Ilana Glazer’s Stand-Up Special Is Not on Fire
I want to begin by declaring definitively that I’m a massive fan of Broad City. To me, the series was more than just a funny TV show about two young women. As a Jewish girl from New York on the brink of her twenties watching Broad City, I felt like I was getting a glimpse into the next decade of my life. I didn’t only like the show, I loved it. I watched and continue to re-watch the show both for Abbi and Ilana’s antics as well as for their wisdom, I follow them on Instagram, and I keep up with Ilana’s social justice organization Generator Collective.
On January 3, 2020, a day I’d been eagerly anticipating ever since I saw the first promotional posts pop up on my feed, I watched Ilana Glazer’s debut comedy special The Planet is Burning. From the title, I was expecting cutting jabs about climate change and critcal thought about contemporary feminist issues interspersed with belly laughs—maybe a couple good-natured eye rolls in response to a painful pun. I was expecting the kind of light-hearted, goofy humor that still managed to drive home a real point, the kind that I’d come to expect from Ilana Glazer.
I’ll admit I was a little wary of the fact that she released it on Amazon Prime Video, a company that seems to run antithetical to pretty much everything she stands for. But I knew I didn’t know all the details of her management or business and begrudgingly decided to overlook it. I was too excited.
I wasn’t anticipating another Nanette, but I assumed that I’d at least like her new special. That seemed like a given.
Unfortunately, I did not.
Glazer starts out strong, exclaiming that her hope for the future lies not with the “mean dinosaurs in office” but with the “gender nonconforming youth.” She begins the show by tearing into the gender binary and stereotypes of the ultra masculine and feminine, a move I can pretty much always get behind.
And yet, I was left to marvel at how quickly she transitions into relying on those same binaries and stereotypes for the rest of the bit. She talks next about her friend, a “gold star lesbian” (it would take me an entire second post to unpack how transphobic and problematic that label is), and equates her femininity with the size of her boobs. For all Glazer’s mentions of seeing past the gender binary, her jokes are filled with a cisnormativity so intense that I had a hard time understanding how she could have missed it. I felt confused and a little uncomfortable.
But this is a comedy special, right? There are moments when simplification is necessary, and jokes aren’t funny if they don’t push our boundaries a little. So, I tried to let it go. Maybe it was time to take off my feminist goggles and try to find the humor in what I perceived to be Glazer’s transphobic micro-aggressions.
And then Glazer says, “The Nazis in this country…they’re no Hitler’s Nazis.” Somewhere in the back of my mind, the alarm bells started ringing again.
Glazer spends several minutes of her special reflecting on how young Jews are educated about the Holocaust in Hebrew school. She describes the horrors she learned about, which scarred her impressionable elementary-school-aged mind, while admitting the teaching was useful as Nazis are indeed back. However, after making a comparison between World War II and today’s resurgence of Nazis, she draws the conclusion that the primary problem with today’s Nazis is that their “branding is very loose.” They’re not terrifying because they don’t have a lewk.
Was this Glazer’s way of trying to ease the fear Jews—rightfully!—feel about growing antisemitism in the United States? I don’t have an issue with finding humor in a dark past or coaxing comfort from laughter. I do, however, find it concerning that a major Jewish activist was using her platform to minimize the very real threat of neo-Nazis and white nationalists.
Because isn’t Glazer ultimately an activist? Sure, she’s a comedian, but her humor is—both in this special and beyond—almost always political. Glazer has crafted for herself a strong presence, especially online, that is three-fold: Jewish, female, and feminist. Her stand-up is a part of this, but watching The Planet is Burning, I felt like she was abandoning her activist half in order to be funny. I know, especially from watching Broad City, that she can do both.
But should she have to? Maybe I’m asking the wrong questions. Is there a difference in the impact between when a stand-up comedian with no ties to the progressive activist community makes an off-color remark and when that joke comes from the mouth of someone claiming to fight for those progressive ideas? Does Glazer’s place as a prominent activist force her to shoulder the responsibility of only creating inclusive and politically correct stand-up? Is it better if jokes about the inefficiency of neo-Nazis come from the mouth of someone Jewish who is actively fighting their presence, or is the joke counterproductive no matter who makes it?
I don’t have the answers. I think comedy and its role within the larger dialogue about political correctness will always be contentious, as the space does allow for some rule-bending and boundary-pushing. I’m not convinced we’ll ever know where to draw the line. However, the comedian’s role outside of the hour we spend laughing along to their script is an element we must consider.
Ultimately, The Planet is Burning left me feeling unsatisfied, confused, and more than a little disappointed. Would I recommend the special? Not enthusiastically. I would, though, encourage more interrogation of the media we choose to consume. I believe there are few better uses of our time than asking questions like these and even if I didn’t find the special particularly funny, watching Glazer’s attempt at stand-up at least gave me the opportunity to engage with these all-important questions.
And to that I say, “Yas queen!”
How to cite this page
Cohn, Emma. "Ilana Glazer’s Stand-Up Special Is Not on Fire." 28 January 2020. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on March 4, 2021) <https://jwa.org/blog/ilana-glazers-stand-special-not-fire>.