Queer & Comical: Broad City Influencers on Instagram


Broad City is one of my most favourite shows on Netflix, which is a tough ladder to climb considering there are many good ones out there. The series features Abbi and Ilana, who not only act in but also produce the comedy (alongside Amy Poelher! what a trio!) They are loud, crass, Jewish, queer, feminist, sexually active (successfully so), and bordering on unemployed. In other words, they are not your typical women in the media. Which, really, is their biggest selling point. I took inspiration from VICE, which called Broad City “a different, more realistic kind of femininity than what we’ve seen in film and TV for over 30 years”. Indeed, how many of us have been our own worst enemies in the most tragically comedic way possible? Abbi and Ilana are not, in a reductive sweep of active female sexuality, the women who can’t cross the street without being the subject of ‘sexual harassment’–they put forth that some women out there can bask in the carnal desire and attention behind catcalls. And that is ok.

Importantly, the women of Broad City also show us what it is like to simultaneously be (1) a woman, (2) a loser, and (3) live your best life: three things that television has long showed us are mutually exclusive. I quote from VICE again, “Though loserdom is a universal state of being, it’s traditionally been played by straight white men, for whom failure has the lowest stakes. There are so many iconic stupid-and-uncool-but-lovable male protagonists…”; why is uncool-but-lovable not a label that is extended to women?

I suppose the question of ‘lovability’ is a subjective one, but we might be able to turn to Instagram metrics to give us a rough gauge of how our female and male on-screen losers are doing with audiences in real life. Here, I chose to compare Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer to Charlie Day and Rob McElhenney from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

Ilana Glazer

I started off with Ilana because she has the most number of followers — 1.1 million — out of the four.

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Here is what Ilana’s audience growth has looked like since the premiere of Broad City in 2014 till now. It has been steadily growing since, and her audience has more than doubled since the show started. At once point in early 2016, her growth rate was as high as 12% in a single month.

Here is Ilana’s top performing post of the year. Not only do she and Abbi look beautiful, her caption is also #relatable. She talks about being womanly and being sexy, but also not necessarily knowing what is going on — in a self-deprecating fashion — and people eat 👏🏿 it 👏🏿 up 👏🏿. The top 20 comments on this post are all from verified accounts including personalities like Tan France from Queer Eye, Natalie Portman, and Ali Wong. The Broad City girls have support and admiration from all the right, influential, alternative, members of new media.

Even COMEDY CENTRAL is sad to see their series come to a close.

Abbi Jacobson

Abbi’s audience has also been growing quite steadily since Broad City took flight, but she experienced a notable peak after the series finale on 28th March.

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Like Ilana, her top comments are also from verified accounts and celebrities, including and especially the Fab Five from Queer Eye, who are absolutely in love with these queens who are not afraid to be themselves.

I suppose what we might take away from this is that people continue to want to be engaged, perhaps even more than they were already.

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This is further corroborated by the general upward trend in engagement rate. Despite the dips over the years, Abbi’s engagement rate has increased from 3.66% at the end of 2015 to 6.25% (and counting) this month.

Abbi is far more active on Instagram than Ilana, and her top performing post this year is a beautiful shot of the two women in red.

This post garnered a 20.6% engagement rate, which is more than 3 times her average. It is clear that the girls are immensely popular. Their content is a fair mix of Broad City publicity, social activism, no-makeup foolishness, and pure, unadulterated love and respect for one another. Women supporting women, unashamed, and in their truest forms is what the world needs.

Charlie Day

Always Sunny has been running for 13 seasons, with the final episode of Season 13 concluding last November.

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This sitcom is arguably a classic, but has not garnered as much social media attention as Broad City. Nevertheless, Day’s audience has been steadily growing. Is this enough to brand him the ‘lovable loser’?

His top post from this year might give us a better idea. Here we have a comparison of Day to Adam Levine — an indisputable sex icon: cool, handsome, incredible vocal skills. While Day is not #ripped, in the strictest sense of the word, he does appear a lot less…kempt in comparison to Levine. Clearly, this post is meant to be self-deprecating, and a nod to the famous ‘Pepe Silvia’ scene from the show (which has since become a meme). Day propagates the lovable loser image (confident enough in his masculinity and charm to be openly compared to Adam Levine) and people clearly like it.

At this point, it is relevant to point out that all three celebrities discussed so far cater to a similar audience demographic: women between the ages of 25-35. But better judgment might tell us that they are followed for different reasons.

Rob McElhenney

Fourth in this quartet is McElhenney, who has the least number of followers but the highest engagement rate. Because his engagement rate is 4 times the average of a celebrity with his follower range, I was curious to know what the data looked like.

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It experienced a dip at the end of 2018-start of 2019, but remained high at 10%. In fact, his lowest engagement rate is higher than Abbi and Ilana’s average.

McEllhenney’s top performing post of this year is a picture of his wife:

His caption addresses insecurity and his ‘Philly punk’ youth — a sort of ‘loserdom’ that extends beyond just the television screen. But in real life we see that he is married to a beautiful woman: it seems like the ‘lovable loser’ trope arises again. Women (and viewers as a whole) seem to love a man who can be goofy, admit to his insecurities, and still be really cute.

Concluding Thoughts

Abbi, Ilana, and Broad City are nothing short of admirable. They tackle goofiness, charm, misfortunes, and sex in a manner that most screenwriters reserve for male actors. It would be unfair to hope or assume that public reactions to their roles (and personalities) as Abbi and Ilana would mirror the long-standing awe society has of men — no matter what their role on television. Personally, I think it is impressive enough that they’ve put themselves out there in such an uncensored manner. Naturally, their support comes from selective, niche parts of society: gay men who love strong women that openly support diversity and inclusion, fellow intelligent stand-up comedians, other women in male-dominated industries and so on. Minorities support minorities.

But we don’t have to measure Broad City by the same standards as we do Always Sunny and other similar shows. Women will never be able to crack a crass joke, gulp a beer, belch, and still be ‘hilarious’ and ‘cute’; they’ve got to put in a lot more thought and calculated effort into their performances, no matter how far down the rabbit hole of ‘loserdom’. What is important is that Abbi and Ilana deliver, and they are recognized for it.

Written by Deesha Menon

Influencer Marketing at Popular Chips. Interested in social issues, narratives, books, social media, and machine learning.

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