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Ilana Glazer Strikes Out On Her Own In New Stand-Up Special

Dec 28, 2019
Originally published on December 29, 2019 9:06 am

Ilana Glazer is ready for you to get to know the real Ilana.

She's different, she'll have you know, than Ilana Wexler, her free-wheeling alter-ego on Broad City, the comedy Web-turned-TV series she created alongside her co-star, Abbi Jacobson.

For one, she jokes in her new stand-up special, unlike the fake Ilana, the real Ilana is mature enough to take her vitamins before she hits the bowl of weed.

Jokes aside, Glazer is still figuring out who the real Ilana is, after closing a decade-long chapter on the Broad City world with the series finale earlier this year. As in the final episode, the inseparable duo of Glazer and Jacobson, must go through the growing pains of striking out on their own.

"Thinking of myself as an individual entity when it comes to my work ... it's just been hard," she said in an interview with All Things Considered. "You know, it was my whole twenties."

Glazer's working out her real-life solo act in part on stage in an hour-long special, The Planet Is Burning, set to hit Amazon Prime next month. In it, we see the 32-year-old wrestle with adult-y things like her marriage — and her discomfort with the unfamiliar assignments of "wife" and "husband."

Like her Broad City character, Glazer still dances around, slips in and out of voices and impressions, and sings. But beneath that jubilance is a seriousness rarely captured on screen.

While her 20-something character laughed her way through constant shenanigans, she and Jacobson were working hard behind the scenes. "I do feel a little bit like I missed out on mistake-making," Glazer said. "Broad City was this context for our mistakes, where we got to put them in a box and then leave them there. And now I don't really have that box."

Over the past decade, Glazer said she's also realized that she boxed up some feelings while buckling down on the work.

"I've been so grateful and 'Thank you so much for this opportunity,' for so long," she said. "Also, in Broad City, I played the light character and Abbi played the darker character."

Lately, she said, she's embracing that darker side.

"I'm angrier than I've been allowing myself to see," she said. "I have this fire in me that I was not seeing was part of my light."

That fire lit under her appears to drive her political activism efforts. She helped start Generator Collective, a storytelling project that encourages Americans to share their own stories about how public policies affect them personally.

The group's goal, she said, is to "lower the barrier of entry to talking about politics."

Glazer's new material might be another attempt at lowering that barrier with humor to talk about the current political moment.

In The Planet Is Burning, between her twerking and stage-strutting, the comedian touches on the rise of white nationalism through a stolen-haircut joke, and diagnoses the lack of climate change action as the "ultimate FOMO."

In watching herself in the footage from her special, she said, she sees someone who is "more me than Ilana Wexler was."

"I think people think because of Ilana Wexler and Broad City, I'm like this happier, more up person," she said. "And I am, but I'm kind of an optimistic nihilist. 'Cause like while we're on the planet, why not have fun? But — it's literally burning."

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SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Ilana Glazer wants you to know she's ready to be seen as the real Ilana and not Ilana Wexler, the freewheeling character she made famous on Comedy Central's "Broad City."

(SOUNDBITE OF COMEDY SPECIAL, "THE PLANET IS BURNING")

ILANA GLAZER: There are a lot of differences between Ilana Wexler and Ilana Glazer. You're going to be shocked as well as impressed.

(LAUGHTER)

GLAZER: Like, for example, Ilana Wexler obviously wakes and bakes. You know, she wakes up with a bowl betwixt her breasts from the night before.

(CHEERING)

GLAZER: And she gives it the old one-handed (breathing in) oh, yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

GLAZER: Ilana Glazer, on the other hand, wakes up, takes her vitamins.

(LAUGHTER)

GLAZER: And then I get high.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAMMON: The "Broad City" co-creator, writer and director is moving on from the character she created, a young millennial figuring things out in the big city, and she's coming out with her first standup special. But don't worry. If you're a fan of "Broad City," Ilana Glazer still dances around, slips in and out of voices and impressions and sings, so you'll still recognize her. And she's still a vocal advocate for women, body positivity and healthy sexual expression. Ilana Glazer joins us now to talk about her new standup special, "The Planet Is Burning."

Welcome, Ilana.

GLAZER: Hi, Sarah. Thank you so much for having me and also helping me self-actualize through that intro (laughter). I was, like, oh, yes. That is what I'm trying to do here.

MCCAMMON: Yeah. And how is that going - becoming a...

GLAZER: (Laughter).

MCCAMMON: ...Or maybe returning to Ilana Glazer?

GLAZER: It's hard. This year was hard. Also, returning to Ilana Glazer and also thinking of myself as an individual entity when it comes to my work compared to with my "Broad City" partner, Abbi Jacobson. It's just been hard. You know, it was my whole 20s, "Broad City." And it's (laughter) - it's hard. But, like, you know, it's - life is hard, so it feels like the right time. I'm 32. It feels like the right time to be building an individual identity.

MCCAMMON: And in "Broad City," for those who haven't seen it, you and Abbi Jacobson, your co-creator - you're both these young single women - kind of scattered, fair to say, sometimes, right - in New York City...

GLAZER: Yeah.

MCCAMMON: ...Just trying to figure out life.

GLAZER: Yeah, and free to mess up - especially, like, the pre-Trump seasons. I'm, like, dang, these girls are free. They are free to just - they're just freewheeling, you know? They're not really - they're, like, angry at the man or whatever. But they have the space - the world of "Broad City" is the space for these young Jewish girls to mess up and be messes.

MCCAMMON: And a lot of that centers around your relationships or your attempts at relationships. But in this new special, you open up about this new phase of life, which includes you being married. And you talk about some of your discomfort with that and especially with the word husband itself.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMEDY SPECIAL, "THE PLANET IS BURNING")

GLAZER: Husband just sounds like WASP drag coming out of this Jewy mouth.

(LAUGHTER)

GLAZER: I'm, like, oh, my husband. Uh-huh. Uh-huh.

(LAUGHTER)

GLAZER: Yes. My husband and I - we took a little ride upstate to Bedford to review some property, but nothing quite suited us. Uh-uh. No.

(LAUGHTER)

GLAZER: Oh, don't worry. We'll find something.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAMMON: Why does it feel so uncomfortable, Ilana?

GLAZER: Oh, my gosh. This is really tripping me out (laughter). You're, like, truly helping me understand myself, Sarah. Thank you. Thank you, NPR. You know, when you were just saying, like, about in "Broad City" how it was, like, about relationships, I was thinking, kind of. But, like, the romantic relationships were kind of a joke compared to the real love between Abbi and Ilana.

And I don't know why it's so uncomfortable. I've been with my partner for 7 1/2 years. And even partner, I'm just, like, I really prefer to say my dude. I've been with my dude for 7 1/2 years. But it's still, like, weird because I guess it just feels so grown-up.

MCCAMMON: You seem to be kind of trying to come to terms with sort of real adulthood in this new special. Like, why do you think that's so hard?

GLAZER: (Laughter) You know, I think Abbi and I were really much more serious and worked so hard during this time that, like, the fun that we had was the show. It wasn't like I was really doing the things that the character was doing. So now I'm, like, did I party enough during that time (laughter)?

MCCAMMON: Yeah. Do you feel like you missed out?

GLAZER: I do feel a little bit like I missed out on mistake-making. Abbi and I were such, like, good students. So I'm, like, why didn't I just, like, let myself be a little bit more of a mess? And I knew in the special, as I listen, to it, I'm, like, covering my mouth. Like, oh, my god. Like, that's me? You know I'm really not used to seeing myself be myself in that way.

MCCAMMON: You've called your new special "The Planet Is Burning." And I guess that refers to - what, our political moment and probably the climate change?

GLAZER: Yeah. I think people, like, think because of Ilana Wexler on "Broad City" I'm, like, this, like, sort of happier, more up person. And I am, but it's, like, I'm kind of an optimistic nihilist because, like, while we're on the planet, why not have fun? But it's literally burning.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMEDY SPECIAL, "THE PLANET IS BURNING")

GLAZER: So the government is on fire.

(LAUGHTER)

GLAZER: And so is the planet. The planet is on [expletive] fire. And the mean dinosaurs in office just don't seem to mind. I think they want us to die because they're about to die.

(LAUGHTER)

GLAZER: That is the ultimate foul mouth.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAMMON: So, you know, you're touching on some serious things there, obviously in a joking way. And you have used your platform and - aside from your comedy to engage in political activism. You've started the Generator Collective, a storytelling project that encourages Americans to share their own stories about how public policies affect them personally. What are you hoping to accomplish with that?

GLAZER: That's right. So what, like, we're trying to accomplish with Generator Collective is to just lower the barrier of entry to talking about politics. And it should be something that we all feel like we have our hands in a part. And, you know, voting - like, it sucks when people, like, vote, and they're, like, this is going to do nothing. We should really feel like our vote counts, and it really does in a lot of cases. So our goal is to lower the barrier of entry to discussing politics. And also in 2020, we're looking to empower people to vote.

MCCAMMON: So is this a big part - we've talked a lot about growing up, but the Generator Collective, your political activism - is this kind of part of the next phase of the more grown-up Ilana Glazer?

GLAZER: (Laughter) Yeah. I guess so. I guess it is.

MCCAMMON: What else are you learning about yourself as you move onto this new stage?

GLAZER: I am learning that I have - that I've been, like, suppressing my anger. You know, with "Broad City" being, like, me and Abbi's, like, breakout project - it's not even, like, a project, you know what I mean? We played so many roles on it, I'm just, like, that was our lives or whatever. But that's what allowed us to sort of enter this industry in a legitimate way. And that was a 10-year climb from our web series to the final episode.

And I just have, like, anger. I've been, like, so, like, grateful, and thank you so much for this opportunity for, like, so long. And I'm just, like, I'm angrier than I've been allowing myself to see. I have, like, this fire in me that I was, like, sort of not seeing was part of my light. And also, like, in "Broad City," like, I played the light character, and Abbi played the darker character. And I'm sort of embodying that darkness more.

MCCAMMON: You mentioned exploring your darker side. In this new comedy special, you tackle some serious topics like the Holocaust and the rise of White Nationalism in the U.S. in recent years. It's all in a joking way, of course, like when you poke fun at Nazi haircuts. We have a clip of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMEDY SPECIAL, "THE PLANET IS BURNING")

GLAZER: They figured out the gay haircuts 70 years in advance. How'd they do that? Did the Nazis have a time machine? Honestly, they, like, time traveled to 2015 Williamsburg, Brooklyn. They were, like, oh [expletive]. This is it. Yeah.

(APPLAUSE)

GLAZER: Oh, we're going tight on the sides and long on top, boys. Let's go.

MCCAMMON: So obviously, you're joking there. But you spend a lot of time talking about kind of where we are in this political moment. And how do you think about how - what it's OK to joke about?

GLAZER: Oh, my goodness. I don't even know, dude. Like, you know, I start that whole Nazi bit about, like, being in Hebrew school and how young I was exposed to the Holocaust and how, like, Jews are really, like, taught about the Holocaust so young. It's just my experience, I guess. Like, that bit was, like, a scary bit to do. But also, I feel like when something feels scary, it's not necessarily wrong. If it's getting laughs, and there's, like, a connection between me and the audience, then it means that we're all needing this right now.

MCCAMMON: That's Ilana Glazer. Her first standup special, "The Planet Is Burning," will be available on Amazon Prime Video on January 3. We reached her at the NPR bureau in New York.

Ilana Glazer, thanks so much for joining us.

GLAZER: Thanks so much for having me, Sarah. You taught me a lot about myself. Thank you very much.

MCCAMMON: Happy to help (laughter).

GLAZER: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.