Ilana Glazer Talks Time Traveling Bong, Pot & The Joke She Regrets

Photo: Variety/REX/Shutterstock.
Ilana Glazer thinks her new miniseries Time Traveling Bong might seem "stupid" if you're not high. "It’s so weed-themed that I think it’s almost like, you’re more involved with it, you’re, like, participating, if you’re high," she told Refinery29 in a recent phone interview. Naturally, the show premieres tonight, 4/20, the day of the year when lighting up is celebrated. (The next two installments air Thursday and Friday.)

The show, which Glazer co-created with her Broad City collaborators Paul W. Downs and Lucia Aniello, chronicles the adventures of Jeff (Downs) and Sharee (Glazer), two New Jerseyites living mundane lives who come into possession of a bong that allows them to time travel. While initially intrigued by the prospect of jumping through history, Jeff and Sharee soon learn that the past is brutal. Their first stop? Salem, Massachusetts in the 17th Century. Sharee is accused of being a witch and is tortured. After their bong breaks, they are forced to jump through history aimlessly. They get it on with some cavemen in prehistoric times, transport slaves out of the Antebellum South, and try to kidnap Michael Jackson in 1963.

The show, while inherently silly, trades in edgy comedy, some of which is race-based. And one of those jokes isn't sitting right with Glazer.

The show firmly argues that the past sucks, especially when you aren't a white man. Why did you want to show history in this light?
“What time travel do you see? You only see white dudes at the center of these stories. You also only see white dudes at the center of most stories. So we have Paul there as, like, that normal baseline that you’re used to, and then you see what happens to women through me. We’re both white... I hadn’t thought of it like that: Looper, Bill and Ted’s and whatever the fuck else — it’s all white dudes.”

One of the first things we learn about Sharee is that she dates a guy who wears an All Lives Matter t-shirt —
“So scary. We’re making a joke, but those people exist.”

Did you want that to be a sight gag or explore what it means for this ignorant person to be dumped in time periods?
“It was, like, part of Sharee’s arc for sure. These are two super average white people, just useless, mediocre white people. It takes time travel to get them to a place of a little more consciousness.”

Why did you want to explore these "useless white people" in this context?
“Well, I’m kind of like, what else could we be? In Broad City, it’s like, ‘Oh my God, Ilana’s fluid and ambiguous and all this shit.’ But if I straighten my hair, I’m just an invisible white girl. Let’s be real. I’m from Long Island and Paul’s from New Jersey... I call us Tri-State Area Trash Bags. I don’t know; I’m just a fucking Long Island person. It was kind of easy to rag on that type of people. Maybe I could have been that person, maybe not.”

But if I straighten my hair, I’m just an invisible white girl.

Ilana Glazer
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Why did you want Sharee to have straight hair to begin the miniseries?
“That was also part of her transformation. She’s this person that is fitting into the mold of a typical white woman in the suburbs. Her boyfriend is bigger than her and older than her, and she’s fitting into this corner that our culture hands to women. It was a way to embody the change that she was going through. In Salem, she realizes how hard women had it. It was kind of the perfect time for her to be shocked into peeling back a layer to who she really is."

Have you ever straightened your hair in real life?
"I did used to straighten my hair in high school. It didn’t look good. It looked bad, but it was a way to blend in. Or if it was curly, I would wear it in a ponytail. It’s like, no. My curls are, like, so much better for my face, as you can see with my straight hair. Your body knows what you should look like or something. I think doing comedy made me look and feel more like myself. Thank God. My friends and I laugh and laugh at my straight hair. It’s gross.”
Photo: Courtesy of Comedy Central.
Paul W. Downs and Ilana Glazer in Time Traveling Bong.
When you do eventually travel forward in time, there is a joke about how everyone speaks with stereotypical Chinese accents because Chinese has become the official language of America. Jeff says it's "kinda racist." Where did that idea come from?
“I’m most nervous about that part of the series. Honestly, I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I, like, can’t stop thinking about it. Now that it’s going out there and getting real, I’m like, 'What is the message there?' The slave joke, [that slaves are transported to 1963 and immediately faced with a recruitment officer who sends them to Vietnam], is saying something: War is slavery. Poorer people are tapped for war. The future joke... I’m like, what are we saying with this? I do regret it a little bit. On one hand, the idea is, China bought America, we owe over a trillion dollars in debt to China. I do think this could happen, and it’s like, what would that look like? It’s kind of like Trump’s nightmare come to life… It’s not the smartest joke at all. I’m nervous about it, but it’s also kind of funny. I’ve asked Asian people what they think about it, and they are like, ‘Hmm, it’s a little offensive.’ And I’m like, 'Yeah, you’re right. I am sorry.' It’s probably the first time that I’m coming up against exclusive comedy. I fear that it excludes people, and I regret that. These people that I have asked, they are also like, but it’s also kind of funny... I am honestly a little ashamed of it.”

Have you ever had that experience before with a joke? What is it like being in this place now where you can’t really do anything about it?
“On Broad City, we’ve been so conscious of inclusiveness, and I’m so proud of that. But this is a different type of comedy — offensive comedy or comedy that could be offensive. I’ve never been in this situation before."

Obviously, you collaborate with Lucia and Paul on Broad City, but I know Paul mentioned at a Tribeca panel that Abbi [Jacobson] suggested the Michael Jackson plotline —
“Which is everybody’s favorite one!”

Does it feel weird not directly collaborating with Abbi on something like that or are you always collaborating with her?
“Yeah, the four of us are kind of like a camp. Paul and Lucia have a movie coming out [Move That Body] that we both took punch up-passes on. Abbi and I have individual projects that we’ll talk through with each other. Sometimes I'm like, Wait, where’s Abbi? Even just doing press for Bong, if I’m alone, I’m like, Where’s Paul? Where’s Abbi? It is weird. It’s exciting to get to that next step where we are venturing out but it is scary. It really is.”