How does a “woke” millennial staring at a rapidly heating planet find something to laugh about? The same way she finds the funny in patriarchal oppression.
Ilana Glazer, 32, is best known for the sitcom Broad City. She met co-creator and co-star Abbi Jacobson while taking improv classes at New York City’s Upright Citizens Brigade. Eventually, the two teamed up to create a web series—a fictionalized ode to their friendship with its own lexicon. Then Amy Poehler signed on as executive producer, and Comedy Central picked up the zeitgeisty show.
The world of comedy isn’t exactly known for empathy, but Broad City became beloved for foregrounding the complexities of white supremacy (“Sometimes you’re so anti-racist that you’re actually, like, really racist,” Jacobson tells Glazer in season 3) and normalizing the experiences of queer, gender-nonconforming, and people-of-color characters. Off-screen, Glazer developed a cultlike following through her Instagram account, which functions as something like a stoner’s master class in social justice. Through her #generatorcollective project, Glazer encourages the pursuit of “minimal civic engagement” by interviewing activists and creating how-to livestreams of her own phone calls with senators.
“We all have a platform now,” Glazer told Sierra. “I know Instagram and Facebook are evil, but I think real democracy is erupting in the form of social media.” That’s why she’s used her own platform to show photos of melting glaciers and tout “the only 10-year challenge you fucking need to care about,” and to hawk reusable water bottles and other recyclable merch advertising her new stand-up special, The Planet Is Burning. (“Lit’rally saving the world right now, guys,” she’s posted.)
Broad City, which helped turn “yas kween” into a catchphrase, came to a bittersweet end in March. Almost immediately, Glazer returned to live comedy. The Planet Is Burning sold out all 20 shows last summer and will stream on Amazon Prime starting in January.
Before coming up with her material, covering everything from DivaCups and the alt-right to reasons why the future’s still female, Glazer landed on her title. “I was like, ‘Hello?!’ The planet is literally on fire, but the people in charge act like it’s not and that’s insane and actually sums up the special’s whole thesis.”
If The Planet Is Burning sometimes relies on the tropes of classic stoner comedy, it’s because Glazer likes to expound on the art of being a pothead slacker who can still take direct action to defend women’s rights. While its star is outspoken about her preference for the phrase “global burning” over the milquetoast “climate change,” the special is light on actual climate science. “It’s too depressing and honestly doesn’t make for good stand-up bits.”
Glazer’s humor leaves plenty of room for optimism, apocalyptic theses be damned. She shared with Sierra one gross joke that didn’t make the final cut, likening the fraught state of America to a massive pimple. “It hurts and it’s ugly and it’s gross, but it’s coming to a head right now, and that’s necessary,” Glazer explained. “It’s why things feel so tense—that shit is changing.”
While Glazer sees the future as female, she also thinks it should embody a partnership-based culture. “The power structure today is dominator culture—it’s white-male-dominated and encompasses rape culture and slave culture,” she said. “It’s about taking resources from the many and distributing them to the few, which is why we’ve taken the system of science and raped it, held it hostage, used it for profit.”
Glazer sees a natural marriage between science and comedy. “The big joke is that we have all these scientific resources, yet the majority of the system is ignoring them. The education system is terrible, yet every kid has an iPhone,” she said. “And these complicated devices are changing how they’re thinking, communicating, and building movements. I’m so ready for this next generation to trip out on the exciting trauma-healing possibilities literally at our fingertips.”
This article appeared in the November/December 2019 edition with the headline “Burn Notice.”