UCBT's Badman, The Stepfathers, and The Midnight Show Compete in The Friars Club Improv + Sketch ComFeb 25, 2015
The Friar's Club new, relevant comedy contest
Young talent flocks when Friars get FrISCy.
The Midnight Show
Cigar-twirling borscht-belt hacks belching crusty Henny Youngman gags-when it aired in 1999, the "Friar Infestation" episode of Comedy Central's Upright Citizens Brigade nailed how the layperson and comedy professional alike envisioned Friars, if they ever did. As the cartoon Friars terrorize a suburban home like a horde of rodents, they aren't just an outmoded cliche but something that needs extermination. Since loving excoriation has always been the Friars' stock-in-trade, they'd probably agree with this image-possibly the reason they've been working so hard to change it.
Founded in 1904 as a professional organization for Broadway press agents, the Friars Club quickly evolved into a members-only social clique whose comedically eviscerating roasts became its calling card. For the last ten years, however, the club has felt the need to stretch its boundaries in order to stay relevant. "If you're going to stick around not just decades but centuries, you're going to have to learn how to adapt," says Barry Dougherty, the club's director of communications. "It's healthy." Most notably, the Friars Club began to allow Comedy Central to air its hitherto private roasts of celebrities and other club members in 1998. Though the broadcasts lasted only five years, they were the catalyst for the proliferation of roasts on the comedy landscape and helped make the careers of such insult comics as Lisa Lampanelli and Jeffrey Ross.
In the past few years, the club has extended itself even further. Its Associate nights have invited improv, sketch and stand-up into the clubhouse. In 2009, the organization debuted the Friars Club Comedic Film Festival, which included the premiere of the Coen brothers' A Serious Man. This year, the club solicited young comics' participation in the festival by creating FrISC, the Friars Club Improv and Sketch Competition; two winners will each receive $10,000 and three months to make a short film.
Unlike most other moneyed comedy competitions, FrISC has chosen representative ensembles with actual talent. From more than 100 submissions, the organizers chose ten groups, half improv and half sketch, who will perform Friday 25 and Saturday 26, respectively; each team will have 20 minutes to impress a panel of experts. If this promising first attempt can become an influential mainstay, perhaps the Friars will be able to eradicate the pesky stereotype on its own.
Whether performing a revue of lighthearted, thoughtful nonsense or assaulting schlocky blockbuster ConAir for more than 30 minutes, New York vets Elephant Larry have remained busy and visible. Their manically executed premises never overwhelm the careful intent behind their writing.
The impressive Harvard Sailing Team is a breath of fresh air; the troupe's invigorating song-and-dance routines serve as the vehicle for social satire aimed at the quotidian behavior of your friends and neighbors.
Though they've only performed sporadically over the past few years, the members of Free Love Forum are masters of character-driven absurdity on video. Though proceedings may get bizarre, FLF always works to make itself and its material accessible (a la Kids in the Hall).
Based at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in L.A., the Midnight Show is what its name implies: a high-energy, late-night sketch revue. Its large, prolific cast crafts enviably glossy, spot-on parodies including an Entourage spoof about cell phone use, and Avatar retold by babies.
Somebody's in the Doghouse is Leah Gotcsik and Marty Johnson, a Boston duo that create scenes with solid characters and big payoffs. Among their clips is an indicative Funny or Die sketch in which a hypersexual gorilla assaults her Jane Goodall-like protector.
Badman is a UCB Harold team already familiar with the Friars and the Friars Club stage, where it has performed as part of the Tuesday Associates night.
Code Duello is another pair of Bostonians who perform a loopy, witty and, above all, historically inaccurate retelling of the events leading to the famous duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.
A supergroup that's become a long-running show in its own right, the Stepfathers includes Andy Secunda and Michael Delaney from the Swarm, in addition to a lot of other great players who've committed themselves to smart, playful improv.
Los Angeles's the Jon and Eddie Show is not two guys or even about two guys, yet the female duo behind the act lean on the sort of casual, loving buddy bond usually reserved these days for successful bromances.
Vanity Project is one of the house teams from Boston's Improv Asylum, which plays to great acclaim at its theater each Wednesday night.
FrISC happens Fri 25 and Sat 26 at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre.
Associated Press Calls BP Spills Coffee A Runaway Hit For UCBComedy.comFeb 25, 2015
BP spoof video is runaway hit for UCB website
The most memorable comedic take on the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico hasn't come from Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show or a late-night monologue.
Instead, a cheaply made video by an unlikely New York improv troupe has created the only commentary that has truly resonated online: a three-minute spoof that shows BP executives pathetically trying to clean up a coffee spill.
In the last two weeks, the video has been watched by nearly 7 million people on YouTube. By the count of Viral Video Chart, it's been shared some 300,000 times on blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds.
The video was dreamed up by the writers for the sketch show 'Beneath Gristedes,' a monthly stage show at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York. While meeting to work on the show, a germ of the concept came to Erik Tanouye, who worked out the script with fellow writers John Frusciante, Gavin Spieller and Eric Scott.
They shot it two days later and within a week, it was up on UCBComedy.com. The site has had some viral hits - a parody of a Google ad, a spoof of the 'David After the Dentist' video - but nothing on this level. UCBComedy.com's servers immediately crashed under the traffic.
'I couldn't do my day job,' said Tanouye, 32, who is the director of student affairs for the UCB training center.
It's been the biggest hit yet for UCBComedy.com, which was founded in 2007 to give its performers an online outlet. The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, which has popular theaters in New York and Los Angeles, was co-founded by Amy Poehler.
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For more than a decade, it has regularly churned out exciting young comic talent, including SNL players Bobby Moynihan and Jenny Slate, and Office regular Zach Woods. Young audiences line up on a nightly basis to pack the 300-seat New York theater, which has a youthful, collegiate vibe.
'What we're trying to do with videos is get out there to the general public the talent that we have,' says Todd Bieber, 30, the website's director of content and production. 'We can reach New York and L.A. audiences pretty easily, but there's a whole world out there that we can't reach through the theaters.'
The boost in visitors to the site has been considerable. From May 21-June 21 last year, the site drew just under 43,000; the same period this year has attracted more than 450,000.
But Bieber, who formerly worked at the Onion News Network, is the only one being paid to work full time on the site. Videos don't have anything like the budgets of the Onion News Network, which shoots in the style of real news broadcasts.
UCBComedy.com includes a lot of footage of improv performances, which typically have much more energy in person, where the thrill of instant creation is immediate. But the dozens of UCB performers - who are graduates of the theater's improv training classes - have learned to fashion their comedy to the Web.
'Beta teams' - performers dedicated to producing content for the site - were formed in January. Original series have been created, including one called 'Blackouts,' which are short 30-second bites, one punch line at a time.
Bieber says that a viral sensation such as 'BP Spills Coffee' can 'energize the UCB community' in creating video for the website. Having so much talent at the ready makes UCBComedy.com a little like an amateur version of FunnyOrDie.com, the comedy site co-founded by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, which pulls contributions from famous comedians.
'That's the hope,' says Bieber. 'There are so many terribly ridiculous things going on in the world that there's plenty of room for commentary. If we can be looked in the same way as FunnyOrDie, that would be terrific. We'd love to get the hits that they do.'
There's plenty of competition when it comes to topical humor, though, and the oil spill has been a common topic. The slow-motion horror of the spill is utterly serious, but people have long turned to comics to give voice to rage. BP, which is said to have mismanaged the spill, has been an easy target.
David Letterman, Jay Leno and other late-night hosts have made BP jokes practically a nightly feature. Conan O'Brien, perhaps feeling like he was missing out, recently tweeted: 'The past 2 months I've been on tour and haven't followed the news. What's with all the photos of chocolate pelicans?' The Colbert Report and The Daily Show have battered the subject relentlessly. Mixing comedy with activism, Colbert Nation has launched a 'Gulf of America Fund' to raise donations for the recovery efforts. SNL is off for the summer and so has missed the opportunity to lampoon BP.
One of the more interesting Internet-based parodies has been a mock Twitter feed, purporting to be from BP's public relations department: . It has more than 175,000 followers. One example: 'Investing a lot of time & money into cleaning up our image, but the beaches are next on the to-do list for sure.'
But the success of the UCB's video could well be a firm foothold in the world of online comedy, and boost the troupe's national presence.
'People can see these amazing talents come up,' says Bieber. 'As awesome as the theater is, at the end of the day, that sketch would have killed for 200 or 300 people, not 6 or 7 million.'
Chelsea Peretti featured in LA WeeklyFeb 25, 2015
Chelsea Peretti may not yet be a household name, but she's one hell of a prolific comedian and writer; she wrote for and appeared on The Sarah Silverman Program, was a regular on Tru TV's The Smoking Gun Presents, wrote and starred in the fantastic web series All My Exes. (Ohh, the Jonathan Winters one -- explosive laughter.) She's a founding member of NYC's fab comedy troupe Variety Shac and has written for various magazines, as well as the Huffington Post. All that and to boot, she's a killer stand-up with an immensely likable combo of cool, dry wit and heartfelt, no-bullshit observation; she's like that friend you can't wait to see again so you can both have a good laugh unloading everything that's been driving you batshit since the last time you hung out.
L.A. WEEKLY: Who were some of the funny ladies who influence you, either from yesterday or today? (Or male comics, for that matter.)
PERETTI: I'm inspired by so many people: Sarah Silverman, Tig Notaro, Morgan Murphy, Amy Schumer, Rachel Feinstein, Marina Franklin, Joan Rivers, Margaret Cho, my Variety Shac cohorts Heather Lawless and Andrea Rosen, and also people like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Parker Posey, Catherine O'Hara, Roseanne and Jackie Beat. Going further back: Gilda Radner, Carol Burnett, Lucille Ball. Inspired by tons of guys, too -- hate to break it down into guys and girls separately, so let's all think of a bunch of guys in our heads. So many greats!
L.A. WEEKLY: You've done a lot of TV work, including Louis CK's upcoming show on FX. How big a lure is television, or do you find that you miss stand-up when you aren't doing it for a while?
PERETTI: I loved writing for Sarah. It was so creatively satisfying to get to work on a unique show built around the singular voice of someone I admire and love. Playing opposite Louis CK in some scenes for his new TV show was similarly a complete fantasy job. To get to be anywhere near people that funny, whom I respect to the extent that I do, is a dream. As is often the case those jobs came after a period of total despair -- right before moving to L.A. to write for Sarah I'd been crying on my couch in New York thinking about quitting comedy and relocating to a remote mountaintop or becoming a florist. Anyway, writing and acting jobs can cut into stand-up but there are also examples of stand-ups with TV jobs, who tour when they have time off and get sets in whenever they can during the regular grind of creating a season of television (thinking of people like Louis CK, Aziz Ansari, Joel McHale, Donald Glover, Judah Friedlander, etc.). There's no single mold of how to make it all work. I think it's possible to find balance. I also look to people like Larry David, Christopher Guest, Tina Fey and Ricky Gervais for inspiration on how to integrate writing and performing into a complete project.
L.A. WEEKLY: The material in your act about your mother really hit home with me. (Seriously, I think your mother and mine should get together for cosmos.) Has your mom seen that part of your act, and what does she think of it?
PERETTI: My mom has seen me do material about her, but I'm not sure what she makes of it. We have a nonverbal agreement to be nonverbal about it. I love her deeply and appreciate her bravery in allowing me to explore family themes in my act without protest. Seems like a fair exchange for my childhood.