There is a long history of politicians using popular television comedy shows to boost their aspirations. Richard Nixon famously went on Laugh In during the 1968 campaign. Bill Clinton blew his sax on The Arsenio Hall Show in 1992. Appearances on Saturday Night Live have become a de facto requirement for presidential candidates. But there may be no more unlikely choice for a TV appearance by a potential leader of the free world than Hillary Clinton’s appearance tonight on Broad City.
The logic behind Clinton’s guest spot on the show is clear — but it also could offer her opponents plenty of cudgels they could use against her in what is already shaping up to be a nasty election.
Broad City, for those unaware, is hot, hip, social media friendly and may very well be the funniest thing currently on Comedy Central. It is the brainchild of two talented young women, Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson (with a sizeable assist from producer Amy Poehler). It is created by and routinely features the exact sort of creative New York personalities that led Hillary to put her campaign mothership in Brooklyn. And it wears its feminist flag proudly.
The show is essentially a take on the Laverne and Shirley formula (this is an oversimplification that drastically undersells the charms and creativity of the show, but you get the point) with two Jewish girls in modern New York City blundering their way through life. Without the pretensions of HBO’s Girls, Broad City dares you not to love Abbi and Illana while openly acknowledging that they are obliviously leaving a wake of destruction in their path. If Clinton wants to recapture the cool vibe she enjoyed at the height of the “Texts from Hillary” memes in 2012, Broad City is a no-brainer.
But…there’s also a definite downside for a candidate who is now looking ahead to the general election. No show on television celebrates marijuana more openly, for example. In keeping with its modern New York setting, the show also features a wide variety of ethnicities and sexual orientations. In fact, Illana’s omni-sexuality is one of the bigger sources of laughs.
For a lot of Hillary supporters, and a lot of the population of New York, this is a wonderful depiction — or again, celebration — of the life they live. It is refreshing to see a version of Brooklyn that’s recognizable to its inhabitants, as opposed to the standard sitcom version that is often foisted on audiences.
Still, no matter how brief or tame her role is — and it’s highly unlikely she’ll get the kind of treatment the show gave Kelly Ripa, who played a gloriously drunk and sexually voracious version of herself — it is easy to see Clinton being criticized in some corners for appearing on a show that celebrates “deviance” and drug use.
Additionally, and unexpectedly, there is also a potential risk from the left. Months ago, when Hillary filmed her appearance, Bernie Sanders’ populist surge hadn’t yet emerged as a substantial threat to her sure-thing candidacy. Given that much of Broad City’s fan base overlaps with that of Sanders, Clinton’s stances on marijuana legalization and various LGBT rights issues could leave her vulnerable to attacks from impassioned supporters of Sanders (and the show).
The show’s two stars have even done some low-key PR to manage any blowback, explicitly stating that Clinton’s appearance is not an endorsement of her presidential campaign, but simply a celebration of her as a role model for women.
In all likelihood, tonight’s appearance will come and go as no more than another blip in the raging culture war, but it may not be the Millennial-luring slam dunk it must have seemed to be several months ago.
Hopefully it’ll make good TV.