Abbi Jacobson on her 'Broad' comedy

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"We thought, 'Let's try to get somebody cool for the last episode,' and that's when we came up with Amy Poehler, whom we had never met, and she said yes, which was crazy. Abbi Jacobson of "Broad City."

The wind is howling, but inside this coffeehouse on Christian Street, it's cozy, all the windows opaque with steam. One by one, the patrons - millennials who have staked out their tables with laptops - approach Abbi Jacobson to gush about how much they love her show, Broad City.

"It's usually not like this," says the Main Line native, flustered by the processional. "Most places, I'm not recognized at all."

She'd better get used to the attention. Her anarchic Comedy Central series with Ilana Glazer is rapidly transitioning from cult favorite to prime-time sensation.

It's not as if Jacobson and Glazer are courting mainstream appeal. The show about two rambunctiously unemployable friends in New York has, if anything, grown more provocative and lewd as the second season rolls out.

In the premiere, Abbi - both co-stars gave their characters their own first names - made swampy love during a heat wave with a flatulent man (guest star Seth Rogen), long after he had passed out from the temperature.

"The makeup artists were spraying glycerin on us the whole time," Jacobson recalls. "It wasn't even hot in the room."

In the season's second episode, Abbi, alone in her kitchen, launched into a long, unrestrained dance in her birthday suit (strategically blurred) to Lady Gaga's "The Edge of Glory."

It might not have been as graceful as Giselle. Or even Sia's "Chandelier" video. But the caper did have its fans.

"OK Abbi dancing to 'The Edge of Glory' naked on my favorite show," tweeted Lady Gaga afterward. "@broadcity is the greatest thing that's ever happened."

"So cool," enthuses Abbi of the shoutout. "She's got like 44 million Twitter followers. It's nuts."

How did a girl from Wayne, the product of what she terms "an awesome suburban childhood," grow up to be an exhibitionistic screwball on TV? (And bear in mind, Abbi is prudish compared with the truly unhinged Ilana.)

It is, as you might expect, a funny story.

After studying at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, Jacobson moved to New York to be a serious actress.

She enrolled at the prestigious Atlantic Theater Conservatory, founded by playwright David Mamet and actor William H. Macy.

"It was so dramatic, so heady the way they taught at that school," Jacobson says. "We would go through dialogue analyzing every word. I can't think like that."

Jacobson quit and began taking improv classes offered by the Upright Citizens Brigade comedy troupe. That's where she met Glazer, who was trying to make it in stand-up.

"I was working all these shady jobs and taking classes at night," Jacobson says. "I used to live on Craigslist, trying to find jobs. I was a caterer for a long time. I worked at a bakery. I worked at Anthropologie - twice, at two different ones."

The spirit of Broad City derives from those loopy but hopeful years, when the ladies were scrambling around the city, trying to make ends meet.

"Abbi is 26 on the show," says Jacobson, who turns 31 today, "but I think it's really me at 22."

Which raises the question: Just how much Abbi Jacobson is in Broad City's Abbi Abrams?

"It's a heightened version of myself, of certain parts of myself," she says. "I like to use details, so Abbi is from Philly and went to my college [in Maryland]. But I knew I wanted to do comedy at that age. She's much more floundering in terms of knowing what she wants to do."

Her comedy partner, Glazer, thinks the difference is more subtle.

"I wish there were a clear answer, but it's not even clear to us!" she says by e-mail. "When Abbi falls fuh-lattttt on her butt in an upcoming episode - that is real Abbi. She really fell! But she wouldn't have been in the position, in the context, to fall, in real life. . . . Abbi is both smart and responsible and wild and daring in real life, just like her character."

The pair forged their cannonball collaboration in a Web series titled Broad City, the saga of two girls who want what we all do: frozen yogurt, sex, and a job that pays us lavishly for doing nothing.

"We were both sort of frustrated and with no grand scheme," Jacobson says. "It was 'Let's do something concrete so we can put it online.' We created the web series to regain control." By playing pop culture's most out-of-control dames.

The videos never went viral, but they did get props in the comedy community. After a couple of years of guerrilla production, they decided they were ready to go to Los Angeles and pitch their escapades as a real show. But they needed a persuasive selling point.

"We thought, 'Let's try to get somebody cool for the last episode,' and that's when we came up with Amy Poehler, whom we had never met, and she said yes, which was crazy," Jacobson says. Poehler, an Upright Citizens Brigade alum, now serves as Broad City's executive producer.

Hmmm, 20-something femmes without any sense of how tacky their lives in Brooklyn are? Sounds a lot like the territory mapped out in Lena Dunham's Girls.

"She definitely laid a path for us," Jacobson says. "Female-driven comedies are in high demand, as they should be. But I hate when people compare our shows and say one is better than the other.

"I had lunch with Lena about six months ago," she continues. "I think it's great if we can show we're friends and supportive of each other because people are always trying to pit us against each other."

She met Dunham at a wrap party for the Web series' first season. Dunham was a guest of Hannibal Buress, who plays Ilana's sometime lover, an unruffled dentist named Lincoln, on Broad City.

Buress, of course, is the comedian whose bit about Bill Cosby and rape at a Philadelphia performance in October ignited the firestorm that has consumed Cosby's reputation and career.

"I know for a fact that Hannibal was the most surprised person in the world when that blew up," Jacobson says. "He thought it was something insane that no one would pay attention to. The fact that it took him saying it for people to start acknowledging it is insane to me.

"It's sad, too," she goes on. "I'm a fan. The Cosby Show was one of my all-time favorites."

Among her other TV jams when she was growing up on King of Prussia Road were Roseanne, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Friends, Seinfeld, and her greatest passion, Saturday Night Live.

"My parents loved SNL, and I remember getting to stay up late and watch it," she says. "When I was in eighth grade at Valley Forge Middle School, that was the height of my SNL love, when it was Will Ferrell and Molly Shannon. I stopped watching as much in high school because I would go out."

As a student at Conestoga High, her Saturday nights mostly consisted of going into Center City for concerts. "If not," she recalls, "somebody would have a house party, and we'd all end up running from the cops."

Jacobson is in town for the 60th birthday of her mother, artist Susan Komm of Berwyn. Her father, Alan Jacobson, is a graphic artist in Villanova. (Abbi's strange fascination with Bed Bath & Beyond on Broad City? Jacobson's mother worked at two: in Wynnewood and King of Prussia.)

The birthday party was at a swanky steakhouse on Rittenhouse Square, precisely the type of joint that would forbid the TV Abbi and Ilana entree.

That's the challenge. The more successful they become, the harder it is to stay in touch with the wild and wooly years when they were cash-strapped but audacious.

"The biggest difference between how Abbi and I work today and how we worked as partners when we first met is two-fold: money and people," Glazer says. "Money is now involved, and we actually have a budget, which affords us a lot of talented people to help us make this show. So it's more complex simply because there are more people and factors to consider."

Not that the good life doesn't have its allure.

"It's funny. On the first of January, Ilana and I went out to a really fancy restaurant," Jacobson says. "It's cool that we're able to do that now.

"My life is very different. I'm not rolling in it, but I can take a cab if I want," she says, laughing. "I have not taken the subway at 3 in the morning in a while."

Let's hope the TV Abbi never escapes the underground.

 


TV

Broad City

10:30 p.m. Wednesday on Comedy Central.


dhiltbrand@phillynews.com

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