America's Comedy recommends UCB Comedy Improvisation Manual: "this book is a necessity"
America's Comedy September 2, 2013
Matt Besser: UCB Comedy Improv Manual (Interview)
by Brian Crall
Matt Besser, Ian Roberts, and Matt Walsh, three of the four founders of Upright Citizens Brigade, just released The Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Improvisation Manual. One of the goals of this book, according to Matt Besser in an interview with AmericasComedy.com, was “that you don’t have to move to Los Angeles, New York, or Chicago to learn improv. Someone who has never seen an improv show nor taken a class could still learn to improvise by reading this book.”
Besser, who was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, did not discover improv until he moved to Chicago. ”I went and saw a show at the ImprovOlympic (i.O.) and in retrospect, I realized who I saw that night ended up being huge people but that night they were just regular Joe’s: Chris Farley, Tim Meadows, Dave Pat Swayze, and David Koechner.” After the show Besser thought to himself, “This is magical. I don’t know what this is but I have to learn to do this.”
The UCB Comedy Improvisation Manual is 382 pages and took Besser, Walsh, and Roberts seven years to write. At first they wanted their book to be an oral history of long form improv but after a year of work on the book they decided that it should be a textbook that covered everything they teach at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. By having three different heads explaining concepts” Besser explained, “it makes it more clear.” They did not think it would take near as long to complete but as they became more involved in the book they realized there were not “phrases and terminology for things [they] were describing… We don’t know if we came up with terminology everyone is going to agree upon but at least for our own school and teachers we feel very confident we covered the bases.” They even changed their improv curriculum as they created new and detailed ways to teach different concepts.
As an experiment Besser sent the final draft of the book to a man in Poplar Bluff, Missouri (population 17,135) who had reached out to Besser via email and asked Besser’s advice on how to learn improv. Besser said, “If you get some of your friends and start rehearsing at least twice a week for the next few months we will let you put on a show at the Del Close Marathon. One guy in the group had seen ASSSSCAT but everybody else had never seen improv… period. Just by reading they book they put on two impov shows at Del Close Marathon and they were pretty fucking decent considering how little time they’d been doing it.”
AmericasComedy.com spoke to several improvisors who have already ordered the book, they all agreed that The Upright Citizen Brigade Improvisation Manual is the most comprehensive improv book on the market. It is perfectly arranged starting with beginning skills like, avoid using finger guns and phones, and concludes with amazingly detailed descriptions of long form improv “forms” or styles, like Movie where improvisors create a “fully improvised 30-minute movie in a particular genre.”
Matt Besser performers at the Upright Citizens Brigade Los Angeles every week in a long form improv show called ASSSSCAT. We asked Besser to compare his recent performances to performances when he first started performing in improv shows. ”I honestly believe that I’ve gotten better and better. Writing this book has made me better, made me clearly state what I do out loud. Like riding a bike, you know what you are doing, but you are not taking about it out loud.”
If you can not get to Los Angeles or New York to see ASSSSCAT you are in luck. Matt Besser also does a weekly improv podcast, improv4humans. Each episode features Matt Besser and some of the best improvisers doing improvised scenes. Besser also does special bonus episodes of the podcast where he talks about the process of doing improv.
When asked if he left something out of the book he wished he could have included, Besser, after a long pause, said laughing, “It’s a long book. At some point we were like man, is this too long? But we just didn’t want to leave anything out. If there’s a flaw it’s that it’s that there is too much in there, that’s why we say at the end of the book you’re not going to understand all this in one read through.” Besser would like to hear your feedback on the book you can reach him on Twitter at @MattBesser
AmericasComedy.com recommendation: Buy! If you are an improvisor, at any level, this book is a necessity.
The Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Improvisation Manual is available at amazon.com and UCBstore.com