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UCBT performers featured in LA Weekly's comedy issue

Mar 4, 2015

When Bad Things Happen to Funny People

L.A. is filled with un-sitcomed standup comics. Many are extremely talented and will make you laugh till you hurt yourself. These are the professionals. As a service to our readers, who could use a break from their worries, we've asked a sampling of the best comics (some you've heard of, some you will hear of) to share their best Hollywood horror stories -- auditions, day jobs, head shots, meetings gone very, very wrong. Go ahead, feel their pain.

Unattractive Man

I don't have a problem with how I look. Like most people, I did when I was younger, but not so much anymore. In college I had a goatee, then later a beard. I grew them partly to look less like an adolescent boy but mostly to cover my weak chin. When I was a teenager people said I looked like a thinner John Candy. Lately I've been told I look Will Ferrell-ish. In my act I've described myself as being 'built like a long baby.' Anyway, all things considered, I'm not an ugly man. At least, I don't think so. I'm a comedian, after all. Not being conventionally stunning helps. No one likes having the wacky foibles of life pointed out by a model.

Years ago, I walked into the casting office of 200 South ready to hit it out of the park. Even if it was an ad for kitty litter, or whatever. Back then all I went out for were commercials, but it was always exciting. Into the room I'd bound full of vigor and enthusiasm pretty much every time. Being a comedian, you get used to rejection and humiliation on a lot of levels. So when I started auditioning for things in L.A., I thought I could take whatever. In this particular instance I had no clue what role I was there for, but I didn't care. Head shot in hand, with a smile on my face, I walked up to the pretty girl holding the sign-in sheet.

Me: 'Hi, how are you? I'm here for the audition.' Sign-in girl: 'Hi. Name?'

Me: 'Matt Braunger. Um, my agent didn't tell me what role I'm auditioning for.'

girl: 'Matt Bron ... ?'

Me: 'Braunger. B as in boy, R, A, U ... '

Sign-in girl: 'Oh, here you are, Matt. Yep. You're going in for the role of ... UNATTRACTIVE MAN.'

Jesus Christ.

She walked away, leaving me stunned. Honestly? A noise came out of my face, unbidden. It was kind of a sad grunt. It felt like a physical blow. This is why I came in? This came over the breakdowns and someone -- who represents me -- said, 'Unattractive? Let's send in Braunger! He's perfect for that!'

You're here for the role of Unattractive Man. You are. By name.

When I was in sixth grade, I went to my very first school dance. While there, a friend said a girl wanted to meet me. Oh, I felt like a king! I walked over to where she was, but as I got closer she began to frown. 'No, never mind,' she said to my friend. Clearly. Loud enough for me to hear. I turned and went back to the part of the wall I had been holding up a minute before.

This felt like that.

Gathering my ego, I walked over and learned that it was just a wide-ranging description. It should have been called 'Creepy Man.' He was a guy who kept hitting on a woman who didn't like him. That's all. He wasn't a shirtless Joseph Merrick. Relieved, I sat down and watched the other guys arrive to be told they were hideous, too. It was awesome.

Head Shots Gone Wrong 

Some years back, I moved to Hollywood from Texas. I arrived with high hopes, as I'd gotten some attention from starring in the MTV series Austin Stories, which landed me a manager at one of the biggest management companies in town. My co-star and writing partner, Chip Pope, moved out on the same day and was signed by the same guy.

The guy -- we'll call him Manager -- was extremely excited to have us onboard, and he was adamant that the rest of the town would be banging on his door to get a piece of us. We'd often get phone messages from him in which his high-pitched voice would squeal proclamations like, "I just sent Michael Eisner a cup of your urine and a note that says, 'Taste the future!'"

He'd often end sentences with an incredibly enthusiastic, "Yay!" as in, "You guys are gonna be rich and famous. Yay!" or, "All the girls at the networks are dying to sleep with you. Yay!"

His first order of business was to get us new head shots. He made us an appointment with a photographer, sent us to get haircuts and told us to show up at the shoot with a few solid-colored shirts. It was nice to have so many of the details handled by a real show-biz pro.

We followed his instructions, and met one afternoon in an upscale alley on Melrose, near Robertson. I went first, posing for my head shots -- about two rolls. It was pretty painless. I then waited while Chip did the same. As he was finishing and I began collecting my things to leave, suddenly an SUV pulls up and Manager jumps out and starts to, well, manage.

"What's up, guys? Wasn't it great?"

"Yeah, it went well," I replied.

"Before you go, why don't you take one together?" "Together?"

"Yeah, take a head shot together. You guys are comedy partners. Take one together. I think it'll be great!"

It seemed like a strange suggestion, but we figured, "What the hell, what's one more picture? It's not like we were ever gonna use this." So we stood together and faced the camera. He told us to get closer to each other; it felt awkward. He kept urging us to move closer until our solid-colored shirts were touching shoulder to shoulder. The photographer snapped a few shots, and that was it.

Six months later I got a call from a friend. "Hey, Howard, I was working with a casting agent today, and she was going through a pile of head shots and was, like, "What the hell is this?" And I'm, like, "What?" and then she shows me this head shot, and I'm, like, "I know that guy! That's Howard Kremer." The casting agent was, like, "Who's the other guy, his husband?"

The whole office cracked up at us.

So apparently, Manager had that double head shot printed up and sent it out without our consent.

"Can you destroy it for me?" I asked my friend.

"No way, dude. It's too good. You look like conjoined twins. We tacked it up on the wall -- it's never coming down." Oh, great.


Paris Hilton is a Bad Friend 

I was told once at a commercial audition, "Can you do that again but 75 percent less?" I thought, exactly 75 percent? After all that rigorous conservatory training in New York, I figured it was time to take an acting class, L.A. style. When I walked into Lesly Kahn's "Comedy Intensive" in 2002 I was hoping she'd just hand me a stack of US Weeklys and a bloody mary and we'd be done with it. But on the first day, as we sat in the teacher's living room, this familiar-looking girl raised her hand and asked if she might pass around a portfolio of pictures of herself. The girl proceeded to pass around the book, explaining: "Here's one from my birthday party in Tokyo!" "Oh, this one is when I was Madonna for Halloween!" "Look, that's the lingerie my boyfriend bought me on Valentine's Day; I'm modeling it in the limo we rented that night." A girl next to me whispered, "Who the hell is this chick?" She wasn't that famous yet, but I recognized her from the society pages I read so religiously. "Her name's Paris Hilton," I said. "Her dad owns all the Hilton hotels." After Paris finally put her "portfolio" away, the teacher explained we would all take turns describing our first impressions of each other to help us learn to cast ourselves. A girl named Sandy got up in front of the class. We all started yelling out our impressions of Sandy. "I bet Sandy drives fast cars!" "Sandy looks like a rebel!" "I bet Sandy drinks regular Coke instead of diet!" "Sandy seems more like a dog person than a cat person." Paris raised her hand but then blurted out, "Sandy likes to sell seashells by the seashore." At this point one thing was clear -- this chick was gonna be huge!

As the days passed and Paris sat there with her bedazzled cell phone, drawing pictures of kittens and hearts on her audition pages, I tried desperately to become her friend. When it was her turn to act, she spoke every line like it was right out of a porno (did I mention this was a "Comedy Intensive"?). It also appeared that the only work she put into the scenes was applying bronzer under the table while she waited for her turn. One time she arrived to class an hour and a half late, explaining that she had been pulled over for speeding and now had a date with the police officer for that weekend, but she was going to Berlin so she wasn't sure what she was going to do.

Another time we had to write how we want people to see us. Paris wrote: "A stunning Cameron Diaz sprinkled with the infamous beauty of Heather Locklear." I guess she underestimated herself.

One day I got a call from someone announcing themself as Paris Hilton's secretary. "Paris has invited you to her birthday party in Las Vegas." I knew we were bound to be friends! During the five-hour drive, I just kept imagining myself finally posing with her, and appearing on Page Six. When I arrived at the overcrowded Vegas nightclub, I was forced to wait in the back of a very long line. "I got a personal call from Paris' secretary!" I announced to the doorman, who rolled his eyes and told me to get to the back of the line.

When I finally made it in, I looked for Paris' private party, but to no avail. I was finally directed to a corner of the club, where a blockade of bodyguards wearing Sean John jump suits held firm. Through the human blockade people were screaming and waving their arms. "Paris, over here!" "Look over here -- you invited me!" "PARIS, over here!" Paris, with a pink bow in her hair, sat with her sister, sipping a drink and waving at her "fans." Dejected, I unwrapped the beret I'd brought her as a gift, put it on and drove back to L.A.

B.Y.O. Jackie 

Like most people, I got into show business for the parties. My plan was to quickly amass enough fame and wealth to join the glitterati and turn my life into one big orgy of booze, drugs and orgies. But this goal proved strangely elusive. After years of entertaining small groups of comedy nerds in tiny theaters, I found myself approaching 30, living in the home of an elderly couple in Brooklyn and using a cardboard box for a coffee table. And no one ever had coke.

But all that changed when I was hired to join the cast of MADtv. The moment the offer came in, visions of young Hollywood self-destruction were dancing in my head again. I packed my belongings into my coffee table and moved to Silver Lake, which I chose for its hipness. This was it! I was (marginally) rich! I was (minimally) famous! It was time to take my rightful place as ringleader to the most epic bacchanals of our time!

In my first week of mad television, I got the ball rolling by putting a sign where everyone at the show's offices could see it. "Party at my place! Bring anyone! 8:30 to question mark. Exclamation point!" It would prove to be a poorly worded sign.

On the big night, my first guest was a demure-looking stranger in her 60s. She arrived at 8:30 on the dot and introduced herself as June. She said, "I'm a friend of Jackie's." "Jackie..." "She works with you at MAD," said June.

Oops. I'm not great with names. I knew Jackie could have been someone I spoke to every day, so I pretended to know who she was and I got June her Sprite.

Then two of my friends showed up. We chatted with June for a while and learned that she was an aspiring screenwriter. And then two more strangers arrived. They were in their late 40s and they were odd. They looked like bow-and-arrow hunters or people who made their own soap. I greeted them and was told, "We're friends of Jackie's." "Ooo," I thought. "Jackie invited three people to join her here, and they all showed up before she did. That's awkward." Next some old friends were followed through the door by a short, fat guy with silly-looking curly hair. I didn't know him. When I introduced myself, he said his name was Howard. Without being asked, he offered up that he was a game-show writer between jobs and then, as if in a horror movie, he said, "I'm a friend of Jackie's." Now I was concerned. Who was Jackie, and how many people had she invited?

I was right to be worried, because, by 10 p.m., there were 25 of my friends, 50 friends of Jackie's and no Jackie. And Jackie's friends were poorly cast for a young-Hollywood blowout. They ranged in age from their early 40s to their middle 60s. They were men with ponytails and women with fanny packs. Their clothes were unfashionable, their haircuts unfortunate. This was not the party I'd had in mind. Eventually, the mystery began to unravel.

I learned that Jackie and all of her friends were enrolled in something called the Flashforward Institute, which is one of the many organizations in L.A. that exists to help aspiring artists spend some of the money they've made in their unsatisfying day jobs. They had taken classes in goal-setting, confidence-building and self-promotion, and now they were learning how to network. For homework, each had been required to throw a party and attend a party. Apparently Jackie, who held an administrative position at MADtv, had seen the sign for my party and figured she could help her classmates satisfy half of their homework in one swoop. So she passed along my invitation -- to all 100 of them.

My friends and I were surrounded by a rapidly growing crowd of the kinds of oddballs who need to take a class to find out that if you meet more people, more people will know you. The air was heavy with social ineptitude. And the only thing I could think to do was to get blind-drunk.

Around 11, I was mixing up a vodka and vodka when a woman thrust her big, smiling face in front of me and yelled, "Hi, I'm Jackie! I'm the one who invited a hundred people to your party!" She then handed me a wooden end table and told me, "Everyone brings something with them to a party, but nobody ever brings anything to put those things on!"  Jackie was what psychologists call a 'crazy person.' With a lot of friends.

As they filed out at the end of the night, I gave Jackie and each of her friends a drunken class evaluation. For one reason or another, everyone got an F in networking, except for June, who got credit for being punctual.
LA General

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The 11th Annual Del Close Improv Marathon in Metro

Mar 3, 2015

'Insert title here'

The Del Close Marathon, hosted by the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, is three nights of nonstop, onstage improv madness. The performances on four different stages promise to range from the absurd and insane to thought-provoking and genuinely touching.

When the founders of the UCB Theatre - Amy Pohler, Matt Besser, Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh - moved to New York 15 years ago to try to get a comedy show, they had no idea what they would create. "We wanted to have an improv show, so we got a theater and just did a free show," Walsh remembers. "No one had really seen long-form improvisation in New York. We were sort of a small success right away." 

This is the 11th year hosting the Del Close Marathon, which is named after one of the primary influences of modern improvised theater. "We had a special bond with him through classes and such," says Walsh. "When he passed away, we wanted to remember him." The first year of the marathon helped pay tribute to Del Close, but it has developed into something all of its own. "What it's become is a tremendous party," says Walsh.

Among the performances is a group called Scheer-McBrayer, not surprisingly made up of comedians Paul Scheer and Jack McBrayer. "I met Jack when he first moved out to New York from Chicago," explains Scheer. McBrayer now stars on NBC's 30 Rock and Scheer is best known for his work on the MTV show Human Giant. "We normally perform together like once or twice a year," says Scheer.

Also performing, straight off their film's debut at Comic-Con, is DERRICK. The five members of DERRICK are best known for their online sketch videos, which have been viewed more than 100 million times. And this saturday marks a special performance of the SWARM, one of UCB's premiere groups since the theater's founding.

"We were the first real house team at UCB," says member Michael Delaney. They've been selling out shows since their founding, which member Andy Secunda credits to "an artistic joining of like minds." 

Although the improvisors have since developed separate careers, "we're all still members, we're just split up on different coasts," says Delaney.

Both Secunda and Delaney are part of the Stepfathers, which is also performing at the Marathon.
The 11th Annual Del Close Marathon
Friday, 4:30 p.m. through Sunday, 8 p.m.
UCB Theatre
Hudson Guild Theatre
Urban Stages
FIT Kate Murphy

NY Shows

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The 11th Annual Del Close Marathon Featured in Wall Street Journal

Mar 3, 2015

I Watched 52 Hours of Non-Stop Improv

Imagine seeing an improvised comedy team made up entirely of the '86 Mets, or characters from Lost, or Bill Cosbys, or teenagers, or  Jane Austen characters, or Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Imagine a wet t-shirt contest between Rob Huebel and Jason Mantzoukas. DCMXI is not illiterate Latin; it's the 11th Annual Del Close Marathon. Attendees didn't have to imagine, whether they wanted to or not. This is not normal improv, and not just because it goes for more than two days and nights non-stop. 

The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, the godfather of comedic talent farms in the country, announced an expanded reach this weekend during their annual marathon to honor Del Close, a legendary instructor. Matt Besser, one of the creators of UCB, said the theater would take on an additional location in November in Manhattan's East Village, at 3rd St and Avenue A - to be named UCB-East (the only other location is in LA) - and, he added, although it's always hard to tell if such people are serious, that it would include a bar called "The Hot Chicks Room." 

Your dutiful blogger endured the entire 52-hour marathon, from Friday at 6 p.m. until Sunday at 10 p.m. - which would swing from hundreds of shoulder-to-shoulder, standing spillover onlookers to a low of 10 people (two of them asleep) at 6 a.m. on Sunday morning. Only three spectators also sat through the whole marathon. One of them, Nathaniel Oberstein, 21, a record assistant from New Jersey, was given a golden medal that read "Winner," which he wore although his two friends didn't.

"When it got hard to breathe from being so crowded, we were like 'what are we doing?' but it was worth it. You lose track of time, which means losing track of pain too," said Blair Gerold, 21, a college student who was one of the three survivors.

Like entering the Playboy mansion's Grotto or a pirate's treasure cave, entering the underground theater requires a weird mix of bravado and idiocy. The stream of improvised, disposable humor can be inspiring; a 2 a.m.  parody of the 1970s game show "The Match Game" moved two people to enjoy physical recreation in one of the dingy bathrooms, they later admitted when someone on stage inquired about romance during the event.

By far, the most enthusiastic audience responses came from a round of improvised Shakespeare - the first standing ovation - followed closely by a handful of improvised musicals. "Those shows seem impossible to perform," said Anthony King, the artistic director of the theater. "And so to see those feats accomplished is impressive." Although enduring the marathon itself is its own kind of feat. "I had a Red Bull every four hours," said Oberstein. "You have to see it all. It's these guys who have all been best friends since before they were anybody, since they had day  jobs, and at this marathon you can pay just $25 to see all of them together, where normally you'd spend hundreds seeing them all separately." 

The night included guest appearances by Jon Glaser, Wyatt Cenac, Jason Sudeikis, Sarah Silverman and more. "It's a thinking man's genre," said co-founder Ian Roberts. "That's not to say we don't have fun. But you don't say 'I'm going to a bacchanal' you look around and realize, 'oh man, I'm in a bacchanal.'"
NY Shows

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