The major plot in the third season finale of Broad City revolves around finding a tampon while on a plane — a seemingly simple task, which, like most Broad City plots, spirals into absurdity and gross-out humor. Of course, this isn’t the first time that Broad City has drifted into the realm of body functions for laughs, but this time may be the most important.
Gross-out humor has always been a part of comedy, but it has been almost exclusively a man’s game; ejaculation, farting, you get the picture. Even when female comedies embrace crude humor, it’s usually in a manner that still makes men comfortable. In the 2011 film Bridesmaids, there is the notorious scene in which all of the women experience food poisoning while at a high-end bridal boutique. When Sex and the City hit the big screens in 2008, it turned to crass humor in the form of Charlotte pooping her pants after drinking water in Mexico. These examples are bathroom humor, for sure, but they’re somewhat safe because they represent bathroom humor that could happen to men as easily as women. Period humor is decidedly feminine, and decidedly new, terrain.
Broad City has never been afraid to push the envelope when it comes to ridiculous plots and jokes. In this most recent season alone, Ilana pees herself, Ilana spills Abbi’s pee, and the women FaceTime while on the toilet. In episodes nine and 10, a two-part episode, they tackle some perfectly gross jokes about menstruation, and these jokes are just what America needed.
In “Getting There,” episode nine, Ilana dons her “period pants” (jeans with a large blood stain on them) as a way to sneak weed through airport security. It works on many level: it is hilarious, it succeeds in helping her smuggle weed through security, and it highlights how uncomfortable a man is with a woman’s period. Comparatively to other jokes made on Broad City, this one doesn’t seem that controversial. But, with Instagram going so far as to censor a photograph of a period stain on a bed sheet, then yes, Ilana’s period pants are indeed envelope pushing.
In “Jews on a Plane,” episode 10, the menstruation gags continue when Abbi gets her period on the plane. It is refreshing to see a woman get her period at the most inopportune time and without warning, especially since entertainment usually furthers the stereotype of a rabid PMS-ing woman. We usually see images of women suffering from dramatic cramps, cravings and mood swings before every single period. While that does happen to some women before some or all periods, there are also women who simply get their periods unexpectedly (and unceremoniously) while on a plane to Israel.
When Abbi finds herself without a tampon on said plane, the women trade some “day one” jokes; jokes which will likely go over many men’s heads. The period jokes continue, as Ilana secures various items, including pita bread, in order to make a tampon, and Abbi laughs at the ridiculously small tampon that a fellow passenger gives her, stating, “I thought these were, like, a joke that all women shared.”
Sure, Broad City is not the first feminist comedy to experiment with period humor (h/t Inside Amy Schumer), but the show’s foray into the topic is such a crucial (and hilarious) step. These Broad City scenes are important because they make light of menstruation in ways that are both comical, and actually feel as if they were written by women, rather than by men writing jokes about what they think a period is. In a society that is generally quiet about menstruation, not shying away from it and, rather, making it the main comedic plot of an entire episode is a pretty big deal. And Abbi, we wouldn’t have used that pita bread tampon either.