Yes — it's dangerous to try to explain why something is funny. But Comedy Central's Broad City seems to defy genre. Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer's skanky, wacky sitcom is not Girls, 2 Broke Girls, or even Inside Amy Schumer. The show has been described as the "absurd, slapstick-y misadventures" of two "heedless, daffy, mostly benign" Jewish girls who barrel through their days with hilariously awkward "madcap follow-through".
The truth is that Broad City is old school slapstick funny. Abbi and Ilana are more Charlie Chaplin than Lena Dunham; more Moe, Larry, and Curly than Sarah Silverman. The Broad City girls are straight up vaudeville buffoons with a knack for physical comedy — hello, Ilana even smashes her face into a cake at the end of "Stolen Phone" (Season 1, Ep. 6).
The Marx Brothers' A Night at the Opera (1935), for example, is a slapstick classic that essentially defines the genre. Like Abbi and Ilana, the film's brothers (Groucho, Chico and Harpo) are awkward, oblivious, unflappable. The film follows a trio of Italian singers who hope to make it big in the New York opera scene. Because they're poor (like the Brooklyn duo), they hitch a free ride as stowaways on a trans-Atlantic ocean liner. How do they manage that? By hiding in a huge trunk wheeled into the tiny stateroom of an obnoxiously mustached "wise guy", Mr. Driftwood (Groucho Marx).
In a scene as crowded and claustrophobic as Broad City's subways, no fewer than 15 people enter Driftwood's tiny cabin (including a manicurist, a ship engineer, and a maid with a mop). As the room begins to fill, the scene turns slapstick: a chaotic mess of legs, arms, faces. What's funny is how calm the characters remain — how they, so to speak, "commit to the bit." A Night at the Opera exploits the awkwardness of things that don't "fit" — just like Ilana's too-skimpy-for-work shirts, or Abbi's apartment during a hurricane.
Broad City is full of slapstick hijinks and gags. Abbi dances naked to Lady Gaga in her kitchen. Ilana praises her poop. They fart, they video chat while vomiting, while screwing. They're shameless. Like the Brothers, the Broads use their bodies to be funny. It's physical comedy. The more awkward, the better.