The time machine has taken many forms over the centuries: Dr. Who, Bill and Ted all ventured through the fourth dimension in a phone booth; Doc Brown used a Delorean; Homer Simpson a toaster; and an illegal Russian energy drink was all it took to send a certain hot tub hopping through the spacetime continuum. When Broad City stars Ilana Glazer and Paul W. Downs, and writer/director Lucia Aniello, decided to put a stoner spin on the genre, they centered their time travel pipe dream around the only logical choice: A bong.
It's not a coincidence that Time Traveling Bong, the team's three-part Comedy Central mini-series, premieres on the pothead equivalent of Christmas. Glazer and Downs play Sharee and Jeff, two New Jersey cousins-turned-roommates who happen upon the titular bong, which rips them between past and present with each puff. Initially, they land in 17th century Salem, Massachusetts where Sharee is condemned as a witch, Jeff is treated like a king and their bong is mistaken for a cauldron and smashed. After that, the poorly-repaired drug paraphernalia simply sends them bouncing around the space-time continuum at random.
"It's like Quantum Leap for stoners," Downs cracks to Rolling Stone. "You see stoner shows and time travel shows all the time," Glazer adds, "but there was something about the project and our perspective on history that made us want to do our version. And our version has this skew of, 'If you're a white dude, you're probably getting your dick sucked all through history. And if you're anything else, you're pretty fucked.' You're fucked now, but in the past you're really fucked."
Glazer, Downs and Aniello developed Time Traveling Bong as a 2012 sketch for College Humor in quintessential stoned-out improv geek form: While joking about how the the first thing any time traveler would notice about an old city was how terrible it smelled.
They created a similar vibe while fleshing out the miniseries, corralling writers and comedians in Los Angeles and New York to pitch and spin out their strangest historical scenarios. Amongst the discarded ideas: a straight Back to the Future homage where Jeff and Sharee accidentally break-up, then reunite, Bill and Hillary Clinton (Glazer did hint that the bit might see release at a later date).
But the 1985 time travel classic — which was actually the basis for Aniello's college thesis — does inform Time Traveling Bong's second episode, in which Jeff and Sharee kidnap a young Michael Jackson. The duo convince themselves that if they can preserve Jackson's childhood, they'll prevent future alleged crimes from happening — even if it means the King of Pop's music will disappear forever.
"It's such a good question, like would you save that kid?" Glazer says of the scenario, which was pitched by Broad City co-creator Abbi Jacobson. "Would you leave him alone because you're going to fuck shit up? His whole life already happened and the whole world didn't explode, but would it have been better? I could still talk about the consequences of that, it's such a chewy pitch."
In this way, Time Traveling Bong is the 4/20 special of the future, one with a premise so absurd it doesn't need to draw its humor from beating the viewer over the head with a giant joint. Instead, it's the ultimate dorm room "What if...?" conversation, packed with the sharp, fantastical jokes, slapstick routines and highbrow existential quandaries that have also made Broad City a total stoner hit.
"So much of what we do and write as a group is so stoner-y that it's like almost becoming a background screen of smoke rather than a joke that we're handing over," Glazer says.
Downs adds, "Something you don't often see in popular culture is the fact that people who smoke marijuana are from all walks of life. We wanted to intentionally veer away from like Cheech and Chong, and not make it stereotypically stoner. Heads of state smoke weed, really successful Silicon Valley people smoke weed. We wanted Jeff and Sharee to be these basic suburbanites that have a real journey, but aren't the overwrought, 'Hey man' stoner characters that you would first think of."
Paul W. Downs' Favorite 4/20 Things List:
Favorite Stoner Movie: "Anything but Requiem for a Dream."
Favorite Stoner TV: "Strangers With Candy, Summer Heights High, Love It or List It."
Favorite Stoner Foods: "Sparkling water, good pizza, any cheese."
Favorite Stoner Music: "Fleetwood Mac and BBMak."
Favorite Stoner Activities: "Organizing your medicine cabinet, hair removal, replacing spark plugs in my Camero, trying out soft rugs to sleep on — and then sleeping on them."