From Comedy Central to the comedy club: Ilana Glazer

Ilana Glazer

Right before 2009 became 2010, two sketch comedians then out of New York City, Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, started a web series that was an exploded version of their own lives and loves throughout the Five Boroughs: Broad City. The wonderfully weird web program filled with characters beyond themselves (Hannibal Buress’ Lincoln Rice, DDS, Chris Gethard’s Todd from Deals! Deals! Deals!) was beloved, awarded, and critically cheered until Saturday Night Live/Parks & Recreation’s Amy Poehler hooked up with Glazer and Jacobson to help them shop a pilot script even more whack than its web version.

From 2014 until 2019, five seasons and fifty episodes, Broad City was a smash hit on Comedy Central’s basic cable channel as a study of the wild lives of two friends (three if you count Val, Abbi’s drunk alter ego), Astoria-based artist Abbi Abrams and Brooklyn slacker pot head Ilana Wexler. Consistently hailed by Rotten Tomatoes and the Megacratic algorithm, to say nothing of its multiple appearances on “best of the decade lists at or Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, The A.V. Club, Great Britain’s The Guardian (“the 96th best TV show of the 21st Century”) and The Advocate (the 15th-“Most Important LGBTQ TV Show” of the decade), Broad City was a radical feminist manifesto wrapped up in post-modern, deconstructionist I Love Lucy and Ethel/Laverne & Shirley comedic antics.

Why all this is important, now, is that while Jacobson seems to be focusing on remaining on comedy series television with the recent reboot of A League of Their Own, Ilana Glazer – like her Broad City character, a New York University psychology major and weed enthusiast – is doing something unique, something that normally happens in reverse for comic TV actors: she’s trying hand at stand-up comedy in comedy clubs.

Along with winning a Tony Award for Best Musical for serving as a producer for the Broadway show A Strange Loop, Glazer in 2022 is ignoring her roots of her days studying as part of the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre doing improv in New York City, and hitting the brick walls and two-drink minimum of the comedy club as evidenced by her immediately sold out stand up showcase at Punch Line Comedy Club.

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Maybe she would have started working comedy clubs in earnest back in 2020 when her first stand up special, the Amazon Prime jam Ilana Glazer: The Planet Is Burning hit the steamer, but you know: COVID.

One of the nicest parts of Glazer starting/re-starting her stand up gig at Punch Line Comedy Club is, as far as comedy club spaces go, Punch Line is pretty chill a wide room with the usual communal tables familiar to the comedy club vibe, but backed up by a back row of premium booth seating for optimal viewing. Why the chill hang suite thing works for Glazer stems from the fact that she is less about hard core jokes and riveting rim shot punchlines, and more about something conversational – something a rambling stoner mom would do. Which she is.

To paraphrase a now famous quote from a great veteran of the 60s and 70s comedy club circuit, Steve Martin, writing about stand-up comedy is like dancing about architecture. There’s no point or necessity, let alone feel or timing, to doing word by word accounts of what some stand up’s set in a comedy club might have been. So, how does this work?

Rather than go for the political jugular – something Glazer actually did recently for People Mag in her first-person essay, ‘As a Queer Jewish Mama, I’m Gonna Be Patriotic as Hell’ This November’ – the stand up, somewhat nervously, was gentler than I would have imagined. She touched on the joys of motherhood and the desire to lovingly nibble on he baby the way my parents doted on me, as well as talking in the same nonsensical jibberish as her baby. Ilana Glazer talked about her Jewishness with pride and told the comedy club habitues about being a Brooklyn home host prone to offering her house guests multiple shades and tastes of kush to smoke. Family and social pressures were touched on, in an abbreviated way – something she did a lot of, start, then stop, then pick up on the same topic again later in her Punch Line Comedy Club’s set. That scatological vibe was a big part of what Glazer made her own, something that the late, great word jazz jabber, comedy club legend Lenny Bruce started, a routine seemingly conversational in tone and rhythm, but as studiously improvisational as an Ornette Coleman saxophone solo.

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Going back to my start, what was/is most impressive about Glazer waltzing onto a comedy club’s stage after the wild success of a series such as Broad City is that this is a rare circumstance (only Jeremy Piven of Entourage fame springs to mind as a television series regular who moved into stand up).  Jerry Seinfeld, Paul Reiser, Whitney Cummings, Jarrod Carmichael, Kevin Hart, Roseanne Barr, Jim Carey, Amy Schumer – all of these stand-up comedians worked the comedy club circuit forever until they went into television and/or streaming history. Television news and talk show hosts from Bill Maher to Trevor Noah to Chelsea Handler all did the same from-comedy-club-to-behind-the-desk job.

Ilana Glazer should be commended for giving the comedy club thing a go.  She was an amiable host (save for not sharing her weed with those of us at Punch Line Comedy Club), a good mom and a relaxed (once she settled into the gig) fit stand-up.

    • A.D. Amarosi's Headshot

      A.D. Amorosi is a Philadelphia-based journalist who, along with Philadelphia Weekly, writes for numerous local, national and international publications including Variety and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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