Ilana Glazer is not Ilana Wexler, the lovable slacker she portrayed for five seasons on Comedy Central’s Broad City, and she really wants to illustrate the difference. For one thing, her method of procuring weed is different from her television alter-ego: the real Ilana hides in a closet scrolling Instagram while her husband greets the delivery person.
At first, the distinction seemed like a self-effacing joke – her appearance at the Pabst Theater Thursday night was a standup show, after all – or perhaps the lady doth protest too much. As Glazer entered the stage, amid light twerking (and very heavy audience approval), in a pair of signature high-waisted cutoff jorts, it seemed possible to believe both Ilanas were one.
But as the set unfurled, the character and the actress separated into distinct halves of a Venn diagram, with marijuana, excrement, progressive political ideals and a penchant for random lapses into pseudo-French pronunciation in the middle. On the one side you have “YAAAS KWEEN!” and on the other, a work ethic and introspective wit that furtively powers Glazer’s impressive career and comic chops.
Glazer’s “The Planet is Burning” tour, coming only a few months after Broad City’s March series finale, covers a lot of territory that will feel familiar to fellow Millennials – those who, like Glazer, feed the beast of their Instagram stories like they’re clocking into a collective part-time job; those who live in “blue dots in red states”; those who call themselves feminists but also appreciate a scented candle’s ability to make a house a home.
There’s gender nonconformity and questions of sexuality, both of which Glazer approaches with a binary-breaking mathematical approach: she’s 30-40% male and 60-70% female, she feels, and “one part gay, two parts straight.” She prefers to rebrand straight women as “women who love dick.” The words husband and wife still feel like “WASP drag” to her, and living with her “cis male partner, ewww!” – who was at one time allegedly conscripted for DivaCup insertion help – is like a never-ending sleepover where the parents never come home.
And yes, there’s DivaCup insertion, too. Glazer lapses into an extended tutorial, a joke carried almost exclusively by her gift for physical comedy. On paper, the monologue is more explanatory than funny, but Glazer’s signature wacky delivery, genius comedic timing and dedication to miming (an exaggerated waddle to an imaginary public bathroom sink is deployed later in an effective callback that just wouldn’t work without the visual aid) somehow combine to make the minutiae of finagling a menstrual cup laugh-out-loud funny. That, and, I suspect, the catharsis of seeing your private shames subverted for laughs for what might be the first time. It’s a classic stand-up trick, sure, but Glazer’s takedown of “ladylike behavior” is both told and shown, a critique and an embodiment, in a way that feels simultaneously fresh and foregone.
With near-seamless transitions, Glazer tackles all this and more: a fantasy about paying a man to shave her legs, a clapback at those who insist she must see Star Wars (or Braveheart), a compare-and-contrast between Nazis now and then, and a well-argued thesis on our country’s metaphorical cystic bacne, with Trump as a whitehead in need of popping (she mimes – and tutorializes – popping a zit too, of course). She even issued a takedown of Mel Gibson (“Why hasn’t he been canceled yet?”) à la her Broad City beau Hannibal Buress’s “you rape women, Bill Cosby,” bit, which seems to have catalyzed Cosby’s “cancellation” and eventual imprisonment.
Speaking of Hannibal Buress, the most shocking part of the night was not anything Glazer did or said (in differentiating oneself from Ilana Wexler, the only way to go is down a notch); it was the surprise appearance of Buress as opening act. Rather than perform a set of his own, however, Buress treated the crowd to an impromptu Theremin solo, which, if Glazer’s Instagram story is to be believed, was a surprise to her, as well.
The audience’s response to both Buress and Glazer made it clear their reputations preceded them – these were fangirls and -boys. And while most of the crowd (myself included) would probably give a limb to be the Abbi to Glazer’s Ilana, the ensuing show didn’t quite live up to such larger-than-life expectations. It’s clear Glazer’s strengths lie in performance and delivery, while her stand-up writing is a tad greener, a bit lacking in narrative cohesion, a smidge muddled with unfunny (though welcome and, in my opinion, necessary) political commentary.
Despite the show’s alarmist title, Glazer stitches a thread of feminist empowerment and even laugh-so-you-don’t-cry optimism throughout her short set, sandwiching anguish about the state of abortion legislation between declarations that it’s never been a better time to be a woman. Glazer ends on a positive note, proclaiming “Boomer culture” all but dead in what feels more like a political rallying cry than a punchline.
Veteran Glazer fans will warmly embrace her pivot to stand-up; new converts should start with Broad City.