of episodes that are f—ing crazy. Abbi and Ilana do some stuff — that's really, really good, and I don't like to say has never been seen on television, because that's not usually true…but there are a couple things."