Ilana Glazer, Paul W. Downs, and Lucia Aniello — the smoke-filled brains behind Comedy Central hit Broad City and the network's 4/20-premiering miniseries Time Traveling Bong [Note: Comedy Central and MTV News are both owned by Viacom.] — have long trafficked in the surreal and the stoned. Glazer and Aniello's initial meet-cute, for example, occurred only because both were incredibly high and simultaneously perceived a break in the space-time continuum. Back in the mid-aughts, the two were introduced by a mutual friend at an Upright Citizens Brigade party (where both were taking improv classes, along with Downs), and promptly lost their minds when they realized they were dressed identically. "We were wearing, like, typical improv white-girl shit," recalls Glazer. "White Converse. High tops, I think. Jeans, obviously. A plaid shirt. Is that right?" she asks Aniello. "That sounds exactly right. Even if it wasn't that, it's exactly right," confirms Aniello, laughing. "We were in clouds of smoke," adds Glazer. "And we were like, ‘Whoa, we're different versions of each other! We're the same! We're the same!'"
It's only appropriate, then, that the two — along with Downs, best known for playing Abbi's (Abbi Jacobson) amorous and irritatingly athletic boss Trey on Broad City — are revisiting both the concept of temporal paradoxes and getting really blazed with Time Traveling Bong, a three-night miniseries directed by Aniello, starring Glazer and Downs, and written by all three. First conceived as a College Humor sketch in 2012, the absurdist, deliciously dark, and deeply weird stoner comedy follows cousins Sharee and Jeff, two "useless white people" who, as the title subtly suggests, discover a bong that allows them to travel through time. This magical apparatus takes the UGGs-sporting New Jerseyites everywhere from old-timey New England to the Paleolithic era to 1960s Gary, Indiana, where they valiantly decide to "save" a young Michael Jackson by kidnapping him. MTV caught up with the trio a few days after they premiered the series to a very rapt and very stoned audience at Tribeca.
Do you all remember the first time you smoked pot?
Ilana Glazer: Oh my god. Mine was so stupid. I was 15, and my friend stole his brother's bong, and he brought it in his closed jacket. My parents weren't home, and we didn't have lighters. We were using Hanukkah candles to light this bong — it totally didn't work. And also we didn't know how to light them. We couldn't find matches for a while. So we were putting it on an electric stove and obviously it wasn't catching fire. It was so stupid. We didn't even get high, but then we ate as though we had gotten high. We were like, "Whoa, pizza's crazy."
Lucia Aniello: I think I was 16. I just remember hanging out with this guy who was like, "Have you ever smoked pot before?" And I was like “ ... Oh my god, tooootally." And I did that classic thing which is like, not know how to use a bowl, like, "Do you do it this way? I'm used to smoking out of big bongs and stuff." I was really nervous because people say you don't get high the first time, but I definitely did.
Glazer: Oh, you did?
Aniello: I was like, I should not be driving home.
Glazer: But did you? Did you drive home?
Aniello: No, no. I had somebody drive me.
Glazer: Good. Cool, cool, cool.
Aniello: I am all about safety first.
Paul W. Downs: We're all safety first. The three of us.
Glazer: Did you have to go and get your car, though?
Aniello: No, my friend who happened to be sober drove my car home.
Glazer: Oh, dope.
What about you, Paul?
Downs: I had the same thing where I didn't get high, and I was like, "Oh, everyone's just, like, psychosomatically high." And this girl who was there was like, "I'm in your head, you don't like me as much as you say you do!" And I was like, "Whoa, whoa, you're on a substance, you're having an altered state of mind. Chill out." But the scary thing was, she was in my head, because I actually didn't like this girl. It was a very scary experience.
Lucia, when you and Ilana met, you were both stoned and dressed the same. Who approached who?
Aniello: I don't remember! I think somebody introduced us. We'd maybe known of each other enough to be like, "Yes, you!" or something. Do you remember, Ilana?
Glazer: I know Abbi [Jacobson] was there. Maybe she introduced us, because she'd been in a class with you. I know she was with us. We were all ... these parties at UCB ... god, they were fun.
How did the three of you get together, then?
Aniello: Paul and I met in a Level One improv class. So we already knew each other. [Downs and Aniello are dating.]
Downs: I knew Abbi independently through another club. And I met Ilana on the street [laughs]. She approached me.
Glazer: We were going to and from Colbert Report correspondent auditions that neither of us got. It was scary, so we were just like, "Hey, a friend! Oh my god, a friend."
Downs: It was two days after Ilana and Lucia had met. So she was like, "Hey, I'm the girl that just met Lucia!" And I'm like, "Yes, hello."
How long until you actually started writing together?
Downs: One day. No, a few years, right?
Glazer: It was like, 2007 [when we met]. For Bong, we started putting something together in 2012. So, wait, that's like, a long fucking time. We all started writing Broad City in 2013. When we first made Bong, it was a one-minute thing. But Broad City was all of our first seasons of TV. So it was pretty intense.
When did you come up with the original College Humor idea?
Downs: Ilana and Abbi had been in L.A. for a couple months, pitching Broad City, and Ilana lived in our apartment, with Lucia and I. We like to joke that she was our live-in cleaning lady, kind of. We didn't charge her rent, obviously, but she made bowls of quinoa and fluffed our pillows.
Glazer: It was such a dreamy time. I was under 25, so I spent most of my savings on a rental car, and Paul and Lucia generously opened up their home to me. You let a lot of people hang at your apartment.
Downs: We were kind of a hostel/halfway home for all the New Yorkers. A lot of people crashed with us, but none were more welcome than Ilana. I like to say she's our cat, because she fell asleep on the carpet a lot.
Aniello: It was so eerily harmonious. It was never annoying for even a second.
Downs: It was, like, a family. So over dinner, we were talking about — Ilana had a professor who used to say that without plumbing and pasteurization and deodorant and all that, the past really stunk. Especially in New York with the sewage system where you dumped your excrement out the window. And we were like, "Imagine being stoned and being in the past, while your senses are heightened. That'd be so intense."
Aniello: And that was it. A miniseries was born.
How did it become this longer series?
Downs: I think we just had so much fun doing it. It felt like it could be a fun thing for stoners, where these people bounce around to different time periods and see history through the eyes of suburban idiots.
Aniello: We started writing some longer-form web stuff, and we shot a few pieces. We weren't sure if we were gonna put them out or pitch, but we were just developing the idea, and seeing how far it could go.
Were you high writing most of it?
Downs: In execution we're pretty ... put together? It's one thing to be at dinner and generate larger ideas when you're smoking, but generally, we're very "with it" when we're working.
How important is it to the viewing process to be high?
Aniello: I very much prefer for people to be high. We shot it with the idea that people would be stoned. For example, we didn't want to cast any super-big celebs, because we didn't want anybody to be pulled out of it. We wanted the epicness of it —
Glazer: And they were begging. [All laugh.]
Downs: Oh, we had a list of people begging. Daniel Day-Lewis and Sally Field both independently called us. We were like, chill out, guys. Off the record. This whole interview is off the record. Actually, please put that up top.
No one will ever see this.
Downs: What is it called when they write a biography? And it's unofficial? This is an unsanctioned interview. I think we really wanted it thematically for people to feel like they're actually time traveling. Each period has a certain look and a certain color. It makes it much more fun that Comedy Central put it on 4/20 and made it an event series. I think the most fun way to watch it is to make it like a Super Bowl party: Get together with a group of people on 4/20, smoke a little weed, have a little guacamole, and watch.
Aniello: Well, Rachel, you saw it. Were you sober when you saw it?
Sadly, yes, because I just moved to New York and don't have a source yet.
All: [Sympathetically] Ooooooh.
Aniello: You gotta do that. How did you feel about watching it as a sober person?
I mean, it didn't really matter, I laughed as if I were high.
Aniello: I hope it works for sober people, too.
What surprised me, in a great way, was how dark and socially aware this was, what with the jokes about war and slavery and Michael Jackson and pedophilia. What was behind that choice?
Downs: I think we found it was so easy to satirize history because so much of history was so fucked up, especially if you're not a white man. I think it was funnier for us to treat it in a really grounded way, treat it as it historically happened.
Aniello: That's the underlying commentary: Unless you were a white man, traveling through history was likely not the most chill time ever. That was something we wanted to reflect as best we could.
Glazer: It started out with the College Humor videos like, mundane. Well, not mundane, but like, "It smells!" But when we talked about stretching it out to half-hour episodes, we found that that was our perspective. Just that history was rough. I mean, current history is rough. We're like, "In the past, white men had it better!" But we're living that history right now. That's the way the world works. And we're a white guy and a white gal, so we could only represent so much within ourselves. But we also meet other people who represent more.
Was there anything that was "too far," either for you guys or the network? You said something about a Holocaust plotline at the Tribeca panel and I was so intrigued.
Glazer: We'd need a movie budget for that. It would be like … [the idea] makes your eyes go wide, and you're like, "No." But can you imagine? There's so many things to do there. And that, as a Jew, I could completely lean into. Though I actually don't have survivors in my family, so how much could I lean into it? Not even. But I think that would be unbelievable. Everybody's always like, "I would kill Hitler." It's like, "No, you wouldn't. You'd be like, chilling."
Aniello: If it was easy to kill Hitler, somebody would have done it.
Downs: I'm sure a lot of people tried.
Tell me about coming up with the kidnapping-Michael-Jackson plotline.
Glazer: We had this short we were gonna fold into the series — Hillary and Bill Clinton meeting. We mapped it like Back to the Future. Jeff and Sharee land in the middle of this first day that [Hillary and Bill] meet. Bill is so open to blazing, and we get Bill high, and he forgets he's supposed to go on his first date with Hillary. And she's not upset or anything, she's just like, "OK." He's really upset, though, because he knows she was a special one. And like with Marty [McFly's] parents, we wanted to work our way into getting them back together. So we really wanted this thing where we undo history as we know it, and have to put it back together, if we can. We wanted something in recent American history, and it got to this point where — Abbi pitched the [Michael Jackson] idea a while ago, and I don't know if it was necessarily under Bong, but just an idea that she had. And we were getting ready for the miniseries, and us and Comedy Central were like, "[Hillary is] too saturated, she's already in Broad City, we should replace this with something else." And we had had the [Michael Jackson] idea in the back of our minds. And we were like, "Let's switch it out. There's a lot of Hillary going around."
Downs: We wanted to use [Michael Jackson] as a way to [demonstrate] how the butterfly effect could mess up history.
Glazer: It could've been the rest of the series — like, we totally raise him. But it was so funny to us to continually be like, if you were actually in the 1960s and you'd grown up in the '80s, '90s, how long could you last? Jeff and Sharee last about a year. But it's like, gross. It's such a gross fuckin' place. So Abbi sparked that scene.
Were these characters based on anyone? Ilana, I know you're sort of playing the stereotypical suburban Jewish girl who I recognize from my own childhood, with the UGGs and the North Face and the overly-straightened hair.
Glazer: Oof. How rough was that shit? Paul is from Jersey and I'm from Long Island, and we joke that we're Tri-State Area trash bags. I don't know about you, Paul, but I feel like Jeff and Sharee are inside of us. I'm battling to eliminate her from me, but also, I'm like, nah, I'm that useless white person, also.
Downs: Yeah, me too. They're weird, alternate-reality versions of our New Jersey selves.
Paul, your trash chute scene seemed to get the hardest laughs at Tribeca. It's some of the grossest and most outrageous physical comedy I've ever seen. How many times did you have to film yourself getting stabbed by syringes and covered in — what was that, vomit?
Downs: We actually only filmed it two times. It's like, Nickelodeon gak.
Aniello: It's actually this Nickelodeon slime, and we just dyed it a little bit darker.
Downs: Then they shot it through a fireman's hose.
Aniello: There's actually a much longer version of that whole sequence, but we had to cut it down. There was a lot that went on in that trash chute.
Downs: It was so fun to shoot. Although, it literally was terrifying to fake-stab myself with those syringes. And the one in my back was actually a real syringe, affixed to my back. I was so nervous if I slipped backwards, I'd actually get stabbed with a syringe. I do my own stunts.
Aniello: Like Tom Cruise.
Downs: Very Tom Cruise.
Lucia, you and Paul have your own production company, Paulilu.
Aniello: That's sort of our comedy moniker, yeah.
I've loved your Anne Geddes sketch for years. Can you tell me about how you came up with that?
Downs: Oh my god.
Aniello: Oh god.
Downs: It's so selfish to the world that Lucia isn't on-camera more.
Aniello: I think of it as selfless.
Downs: Lucia channeled that character so well. We loved this idea that Anne Geddes shoots these sweet innocent little babies and tulips and pumpkins and is actually a hardcore swearing maniac.
Aniello: I like playing very angry people. I like playing very despicable people. People who are on the brink of litigation. [Laughs.]
Why aren't you in this or Broad City?
Aniello: I don't know. I'd like to be acting more.
Downs: There were a couple roles where we were like, "We should have Lucia do this." But it was such a huge undertaking. We shot it in 12 days. None of us have ever done anything this ambitious and difficult before. In terms of this particular project, it was so much for Lucia to wear the one hat of director, but I think you'll see her acting more.
Aniello: We'll see what Hollywood demands, you know?
You guys have a lot of other stuff in the works right now, too. What can you tell me about Move That Body?
Both: Ummm ...
Downs: What can we say? It's about five girls who take a bachelorette weekend in Miami and accidentally kill a male stripper. It goes awry.
Aniello: We're shooting it later this summer and we're really excited.
Glazer: Their movie taught us all what "carving up the town" means. It was just the hottest damn script. People were freaking out. Seriously, Hollywood was aflame about it. Abuzz and aflame. Straight up. The world is ready for it.
Ilana, any cameos?
Glazer: Oh, we will see. We will have to wait and see.
Quickly, back to marijuana. What would you guys name your own strand of pot?
Aniello: I think there should be time-traveling strains. I also think there should be a Broad City strain. An Ilana strain and an Abbi strain. A sativa and an indica. Somebody's gotta get on it.
Downs: And then there's, like, a Trey hybrid.
Glazer: Oh my god. That's such a good idea.