What happens when two brainy women with a severe case of arrested development make a comedy show? It's called ''Broad City,'' and it's leaping from the Web to a TV near you in January

By Melissa Maerz
December 13, 2013 at 05:00 AM EST

You know you’ve really made it in comedy when your boobs have come in contact with Amy Poehler’s boobs. Two years ago, Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, creators of the YouTube comedy series Broad City, were jogging through Manhattan, passing by your typical New Yorkers — a street musician, a clipboard-clutching petitioner, a slow-walking couple with their baby carriage — when they suddenly found themselves running alongside one of TV’s most famous comedians. “This is going to be an awesome day!” Poehler told them, exchanging high fives — and requesting a somewhat awkward “titty bump” with both women. Tragically, Poehler was soon sidelined by an avalanche of oranges. (Long story.) But when Glazer and Jacobson ran ahead, Poehler called out to them from the sidewalk. “Never forget! We bumped boobs! And they can’t take that away from us.”

Okay, so maybe that didn’t happen in real life. The scene actually played out in an episode of Broad City, which Glazer and Jacobson are currently adapting for Comedy Central. (It debuts Jan. 22 at 10:30 p.m.) To be fair, though, Broad City intentionally blurs the line between truth and fiction. Over tea at the Refinery Hotel in Manhattan, Glazer and Jacobson explain that they play “Ilana” and “Abbi,” two ambitious young women who are always trying to score Lil Wayne tickets, cure their hangovers, and just survive their 20s in New York City. “They’re exaggerated versions of ourselves,” says Jacobson, 29, the straighter-haired and more serious-minded of the two. “I’m a little bit older than Ilana, and I’m so set in my ways that I need to be young again. And Ilana’s character is the expediter of that.”

Also, just like on the show, Poehler is their own personal, relentlessly upbeat cheerleader. Comedy Central signed Glazer and Jacobson based on Poehler’s recommendation, and her imprimatur has helped the show lure guest stars including Janeane Garofalo, Hannibal Buress, Amy Sedaris, and Fred Armisen, who agreed to play a full-grown man who wears diapers and talks like a baby. Considering that Broad City started with a grainy two-minute sketch about a homeless man, the idea that Glazer and Jacobson are making a show with big names and an actual budget still feels strange. “This industry is insane,” insists Glazer, 26, the wilder, curlier-haired of the two. “There’s a lot of bulls—. There’s a lot of gross people…”

“Definitely put all of this in there,” deadpans Jacobson, pointing to EW’s tape recorder.

“But there’s also a lot of amazing, golden-hearted people like Amy Poehler, where you’re like, Okay, it makes sense that you got where you are.”

Long before they met Poehler, Glazer and Jacobson were living the struggling-actor cliché. They both worked boring office jobs, and a big chunk of their paychecks went to classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade, the improv and sketch-comedy group that Poehler cofounded. They auditioned for UCB’s house team, the Harold, and were rejected — multiple times. “Our parents were worried,” Jacobson admits. So in 2010 they started posting their own YouTube sketches under the name Broad City, writing and starring in clips that found them avoiding panhandlers, making awkward subway conversation, and using cute guys to get access to their washing machines. It quickly earned a cult following, with Poehler counting herself among their fans. After a UCB teacher connected all three women, Poehler agreed to make an appearance in the Web series’ season 2 finale. Says the Parks and Recreation star, “They’re really liberated, sexy, unapologetically sexual women who also have very similar feelings and neuroses that I did at that age, and still do.” And when Glazer and Jacobson screened the episode at a viewing party in 2011, future Girls creator Lena Dunham was one of the fans in attendance. (“They are the female Andy Kaufmans,” Dunham tells EW.)

It was the kind of meeting that zeitgeists are made of. By the time Girls debuted in spring 2012 and became one of the most beloved (or be-hated) shows of the year, TV execs were already busy searching for more young, funny, urban, female “voice of a generation” shows to call their own. CBS had 2 Broke Girls, Fox had New Girl, NBC started developing a sitcom based on the Tumblr blog F—! I’m in My Twenties!, and Comedy Central snapped up Broad City. “It’s so cool that this wave is happening,” Glazer says. “It’s not a fad that women exist with accountable brains. It’s a movement.”

Poehler once said that she loves Broad City because it “reminds us that men aren’t the only ones who are adolescent and adrift.” And the show does feel like a girly twist on the arrested-development comedies that Judd Apatow has been making for years. Take the episode where Ilana smuggles marijuana on a flight by hiding it inside a part of her body where no airport security officer would dare to venture. “I did that once,” she says proudly. “I was worried, but the scariest thing was that it was so safe! They were like, ‘Hello, little white girl!’ And I got on the plane.” Or take the real-life debates that make their way into episodes, like the time Glazer and Jacobson challenged each other to name the grossest celebrities they’d be willing to hook up with.

“My legit one in real life is Michael Douglas,” volunteers Jacobson, sipping her tea.

“That’s not gross — he’s gorgeous!” argues Glazer.

“He’s so old, though!” says Jacobson, making a face. “Also, Rob Kardashian. He has a ‘dressy sock’ line!” Glazer and Jacobson explode with laughter. “But you know what? I like socks!” Jacobson pulls up her pant leg, revealing polka dots underneath.

Dressy socks. Smuggled weed. This is the stuff that inspires Broad City‘s best moments, real talk about totally surreal things. In future episodes, Glazer and Jacobson will poke fun at a Brooklyn vegan sandwich shop and the Chelsea art scene, but ultimately every episode is about two young women trying to make it in the city. “I lived in Brooklyn for four or five years,” Glazer says, “and every time I was about to go over the bridge, I’d go to the [subway] window and say, ‘I’m gonna show you, New York!’ I wanted to make New York proud, straight up.”

If New York isn’t proud just yet, at least their parents are. These days, Glazer and Jacobson headline their own showcases at UCB. A recent night found Jacobson’s father in the crowd, looking on happily while his daughter and Glazer chair-danced to Azealia Banks’ raunchy hip-hop single “212.” Later, ex-SNL writer Eric Slovin read a totally inappropriate children’s book about the presidents, Glazer’s brother Eliot sang a romantic Celine Dion song to a very confused dog — and the two former UCB rejects hosted the whole thing. “It’s interesting, those Harold auditions were one of the most stressful things I’ve ever done in my life,” Jacobson tells EW a few days later. “And I had repressed that. But recently my dad and I were talking about Broad City, and he was like, ‘So, you’re okay with not getting on a Harold team now?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, Dad, I think I’m okay.'”

An Endorsement from Amy
Broad City is [about] these two young, struggling New York girls who are trying to navigate the smallest things every day. Mailing a letter, picking up a package, going to Bed Bath & Beyond — whatever it is, just the small everyday things about New York, but it’s constantly complicated and crazy. Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer have real natural chemistry because they are such good friends. I’m always interested in true female friendships that you see on TV. I like their buddy-comedy attitude.”