What's in a Broad? Hillary Clinton As Pragmatic Icon in 'Broad City' Cameo
Hillary Clinton's appearance on Broad City may be pandering, or a genuine assertion of the series' female space.
Broad CityAirtime: Wednesdays, 9pm
Cast: Abbi Jacobson, Ilana Glazer, Hannibal Buress
Network: Comedy Central
Air date: 2016-03-16
Let's get the elephant out of the room first thing: I’m voting for Hillary Clinton. Whether you want to debate the merits of that, or dismiss me as an idiot, it remains universally true that her guest spot on Broad City is a subject of interest. When I first heard that this appearance would be forthcoming, I had many immediate questions: What did she hope to gain by the appearance? Would Clinton be able to vibe with the show's raunchiness, or would the show compromise to elevate its tone in order to include her effectively? Did this constitute a Clinton endorsement of the show, and then conversely also the show’s endorsement of Clinton? Is she going to play herself? Is it a walk-on or a fully fleshed out character? Is Clinton even funny?
The build up to this episode was killing me. The night before the first episode of the new season, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer appeared on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, and I couldn’t wait for them to talk about Clinton’s appearance. Was it a pain to get the script approved? What was she like on set? Did she do any improvising? Are they voting for her? But it never came up. Colbert talked to comedy's two hottest rising television stars for eight minutes, and nobody ever even breathed a word about their link to the presidency's longest rising hot-button candidate.
Much of the point of having a guest on a show is to boost ratings, and to increase new viewership by piquing audience interest with the appearance of a favorite celebrity. Guest spots are widely publicized and talked about in advance on late night shows for this very reason. I was bummed not to get new info from either the girls or Colbert, but also intrigued by the simple fact of their silence.
Is it just that Broad City is so straight-up amazing that Jacobson and Glazer don’t need to tout their guest list? Perhaps, since it’s true that none of this season’s high profile add-ons were discussed during that interview. I’ve been a serious fan of the show since the pilot episode; these two ladies have so many qualities that resonate with me. All dope-smoking aside, I just love them. Jacobson’s awkward in the best possible way, down to earth but also down for adventure. Glazer's offensive in the best possible way, aggressively consuming physical space, but intellectually committed to nothing.
Broad City is, for me, like the love child of Dick Van Dyke and Janeane Garofolo. It's the unlikely heir to classic '60s sitcoms full of exaggerated physical comedy, wild misunderstandings that breed heroic adventures, and a leap of faith that everything always ends happily.
On the other hand, it’s also the most cutting-edge breed of feminism available for our modern, uncertain times, socking it to the worst elements of American culture with fully politicized lives and fully formed opinions couched in a stream of bitingly surreal witticisms that -- coming out of a man’s mouth instead of a woman’s -- would be hailed as pioneering, but are instead sometimes struggling to get out from under the label of vulgarity.
Because, what’s a "broad", really? Yes, their city is wide, but the title of the show also implies that city belongs to these two broads. Broad: noun, North American slang for a woman, arguably meant to have derogatory connotation. Or consider this delightful clarification from Urban Dictionary, brought to you by Mos Def: "less respectable than lady but much more respectable than bitch". What makes Jacobson and Glazer, either as real life human beings or as the slightly exaggerated character versions of their own humanness, classifiable as "broads"? As I began watching this season, I was reminded of a lot of reasons to label these two as such.
For starters, they’re broke. As Pierre Bourdieu pointed out way back in 1979 in his excellent toilet tank tome Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste, lower socioeconomic status is often tied directly to cultural opinion, meaning that women of little means are overwhelmingly rejected by more financially stable segments of society. This rejection takes the form of automatic discredit of their tastes.
In the first episode of the season, Glazer accidentally drops the key to her bike lock down a sewer grate, which results in her having to walk around the entire day with a huge, unwieldy chain around her waist. Despite its obvious weirdness, nobody in the episode comments on it, even though she has to heft it repeatedly just to sit or walk around. Just one more crazy broad dismissed as having unusual fashion sense.
Add to this Jacobson and Glazer’s status as unmarried, and the label of "broad" becomes even more applicable. In the second episode this season, Jacobson faces the wrath of the local co-op board for impersonating Glazer to fulfill Glazer's monthly volunteer hours in order to keep her membership. The only reason Jacobson's discovered is that she confesses in a desperate last attempt to connect with a sexy fellow volunteer who seems normal and interested in her, if only she can reveal herself as not actually Glazer.
He’s horrified that she would lie to the co-op and ends up rejecting her. Meanwhile, Glazer's fearfully approaching a doctor's appointment because she has to get a shot, so her occasional boyfriend has to soothe her in a variety of creative ways. Hannibal Buress always nails the perfectly measured reaction to Glazer's Tasmanian devil antics. Yet, for his above and beyond good behavior, he nets zero commitment from Glazer.
Glazer and Jacobson are serious besties for life, with more than a touch of homoerotic undertow in the longing side-eye and breathless mumbles emitted by Glazer. These sisters are doing it for themselves. They’ve no secrets from each other, they defend each other against any outsider even when one of them is being completely stupid, and they tell each other the truth in the most supportive way possible. They have legit millennial problems, and despite the fact that they go dismissed or unseen by much of the city around them, they express joy and confidence in each other's constant company. The girls of Broad City are underdogs, but you’d never know it from their attitude.
This is part of a historical tradition of funny broads surpassing their alleged limitations. Just to get the ball rolling on a much longer line of broke, loud-mouthed women: Lucille Ball, Joan Rivers, Lily Tomlin, Roseanne Barr, Sandra Bernhard, and Amy Poehler.
Poehler, of course, is where the endorsement triangle begins. She’s executive producer of Broad City, and perhaps best known for her terrific and terrifying impersonations of Hillary Clinton for Saturday Night Live. Clinton enthusiastically embraced Poehler’s impersonation by appearing with her on the show, and Poehler's been a vocal supporter of Clinton during her 2012 and 2016 bids for the presidency. Jacobson has also expressed support for Clinton.
In fact, many "broads" who've achieved some celebrity credibility endorse Clinton: Uzo Aduba of Orange is the New Black, Kat Dennings of Two Broke Girls, America Ferrera of Ugly Betty, Lena Dunham of Girls, and RuPaul, to name a few. Rebecca Traister’s new book, All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation, excerpted beautifully in New York Magazine in February, makes the case for how the demographic category of "broads" is climbing at a rate that will make these voters the ultimate arbiters of Clinton’s success. Yet, amongst broads, Clinton's actually been trailing Bernie Sanders by double-digit margins. Her exit poll numbers in early primary states showed a consistent lack of support from women younger than 35.
Will Clinton's appearance on the beloved Broad City give her a bump with those broads? Although the show features two of them, broads are not necessarily the key demographic watching the show. In the YouTube era, Neilson ratings are a bit out of touch, but according to a recent article in the New York Times Magazine, the show's numbers for season two claim a hefty 18.8 million online streams from various sources like YouTube, Facebook, and Hulu, while also netting 1.2 million linear television viewings.
Although its host network, Comedy Central, generally skews male in viewership, last year’s YES! Magazine article, rounds up the reasons why the show is "the funniest coping mechanism" millennials have for examining their economically disadvantaged metropolitan lives. The 18 to 34 demographic is definitely watching Broad City, and these progressive viewers, demonstrably skeptical of Clinton during early primary season, will take some convincing. Simply appearing on the show is likely not enough to get them to rally behind her in the voting booth. At show time, can she hack it?
In January 1976, Betty Ford went on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Jimmy Carter still did better with women in the election than Gerald Ford. Ford might've been the first First Lady to appear on a sitcom, but she was far from the last. Nancy Reagan appeared on Diff'rent Strokes, and Michelle Obama cameoed on Parks and Recreation. It’s become traditional for these female politicians to play themselves, and to promote some favorite cause.
Clinton's IMDb record lists tons of news segments, late night and morning show appearances, and the work on Saturday Night Live, always as herself. With a clear cause of winning the presidency and a viewing public conflicted over her political persona, the stakes for Clinton’s appearance on Broad City are high (and I hope Jacobson and Glazer will be, too). The question leading up to the broadcast was: will she help broads everywhere to cast their doubts about her candidacy aside, or will she get in her own way?
When the long-awaited episode did finally air, it was chock full of additional guest stars that had larger roles and longer scenes than Clinton's. Any of these guests would have rated the headline on any other night. At the South by Southwest Festival in Austin last week, Jacobson went out of her way to clarify that Clinton's appearance did not necessarily constitute the show's endorsement of her candidacy. "We were not trying to make a statement, to be honest," Jacobson said. "We wrote season three a year ago, at this point. That's not our show really: Let's make a political stance here. It was really more that this is something Glazer's character would do. Hillary, even regardless of where we stand -- and we love Hillary -- is such an iconic figure. These girls being around her isn’t an everyday thing. That's how we felt being around her. It was like, 'Oh, this is a different world'."
Except, every chunk of the episode actually reveals the importance of Clinton’s agenda. The fact that the episode fit right in with the rest of the season is proof positive that lovers of Broad City should also be lovers of Hillary Clinton. In the opening segment, the two girls are on a park bench brainstorming possible inventions, including "boots that have magnets on the bottom so that when you're walking around you're just picking up change". Glazer declares it the most productive morning of her life. When they hit 63 dumb ideas, they go get bodega brunch. What else can you say, except that these ladies dream big? It might look a little silly to an outsider, but Jacobson and Glazer are plucky to the max, which is a pretty serious business.
The second segment begins Jacobson's plot line for the episode, in which she must go to the Department of Motor Vehicles to renew her driver’s license. The place is portrayed as a post-apocalyptic wasteland where time stands still and everyone is a zombie or a creep. Most critics have said that Jacobson's DMV plot was much funnier than Glazer's plot about volunteering for the Clinton campaign. I think this is really due in large part to something nobody is talking about: the way in which the license problem is resolved. After a terrible haircut, a sublated disk in her neck, and vomiting during the photo, Jacobson vows to try the DMV again another time. First, however, she must hit up her chiropractor, played by Alan Alda.
Alda acts as if he’s her grandfather, asking after her health, giving her many gentle words of praise and encouragement. Her visit even turns out to be free because he just sold one of the paintings Jacobson made that Alda displays in his office. They have a great visit, and Jacobson feels much better, but she dreads returning to the DMV. At this point, Alda drops the knowledge. "Next time, when you make an appointment at the DMV, do it online. That way, when you get there, it just takes a minute." This is late-breaking news for Jacobson, seriously grown-up stuff. Alda may seem like just another helpful old dude, but he knows how to solve the problem. He’s not going to sit around complaining about the DMV with Jacobson; he’s going to point out a better DMV policy that she can implement.
She makes the appointment online, and this time, enters into a magically utopian DMV somewhere between Oz and Wonka. The photo problem is now being resolved to such an extent that the professional photographer requests to snap additional pictures just because Jacobson looks so great. She even offers her a job as a model. It’s all sunshine and lollipops, if you’re an insider.
Meanwhile, Glazer’s busy with another guest star, Rachel Dratch. Glazer was fired from her startup gig due to her responsibility for an inappropriate viral tweet. Dratch plays a one-woman show of a temp agency, but fails to find any opportunities for Glazer. Instead, Dratch ends up crying over her own personal problems, and Glazer’s the one to comfort her. Basically, Glazer goes to ask for help and instead finds herself able to give it. She does succeed in becoming a bike messenger, revealing the surreal superpower of being able to identify people better by their rear ends than by their faces as she delivers their packages.
After saving a broken Dratch and crushing it on her new job, she stumbled into Clinton's territory to deliver a package. Upon finding out where she is, cue the patriotic ballad, the industrial fan blowing back her hair, the slow motion salute, the bald eagle background. Glazer immediately respects the juju of the place, saying, "Glazer Wexler and Hillary Clinton? Two powerful women working as one?" Then the front desk lady says Glazer will never meet Clinton, and Glazer reluctantly concedes this is probably true.
Cynthia Nixon plays manager to Glazer and the other volunteers. Nixon's character isn't especially likable, because she's working, and is seriously good at it. She keeps one ear on Glazer's outrageously casual phone conversations with prospective voters. She asks Glazer to turn down her constant peanut gallery "yaaaas" commentary during a staff meeting. She informs Glazer that this is a volunteer position immediately after inferring that Glazer's believes this is a paying gig. Nixon is on top of it all, briefing the phone bank volunteers on how to answer some of the more idiotic, chauvinistic questions they may encounter. "No, Hillary does not cry at the office. Yes, Hillary can read a map. No, Hillary will not enforce male birth control or male pregnancy, as that is not a thing. And no," she says, "Hillary is not a witch."
Glazer expressed disbelief that her fellow citizens could ask such dumb, annoying questions about Clinton, to which Nixon grinds her teeth and sighs, "daily". The Broad City girls also face this type of constant underestimation; that’s the root of their fondness for this candidate. They don't "feel the Bern" because they don't get mad about their daily suffering. They just get hyped and support each other until they can work around these problems, if not entirely solve them. Clinton’s a mythical creature in that mode of survival, imbuing everything in her campaign office from the air to the floor with her awesomeness. Jacobson visits Glazer there and they assess the vibe as, "power... it smells decisive... smells like kawn-fuh-dawnce... smells like no bullshit." These are the qualities they admire: the essential qualities of broads.
In the final minute of the show, Clinton makes her walk-through. The girls appear to be having orgasms, and again we have the slow-motion, as Clinton winks once from each eye and smiles broadly at them, waiting for them to calm down. She’s graciously soaking up the adoration, but it's equally quite clear that she’s used to this. The fact is: Hillary Clinton is a celebrity. You genuinely could sub in Beyonce for this guest spot, and the argument made by the show would be identical. Not only because she’s political, but also because, due to this longtime celebrity, Hillary Clinton can’t really be funny. She can stand next to other funny women and appreciate what they're doing, but she can't make a lot of jokes. She has to keep it presidential, after all. A president can’t actually be human, because humans are funny.
Fortunately, nobody at the water cooler the next day talks about how funny a show is anymore. Now, we just share the link on social media. Clinton just had to do something that would be worth a click, and she closes down the episode with a sufficiently weird moment to make the audience smile and gives them something sharable. She brings in one of those stupid waving arm things you see on the roof of used car lots, because she says she wants to improve morale. First, as Glazer and Jacobson have just amply demonstrated, morale could not be more improved. Second, why on earth would Clinton think one of those annoying things would boost morale? It’s a hare-brained scheme, just like Jacobson’s magnetized boot idea. Oh, right. This is Clinton making fun of herself for doing this guest spot.
Everyone’s already going to say she’s pandering to millennials by appearing on Broad City so, in order to do it right, Clinton completely embraces both her status as an icon and her status as too old-school to be cool. Need we be reminded of her most famous meme, Texts From Hillary? Comedy Central teased the episode by offering up the best part of it in the preview, which is Jacobson and Glazer's orgasmic reaction to simply sharing airspace with Clinton. They think she's an icon.
When Clinton rolls out the stupid waving thing, they quickly get on board with genuine enthusiasm. Millennials love star power, an immeasurable, influential type of cultural charisma that both Clinton and Trump have been collecting since at least the early ‘70s. That’s why they’re going to meet up in the general election: where Trump will be funny and Clinton will be female.
Glazer and Jacobson finish the episode by saying they thought the stupid waving thing was male, but Clinton assures them it's female. Just a simple, generic assertion of female space, just holding it down for the ladies. In the whole campaign setting, in fact, there’s only one guy. Everybody in these scenes is a tough broad, projecting the kind of smarts and savvy to which Glazer and Jacobson aspire, going beyond real life skills into the realm of the supernatural.
Even Glazer demonstrated her butt-recognition powers earlier in the episode. When Clinton meets Glazer, she greets her by name and Glazer’s incredulous, as if Clinton looked straight into her soul to get that name, or had somehow heard of her as a fierce fellow queen. Clinton just points and deadpans that Glazer is wearing a name tag. It's not hocus-pocus; it's pragmatic reality. Forty years of stacking up pragmatic reality definitely congeals, despite all its seriousness, into star power. They rest their heads on Clinton's comforting, old-school shoulders, and roll the credits.
Notably, there are absolutely zero drug references in this episode, which may be a first in the show's short but remarkably consistent history. When they consider the virtues of Hillary Rodham Clinton, the ladies of Broad City aren't stoned; they’re stone cold sober.