Rising online comedy stars

NYC web talents court success on a slightly larger screen.

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  • Photograph: Ari Scott

    Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer

    Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer

  • Photograph: Dan Chen

    Elaine Carroll

    Elaine Carroll

  • Photograph: Jim Turner

    Ann Carr in The Actress

    Ann Carr in The Actress

Photograph: Ari Scott

Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer

Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer

Comedy takes a while to develop. And it can't be created in a vacuum. The minds behind some of the best sitcoms needed time to figure them out, but that developmental luxury no longer exists—unless you're Larry David or you do it yourself online. For years, young comics have been producing and starring in their own series with relative ease. With time and editorial control on their side, some of the most talented among them have flourished and are now being tapped by the industry: In December, for example, Fuse began airing Billy on the Street, based on Billy Eichner's Man on the Street series. These three fantastic New York Web series may be the next to pave the way to better television.

The BFFs
There's nothing broad about Broad City. Each of the 23 episodes—the first launched in February 2010—surrounds a hyperspecific situation in the lives of New York twentysomethings Abbi and Ilana: They give to a homeless person and then make change out of his cup, or race desperately to get the last cookie from a bakery. One episode merely chronicles the girls' morning routines. The humor stems from the dynamic between the two insecure characters—slightly exaggerated versions of the comedians who play them, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, who are also close friends in real life. (They met while studying at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre.)
Broad City revels in life's mistakes and mundanities without apologizing or winking. The series is silly and only occasionally sweet; the girls aren't always nice, but they're never not relatable. Which may be why Jacobson and Glazer were tapped by FX to write a pilot version of the series. (Amy Poehler has signed on as executive producer.) Just as the show is based on them, it has in turn shaped them. Says Jacobson, "Defining ourselves for this series has helped us figure it out in real life."
Watch episodes at broadcitytheshow.com.


The caricaturist
"It's kind of like Garfield," Elaine Carroll says of Very Mary-Kate, the Web show she created that spoofs said Olsen twin. The hit CollegeHumor series does resemble a comic strip: Each episode is short (about 90 seconds) and hilariously cartoonish. There are a handful of rules: Mary-Kate (played by Carroll) doesn't eat, frequently falls asleep and, after taking advantage of someone, likes to ask, "Are you mad at me?" Otherwise, with reality out the window, Carroll takes her impression anywhere. "That's the joy of the Internet," she says. "These can be like Mary-Kate's insane dream sequences." In the show, Olsen travels to classes at NYU in a blimp, buys the entire state of Louisiana and clones her cat over and over again. Each new episode in the series—there have been 62 since January 2010—gets a half million views, and the series has tens of thousands of Facebook fans and Twitter followers. Carroll is also gaining momentum. She starred in a sketch-comedy pilot, landed a role alongside Orlando Bloom in The Good Doctor and appeared in this past season of Mad Men. But the best part? "Elizabeth Olsen, her little sister, tweeted at me, saying, 'You so got her,'" Carroll explains. "There were many, many os in the so."
Watch episodes at verymarykate.com.

The open book
If The Actress weren't humorous, it would just be sad. But if it weren't depressing, it wouldn't be nearly as funny. The series, created by and starring Ann Carr, spotlights struggling actor Hannah, who's repeatedly kicked around and perpetually on the brink of a nervous breakdown. Hannah is verbally abused by a tween actor, forced to blow a banana for a fratty viral video and sabotaged by her friend in front of a critic. Carr, a fantastic comedic actor, embodies Hannah with subtlety and pathos—likely because she's lived Hannah's life. "I can be kind of negative," Carr says, "so making fun of things that happen to me keeps me from going down the rabbit hole."
Carr is mum about the industry types who've approached her since the 13-episode series began in January 2010, but she does admit that some have, and that she is writing a pilot. She's also working on a third season (with cowriter and fianc Warren Holstein) and has decided that, regardless of the future, she won't meddle in it. "I want to think of [the series] as this living, breathing thing, so that I can't try to divide and conquer it," she says. "I don't know where it's gonna wind up, and I don't want to."
Watch episodes at theactresstheseries.com.

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