It has been done before. At the peak of his movie stardom, Jim Carrey made a conscious decision to take on more serious, meaningful roles to prove that he wasn't a human cartoon. In 2004, Dave Chapelle turned down $50 million and walked away from Chapelle’s Show at its peak, because he “had a crisis of conscience and stood up for his integrity as an artist.”
And on Saturday night, speaking in front of a sold out Nourse Theater, Abbi Jacobson was taking clear steps away from the character that has so thoroughly defined her life thus far. Since it launched on Comedy Central four and a half years ago, Broad City has had a major impact on pop culture and what everyday feminism looks like. As she entered the stage, Jacobson was greeted by cries of "Yas kween!", but the evening ultimately had more to do with drawing a line between Abbi Abrams of Broad City and the real-life Abbi who created her.
Jacobson's appearance, in conversation with her close friend D'arcy Carden (Janet from The Good Place!) was in support of Jacobson's first collection of personal essays, I Might Regret This. The book is the result of Jacobson trying to figure out a way to deal with the most painful break up of her life, which also happened to be her first with a woman. "Being out of control in love is glorious," she writes in a chapter titled "Heartbreak City." "It's the closest thing we have to magic. But being out of control in heartbreak...? I wouldn't wish that upon anyone. It's unnerving, it's manic, it's hopeless."
At a loss as to how she could heal, Jacobson got in her car and decided to spend three weeks driving from New York City to Los Angeles to clear her head, occupy herself with a new project and try and figure out what went wrong. On Saturday, she told the Nourse it was one of the most terrifying things she's ever done, "but now that scariness is like my flashlight for what I want to do next. The scariness is good." Her words echo something Dave Chapelle told students at Allen University earlier this year: "It's okay to be afraid, because you can't be brave or courageous without fear." Carden got emotional about the importance of her friend's trip. "It was good for you," she said. "When you left, you were a shell, and at the end, my friend was back."
Jacobson gave us the first major sign there was more to her than Broad City earlier this year, with Netflix drama, 6 Balloons, a harrowing, unflinching story about the sister of a heroin addict, struggling to get her brother (Dave Franco) to rehab. It was the first time one of her side projects had strayed so far from the tone and aesthetics of Broad City. (Jacobson also voices Bean in Disenchantment and Emily in BoJack Horseman, and has published two coloring books—Color This Book: New York and San Francisco—as well as a collection of illustrations, Carry This Book.)
While the roots of I Might Regret This are in misery, the content is whimsical and contemplative, and yes, often very funny. Which is also an accurate way to describe what went down at the Nourse on Saturday. The book, Carden told her friend onstage, "is like living in your brain and your heart." Jacobson herself quipped that making it was more akin to an ailing pet leaving home to "die in the woods." Still, she says of the road trip, "I felt completely free of everything. I'd never really been on a trip where I felt that way. I would definitely do it again."
In a documentary about Chris Farley's life, Bob Odenkirk said something applicable to this particular moment in Abbi Jacobson's. "You can't walk around being funny all the time," Odenkirk commented. "You have to be yourself sometimes, and you have to be alone sometimes." In taking that brave step—and taking it to very literal heights with her travels—Abbi Jacobson has, after focusing on it for 10 years, finally grown beyond the confines of Broad City (awesome though the show still is).
Jacobson is in no way distancing herself from her long-time writing partner, Ilana Glazer. ("It's my relationship with Ilana that I cherish most," she writes.) Nor are they ending the show because it's bad. ("I just don't like it when shows go past what they should," she told the Nourse.) And though I Might Regret This is bound to propel her in a brand new—potentially more mature—direction, the work within the book is plain about where Jacobson is in life, and the fact that she knows she still has a lot to learn.
"It's okay to learn and to get better and to know you're still not quite there," Jacobson writes in a chapter titled "All The Incredible Things I Did Not Do." "It's okay to be nervous and excited at the same time, to be unsure of what's ahead. It's okay to just go and try and to feel whatever you have to feel and to follow your gut. It's okay," she concludes, "because that's all you really have."