With Carry This Book, Abbi Jacobson has taken a break from the small screen to write and draw a sweetly intimate look at what she imagines celebrities, historical figures and fictional characters would carry in their bags.
Like her character on Broad City, the Comedy Central show she created and stars in with Ilana Glazer – they start filming season four in early 2017 – Jacobson is a clever and quirky illustrator who's equally disposed to feminist commentary and potty humor. In Jacobson's imagining, Ruth Bader Ginsburg sneaks cheese puffs under the bench and listens to jock jams on a pair of Beats by Dre. Amelia Earhart may have crashed her plane while enjoying French porn. Beyoncé's got deodorant, Oprah has dog-poop bags, Hillary Clinton carries a textbook ("When you're making history, you have to know where we've been"), and Ilana Wexler – Glazer's Broad City character – is lugging around a hash pipe, a condom and a pair of stained period pants. Obviously.
Rolling Stone recently chatted with Jacobson about her book, the reaction to Clinton's Broad City appearance earlier this year, and what freaks her out about Donald Trump – whose bag, by the way, contains several bottles of self-tanner, a copy of Building Walls for Dummies and a reminder to "Sue anyone + everyone."
You wrote in the intro to Carry This Book that you wanted to humanize noteworthy people – show that they’re refreshingly normal. Why did that concept appeal to you?
I read this book in middle school called The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. I hadn't thought about it in a long time, but the thing that always stuck with me was that he described these Vietnam [War soldiers] through the things they carried. I thought, "That is such a great way to tell that story." And then I was just always sort of fascinated with what people carry around with them, and how they pack. What you carry, and the way you carry or organize your stuff, or present your private spaces, can say a lot about you – public and private, but a lot of times we don't get to see people's private spaces. It's a little bit like the voyeuristic idea of opening someone's medicine cabinet: There's all these little clues [about a person].
I realized as I was [putting together the book] that everyone had something normalizing about them. And that was exciting to me. We live in such a celebrity-driven culture, but all those people have to go buy toilet paper, and all those people have products they use, and their favorite sweet treats. They all have to write to-do lists, and they're all reading books – well, hopefully most people are doing those things. It was fun to explore that, and put my little twist on it.
You've become quite well known yourself in the past few years. Was part of the appeal that you wish folks understood that you have to buy toilet paper?
I don't think I'm in the same category as the people I depicted [in the book]. But the cool thing is that Ilana and my fans from Broad City feel like they know us, from our characters on the show. So I don't think anyone questions that I buy toilet paper. [laughs]
I wanted to ask you a few questions that you pose to readers in the book. Do you carry anything for good luck?
For this book tour I'm on right now, I had to pack so strategically, because I didn't want to have to check a bag. So I don't think I am right now. But my character [on Broad City] does. I carry one of my first purses that I ever bought myself when I moved to New York – it was sort of a big purchase. And I carry this little thing my mom made me with her picture in it in that bag that Abbi Abrams carries on the show.
That's really sweet. And do you carry anything because you're scared?
Hmm. Maybe tampons would fall into that category? Because sometimes I carry them when I might not need them. And pain medication, like Advil.
Let's talk about the Hillary Clinton episode of Broad City. Some people have sort of rolled their eyes at the Clinton campaign's millennial outreach efforts – from her appearing on your show to that whole emoji thing. The suggestion is that she's being insincere or inauthentic. What did you make of that reaction?
Yeah, we saw all of that in response to our social media [posts about the Clinton cameo]. All I can say to that is she did not do any outreach – we asked her to do it. Obviously when we asked her, we knew it would be very good for her campaign because of our demographic. But at the same time, we thought, "This is an amazing opportunity for both camps." For Ilana and I, and I think our entire crew, and Comedy Central as a whole, it was like, wow, this is a huge moment for us. This is huge that someone like Hillary Clinton is doing the show. We have a lot of amazing guest stars, but that's a whole other level.
We wrote the episode a year before it aired, and we wrote it without knowing she was going to say yes, and without needing her to be in it at all. Our intention, and comedically our approach, was being excited about the other scenes that were in her campaign office, and getting to comment on the idiotic things that people probably call in and ask about Hillary. In the scenes with Cynthia Nixon and Ilana in the call center, we wanted to riff on what we were sure was going to be the misogynistic response to Hillary running for president from some people in this country – which we are seeing to be totally true! Then we were like, let's write this other [scene, with Hillary in it], which we'll pitch to her campaign. If we're doing this, let's just try. When she said yes, it was just amazing. She was so fun.
She wasn't there for that long. Which she shouldn't have been. If she'd stayed for a day, we'd be like, "Why are you here for so long? You have more important things to do." She was there for like an hour. But she was just a pleasure. In the scene, we're freaking out that we're meeting her, and that was actually when we met her, so it wasn't that hard for us to pull off. She got a kick out of it.
If that's what the criticism was – that she was trying to do outreach to younger women, or younger people in general – it's like, yes, maybe that was part of it. But we sent her the other scenes also, so I think her campaign was kind of excited that we were commenting on all that other stuff as well.
On Broad City, you guys have made a few pointed jokes about rape culture. What's your take on how Donald Trump bragging about grabbing "pussies" has become part of this nightmare of an election?
I don't even know what I would do if I had to draw his page [in the book] now. His was one of the first ones I drew, and I just commented on some things lightly. I just find it so upsetting that he is the second option for president of our country. It's really terrifying.
It's scary what Donald Trump has said and is saying, but what is almost even scarier is that it's exposing how many people feel that way in our country. Maybe it's in part good that it's showing how many people are misogynistic and racist and homophobic; it's terrifying that so many people are, but maybe it's good that we know it. But it's insane that someone is so outrageously – to quote him, tremendously – [proud] to say these things out loud. It's absolutely bananas. And it's really sad. I'm really excited for it to be over. And for Hillary to win.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.