The fourth episode of Broad City’s second season “Knockoffs” aired on Comedy Central last night, and if you’ve watched it by now, you know that some big things happen in terms of Abbi’s ongoing crush on her neighbor Jeremy, not to mention we get the first look at Ilana’s parents played by Susie Essman and Bob Balaban. Ahead of the episode’s premiere, I spoke with “Knockoffs” writers Lucia Aniello and Paul W. Downs (who also plays Abbi’s Soulstice boss Trey) about where the inspiration for the episode came from, whether they ran into any Standards & Practices problems with Comedy Central, and how Aniello approached the scenes with Abbi and Jeremy as a director. Spoilers below:
How did you guys come up with the idea for this episode?
Paul: I close my eyes and imagine a complete episode and I say out it loud to Lucia and she writes it down verbatim. That’s my process.
Lucia: And then print it up, and throw it away and we go to the writers room.
Paul: But also, we knew we wanted to have some kind of resolution to Abbi’s crush on Jeremy. And we wanted Abbi to win – at least a little. We liked the idea of Abbi walking into a room yelling “I fucked him!” Which made me laugh because that sounds like she fucked him. So it actually started as a joke that Abbi would peg Jeremy, but before we knew it, it was like, oh yeah, that’s gotta happen.
Lucia: And once we explored it, we wanted it to implode in some way that hadn’t been seen before, which I think we did unless there’s some episode of Taxicab Confessions I don’t know about.
Paul: And in terms of Ilana’s storyline, we’ve all been excited to see her family – especially her real-life brother Eliot who we love. And when we heard that Susie Essman was in for Ilana’s mom, it was icing on the cake. It made our job easy because we are such fans of hers that we know her voice. Maybe too well. We also always wanted to do something in Chinatown because it’s such a unique and colorful part of the city. Plus politically, we wanted to really make a statement about China.
What was the writing process like? How much was scripted vs more improvised scenes you figured out as you were shooting?
Lucia: I think people would be surprised at how scripted the show is. We don’t usually totally throw the scene away and find it on set – at least I don’t. Maybe a few scenes ended up getting reworked a little – we lost a line or two, added a joke or an improvised line or two, added a clarification, added another button – stuff like that, but I’d say 85-90% of the shooting script is what ends up on screen.
Paul: Especially for this episode because we wanted to do something funny first, but also handle it the right way. We were dealing with death, pegging, and counterfeit purses, some of the most hot-button issues of our time.
Is this a sexual enlightenment for Abbi? And can we count on more Abbi sexual escapades this season?
Paul: Yes. Abbi becomes fully addicted to pegging, and it will be explored further in season 3.
Lucia: But for real, there’s surprising sexcapades to come…and not just with Abbi and Ilana.
It was interesting to hear Amy Schumer talk about fighting to get the word “pussy” on Comedy Central a while back. Did you have to fight to get the strap-on on TV?
Paul: Before we actually wrote the script we touched base with S&P. As long as the strap on wasn’t a realistic-looking penis, it would be fine to show worn over clothes. One of the best parts of writing process was getting notes from legal that said things like “no veins or head.”
Lucia: Then, we had Standards & Practices there on the day we shot the scenes to give their blessing.
Lucia, as a director, how do you help create the right environment for a sex scene like that?
Lucia: I direct nude to make the actors feel comfortable.
What was it like to shoot Ilana and Susie Essman’s scenes in Chinatown, and how is shooting there different than other parts of NYC?
Lucia: Well, for one, there’s the language barrier, which does exist all over NYC but especially in Chinatown. It just makes it harder for PAs to do lockups and clear streets and sidewalks, especially when we have car stunts, which we did in this episode. The crew works really, really hard on this show and they do an amazing job. Also, for some reason there are SO MANY TOURISTS in Chinatown, and tourists love watching TV crews work I guess? So there would be all these tourists standing in our shots.
Between Ilana and her mom’s trip to Chinatown and the subway ride earlier this season, Broad City does such an amazing job at describing different NYC experiences. How do you find the balance between accurately/literally showing what something in NYC is like versus getting across how it feels?
Paul: Truth really is stranger than fiction. As absurd as New York can be on Broad City, mostly all of those experiences – minuscule apartments, people publicly defecating casually – were actually witnessed by someone in the writers room. If anything we scale it back.
Lucia: We live in LA now.
Check out more of Downs and Aniello’s work at paulilu.com.
Photo credit: Robyn Von Swank