On the latest episode of Broad City, an absurdist television romp now in its fourth season on Comedy Central, the two heroines of the show take a trip—not to some distant land but rather to a psychedelic realm full of drooping googly eyes and hissing purple gasses. Aided by magic mushrooms, the antic characters Abbi and Ilana (neither of whom is especially conventional in the most normal situations) let their imaginations go, and the results are rich: crosswalks that play like piano keys, dogs pouring syrup on pancakes, and two women who turn into cool cucumbers with legs. (“Pickles are the trans people of the vegetable community,” one of them says.) A quest to acquire macaroons—that “stupid inedible dessert”—does not go as planned, and suffice it to say that hijinks ensue.
The eight-minute stretch of hallucinogenic animation in the midst of an otherwise live-action show was created by Mike Perry, an artist in New York. Perry has made animated intros and tags for Broad City since the show premiered on TV in 2014, but this was his first foray into the form in full. “I would make flipbooks as a kid, but I didn’t really know animation,” Perry said at his Brooklyn studio a few weeks ago, with the episode wrapped and awaiting broadcast. “My whole theory of animation is: I know how to draw a picture, so I can just draw another one—and another one after that.”
Perry met Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson (also the host of the MoMA-affiliated podcast A Piece of Work) at Art Basel Miami Beach in 2007, when both were involved in an AOL–sponsored artist program. “I was the person on the trip encouraging everybody to use the mini bar,” Perry said.
The link was forged again when Broad City moved from its web-series status to its current home on Comedy Central. “We’ve always put a lot of trust in Mike from the start with the title sequences and the branding of the show,” Jacobson said. “I have been a fan of his since college. His books Hand Job: A Catalog of Type and Over & Over: A Catalog of Hand-Drawn Patterns have been with me for a while. I love how raw his work feels—how you can almost see his personality, his true self, in his lines. It’s imperfect in the most essential way. It makes you laugh at the world and look at it with fresh eyes.”
Perry’s aesthetic for the show—brightly colored, giddy, squiggly, squirmy—draws on the same vision he applies to his work in other artistic and commercial realms. He has a gallery show of paintings, “Mike Perry: Intoxicating Pollen in a Moist Journey of Constantly Blooming Tides,” on view at Garis & Hahn in Los Angeles, and he has worked as a creative director and designer with a wide array of enterprises and brands.
But the latest episode of Broad City, titled “Mushrooms,” marks a development he would like to continue. “It was the first time I spent so much time on something,” Perry said. “It was like, ‘Oh, I just spent 400 hours making one thing move.’ It created a kind of mediation that turns into a desire to make things that take longer.”
For all intents and purposes, Perry’s research for the episode started years ago, but he went on a special reconnaissance mission for the purposes of due diligence. “I did it alone, which was very interesting,” he said of a psylocibon trip he took at home, with books quickly filled up with sketches and notes. “I’m a quite visual recipient of the drug. I saw the fractals.”
Psychedelia can be a welcome corrective to the “ridiculousness of everything—of existence,” he said. And his prior interest came in handy when the storyline for “Mushrooms” was drawn. “We always thought about the girls eating mushrooms and had always thought about doing an animated version of the show,” Jacobson said. “Mike’s drawings are so trippy, like you’re entering his brain, so this was just us moving to another level of collaboration. We wanted him to go wild, and he did. We are lucky to have Mike on our team and to constantly bring his one-of-a-kind mind into our universe.”
For Perry, who worked with a group of four animators to bring “Mushrooms” to fruition, the episode gibes with another idea he has been mulling for a few years: a concept for an animated TV show called Island Life. “It’s a psychedelic cartoon about an alcoholic artist abstractly experiencing the world, with lots of miniature-golf plot lines and jokes about not having a face,” he said. “You know, just dreaming the dreams of an artist.”