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UCBT's Chris Kelly Hired To Write For Saturday Night Live

Mar 30, 2015

Congratulations to Chris Kelly (Oh My God, I Heard You're Dying, MAUDE NIGHT), who was hired as a full-time writer for NBC's Saturday Night Live!

Before this, Chris was a staff writer for Funny or Die and was previously a writer and director for The Onion News Network in New York, which won the 2009 Peabody Award.

He was also the head writer for Matt Besser's Comedy Central special This Show Will Get You High in 2010.

At UCB in New York City, Chris wrote, directed and starred in a dark sketch play called "OH MY GOD, I HEARD YOU'RE DYING!" and was on various Maude Teams as both a writer and actor, including STONE COLD FOX, 27 KIDNEYS and THUNDER GULCH. Chris also directed numerous shows there, including "SO I LIKE SUPERMAN" and "2PAC: THE MUSICAL." He has also been an occasional monologist at ASSSSCAT in both New York and LA.
NY General

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Happy Endings featured in Entertainment Weekly

Mar 30, 2015

Happy Days 
If you're not watching Happy Endings you're missing the sharpest, funniest, giddiest show about six friends since that other show about six friends. Here's the amahzing story of how a midseason afterthought became a word-of-mouth favorite.

Eliza Coupe is trying to insert a saltshaker into Damon Wayans Jr.'s shirt. Adam Pally is making an odd noise with a cell phone. (Is it sonar?) Casey Wilson is making an odd noise with her mouth. (Wounded cat?) And Zachary Knighton is reading a newspaper while Elisha Cuthbert spits waffle chunk into a bucket. Just think: Soon the cast of Happy Endings will start filming, and things will really get weird.

Here on the Paramount lot in L.A., the stars of ABC's cult comedy are at a diner table for a chatty-chummy breakfast scene.  An unlikely gang, this: Alex (Cuthbert), the breezy blonde who left thoughtful V-neckspert Dave (Knighton) at the altar. Alex's type-AAA sister, Jane (Coupe), and her metrosexual husband, Brad (Wayans); pathologically single Penny (Wilson) and her slob of a former-beau-but-now-gay-BFF Max (Pally). When Penny pulls a sweater out of her bag and asks whose it is, Jane claims it's hers. Max claims it's his. He snatches it and hustles out of the diner with Jane chasing after him, and Penny and Dave chasing after them.

"Your skinny body doesn't fill it out!" cries Max.

"Your non-skinny body fill,s it out too much!" retorts Jane before tripping him, hopping on top of him, and strangling him with the sweater. And... CUT.

Sooo, what just happened here?

"I was channeling the classic physical comedians, the greats of our time," offers Pally. "Michael Keaton, Buster Keaton, Diane Keaton... Alex P. Keaton. Any Keaton.

Yes, somewhere between Family Ties, The General, Annie Hall, and sure, Beetlejuice lies a magical place called Happy Endings, where the jokes fly in all directions ("Brought to you by the girl yogurt Jamie Lee Curtis uses to poop") and the friendships are tighter than a Kardashian tube top.  Its frisky rhythms, down-the-wormhole humor, and non-stereotypical characters (Max's queer eye is focused more on videogames and couch food, while the interracial couple Jane and Brad are the rare TV spouses who are still googly-eyed over each other) have made these late-twentysomething Chicagoans feel like -- dare we utter the F-word? -- TV's newest Friends.  After an under-the-radar launch in April, Happy has emerged as the comedy underdog story of the fall.  ABC senior VP of comedy development Samie Kim Falvey calls it "the Cinderella story." Cuthbert admits, "We've overcome a lot of obstacles to be here." Wilson, meanwhile, calls it "the show that could."

Walk into Happy creator David Caspe's office and the first thing you'll notice is just how little there is to notice.  "They told me last year when we started that it's superstitious to hang anything on the walls of your office in the first season," says Caspe, 32. "Then we got the second season, but I'm kind of superstitious, so I figure: Why not keep it empty?"

No need to jinx anything. In summer 2009, Caspe, who'd sold a few screenplays (Donny's Boy, starring Adam Sandler, hits theaters in June), met with a slew of TV producers to pitch an awesome idea involving four divorced dads. Alas, says Caspe, "within the first sentence I found out that not only had it been tried a lot of times, it was in fact not an awesome idea." In one of these meetings with Jamie Tarses (the ex-ABC Entertainment president who developed Friends while at NBC), he tossed off a pitch for a romantic comedy he hadn't been able to crack, about a guy breaking up the wedding of a girl he loved.  The twist? The story is actually about the couple that broke up and their group of friends.

Lightbulbs and greenlights followed.  Tarses came aboard as an executive producer and brought it to Sony, which sold it to ABC.  Caspe wrote the pilot, former Late Night with Conan O'Brien head writer Jonathan Groff was tapped to run the show with him, and a diverse cast was assembled, headed by... Jack Bauer's daughter? While best known for her turn as the oft-in-peril Kim on 24, Cuthbert decided it was time to go for laughs instead.  "I felt like I had to reinvent myself because Kim Bauer was such a distinct character," she says.  "I needed to show that I wasn't a one-trick pony." Joining her was writer-performer Wilson (who'd been let go by SNL after two seasons); Adam Pally (Californication), a close friend of Wilson's from the Upright Citizens Brigade comedy troupe; Wayans (The Other Guys); Coupe (Scrubs); and Knighton, whom ABC allowed to leave the all-but-cancelled FlashForward.

They shot the pilot in March 2010 and found out in December that Happy would finally premiere... the following April.  At 10 p.m. (Worse yet, by the time Happy Endings debuted, America had already rejected NBC's latest sextet comedy, Perfect Couples, and the Fox ensemble Traffic Light.)  As ABC started airing back-to-back episodes of Happy Endings out of sequence, Hollywood nodded knowingly: The network was burning it off.  While Caspe remained "naively" optimistic, the Happy cast was bumming. "We all were like, 'Why don't they just slide us in between a few cartoons on Saturday morning?'" remembers Coupe.  "It was like a trail of tears," recalls Wilson. "I was like, 'I guess I'm back out hitting the pavement, peddling my wares around this hateful town.'" (A few actors even signed on to star in pilots as a backup plan: Pally shot NBC sitcom BFF, while Wayans joined the cast of Fox's now-breakout hit New Girl.)

ABC's Falvey acknowledges that the show -- which averaged about 5.1 viewers (including DVR playback) in its first mini-season -- could have been better promoted but insists the network wasn't trying to cut bait.  "With our limited resources by midseason, we wanted to make sure we were it in a protected time period," she says. Encouraged by the show's crafty creative direction, promising 18-to-34 numbers, rampant social-media activity, and strong appeal with affluent viewers (it currently ranks 10th among 18-to-49 year-olds in homes earning $100,000-plus), ABC chose to give Happy Endings the plum post-Modern Family slot on Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. for its second season. There, it's been averaging 8.1 million viewers; while that's quite a drop from Modern Family's 16.8 million viewers, Happy now ranks as ABC's second-youngest-skewing show (behind Modern Family), and execs stand by their decision.  Says Falvey, "The plans are to provide it as much stability as we can. We feel like we're onto something and we don't want to let that go right now.

The show of confidence from the network was warranted: Happy Endings continues to tighten its comedy and has been winning over some critics who initially dismissed it as a Friends clone. It's also now earning even more fans through word of mouth. "What's cool is that people felt like they discovered this," notes Knighton.  "It didn't get shoved down people's throats." The sitcom impresses in myriad ways, from its layers of amahzing inside jokes to that unconventional, slovenly Max. "I played him like a dude," shrugs Pally.  "I gave him no affectation at all. It can be arch, like 'The Gay That's Not Gay.' So you've got to find another dimension to it."

The heart of Happy's success, though, comes from the sixsome's combustible chemistry. It's not just for the cameras. They bonded early and often at bars during the pilot shoot, continue to hang out at watering holes and on set after-work, and make it a point of getting together during vacation weeks.  "I'm the only one in the cast who does not drink, so what they forget in the morning, I have locked into my memory forever and I journal about that s---," quips Coupe, "and someday I'm going to expose the f--- out of them." Chuckles Wilson: "It's six weirdos playing six different types of weirdos. Everyone's very different than their character, but insane. When guest stars come on, they're a little like, 'We get it. You guys are friends. You think you're funny.'" Perhaps it's of little surprise that the actors sometimes ad-lib their own jokes, part of a best-line-wins spirit that's embraced down to the sound mixer, who suggested a punchline that capped a scene in an episode earlier this season.

Some upcoming plots to ponder: In the Dec. 7 Christmas episode, "we'll see two main characters kiss, and it won't be a joke," hints Caspe. In the second half of the season, which starts up Jan. 4, brace for the reveal of an unexpected crush and a boyfriend (Lone Star's James Wolk) for Max. "This group is hard to crack, but somebody quickly and surprisingly is dropped into the middle of the group and does well," teases Groff.  Megan Mullally will return as Penny's mom -- and strike up a flirtation with Dave's dad, while the gang will have to grapple with Dave's serious V-neck addiction.

Question is: Will more of America become addicted to Happy? All in due time. "We're like the booty-call show," says Wayans. "It's like, 'Yeah, yeah. I'm gonna hit that, but I'm gonna go see who else is down here. You're not getting the title -- I'm not calling you my girlfriend yet.' But as long as they keep coming over, we get to cook 'em dinner." He smiles coyly. "We're definitely working our way to the title. We'll be patient." 
LA General

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Amy Poehler talks of Upright Citizens Brigade

Mar 30, 2015

Amy Poehler talks of Upright Citizens Brigade 

"I don't remember when it started. I hope it never ends," Amy Poehler says of the Upright Citizens Brigade, the inexorably expanding improv machine she co-engineered in the early '90s. The petite juggernaut - and the rest of UCB's founders - will be in San Francisco this month to be feted at SF Sketchfest.

"There have been times when we've stretched out and grown and other times when we've had to huddle up and gather our forces and kind of take care of each other. The theater has become a kind of home away from home for a lot of people."

Poehler has reached a rarefied comic stratosphere with few others, such as former Saturday Night Live colleague Tina Fey. Apart from seemingly being in every other comedic production (55 credits in about 15 years), Poehler was part of the wave of women who commandeered SNL and took it to new heights in the aughts. She became the show's first regular to receive an Emmy nomination when a rules change in 2008 made such a thing possible. In all, she has seven Emmy nominations.

At 40, she is now a driving force behind one of television's quirkiest ensemble comedies, Parks and Recreation - for which she is currently nominated by the Writers Guild, Producers Guild and Golden Globes.

In addition to celebrating UCB at Sketchfest, Poehler will relive ... that one time ... at camp ... as she and much of the original cast of Wet Hot American Summer get together for a "radio play" version of the cult hit. Looking forward with excitement to the first bona fide reunion of her camp mates, she confirms the making of the ultra-low-budget parody of '70s and '80s summer-camp movies was irresponsible fun.

"Oh, yes. While it was happening, I knew I would probably never have this much fun working on a movie again. It was getting to go back to your adolescence in your 30s, but knowing all you know and having your party skills refined," she says by phone from New York.

"The combination of a great group of fun people, not having to work every day of the week, all of us sleeping over in giant cabins. ... This was before BlackBerrys and the Internet and stuff, this was '98, so you had to just kind of leave a note on someone's door and everyone met at the same pizza place. I have a lot of fond memories of it because it felt really, truly innocent and old school."

Many of the movie's performers would graduate to the big time, including Bradley Cooper, Janeane Garafolo, David Hyde Pierce, Elizabeth Banks and Marguerite Moreau. Of these heavy hitters, Poehler guesses that Christopher Meloni and Paul Rudd, as an extremely intense camp chef and an eye-rolling teenage lothario, respectively, might have had the most fun playing their parts.

"I would throw Ken Marino in there because I think he really enjoyed his wig work. A good wig will brighten anybody's day," she says. "There are so many little moments in the movie, and half of it is just so bananas in the best way. But I remember the times off set more than what I actually did in the movie.

"I remember this small bit - my character had this big lunch tray and Chris Meloni opened the door, it kept smashing into me and splashing all over me. One time it actually knocked the wind out of me, but I did not complain because I was a trouper and did not want to seem like a person who couldn't take a hit to the stomach with a metal tray from the guy who was in Oz."

Early toughness

That toughness was present early on, says Ian Roberts, a co-founder of the Upright Citizens Brigade.

"She was in a group of four guys, all over 6 feet tall. Before a show, we'd all do high-fives and point out that she had a hard time reaching our hands. That was a joke, but the reality was - so often women can't wrestle control away from the loud, obnoxious guys, and Amy never had an issue with that," Roberts says.

"She controls the scene, and never takes the backseat or plays a typical sort of role as women do to themselves sometimes, to choose to play the girlfriend or something like that. She's completely as dominant as anybody onstage.

"The way you'd talk about Amy, you'd never say 'She's funny for a girl.' She knew what these characters would do in any situation; she just owned them. It's a great asset in comedy to have a really strong woman. In improv it's like a 10-1 or 8-2 ratio of men to women."

Proudest accomplishment

Poehler says her work with the group and "the creation of the UCB Theater is by far my proudest professional accomplishment. We were just a group from Chicago, trying to get a TV show and an agent and have people notice us. We directed and produced and wrote some shows and we needed a house for those shows, so we created a theater, and that theater created another theater, and now we have a theater in Los Angeles and now we're producing stuff on a bigger level, and I have to tell you I never would have dreamt we'd be operating the way we are now.

"To have that long comedy marriage with Matt Besser and Matt Walsh and Ian Roberts and for us to still be partners together in something so cool is just awesome."

There is one tricky element to UCB's Sketchfest presentation of its long-running improv show, "A.S.S.S.S.C.A.T.," however - especially for someone traveling across the country and who just happens to be a working parent.

"The show does start at 10:30 p.m., doesn't it?" she says with a trepidatious laugh. "Sketch comedy, improv comedy is a young person's game. It's a little bit harder to bring the noise at a breakfast performance. ... I'm just hoping that by 10:30 everybody is properly lit. Ready to laugh."

Amy Poehler

Born: Sept. 16, 1971 (Newton, Mass.)

Personal: Married to comic actor and frequent co-star Will Arnett (Arrested Development, Up All Night); two children.

Why we care: Was part of the super-talented female mafia (with, for instance, Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph and Rachel Dratch) that took over Saturday Night Live and made it good again. Among her memorable characters: one-legged reality show contestant Amber, Sharon Osbourne, Michael Jackson and, most memorably, Hillary Rodham Clinton. She received two Emmy nominations for her work on SNL. A co-founder of the Upright Citizens Brigade, which has become something of an improv institution in New York and Los Angeles. Is producer and host of the online series Smart Girls at the Party. Heads one of the finest current sitcom ensembles on Parks and Recreation. Resume builders: Her film and television c.v. is quite large for someone active only since 1996 (the Internet Movie Database lists no fewer than 55 credits), but among the highlights: the "Upright Citizens Brigade" series on Comedy Central, a run as Gob's (Will Arnett's) unnamed wife on Arrested Development, a freaky turn as half of a sister-brother skating duo (with Arnett) in Blades of Glory, Hamlet 2, Baby Mama opposite Tina Fey; and voices in animated features including Shrek the Third and Monsters vs. Aliens.

What's next on
Parks and Recreation: When last we saw the parks department, its various misfit parts were preparing to take over the City Council campaign of Poehler's brainy, perky Leslie Knope. Poehler says, "What's awesome about this season is the writers have done such a great job of creating this tension about what's going to happen with Leslie's personal life, and then the second half of the season is all about professionally, how are things going to change? There's just a lot of juicy stakes this season. Will Leslie get elected, who will she run against, what will happen if she doesn't win?"

Favorite SNL character: "Fred (Armisen) had a character called Nicholas Fehn. He was a stand-up who did observational, political humor, but he never had anything prepared. He wore this Army jacket and he would hold up the newspaper and read from the headlines, but he never had any punch lines and he never had any points of view. The reason the character made me laugh when I got to sit next to it was - I wish there could be a photograph so you could see what Fred was looking at: He was just staring at blank cue cards. He was improvising everything. The cards would just have my name and my lines: 'Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Nicholas Fehn,' and then it would just be blank cue cards," she says, laughing appreciatively.

11th SF Sketchfest

When: Jan. 19-Feb. 4.

Information: For full schedule, venue addresses and tickets, go to .

Amy Poehler events: "Wet Hot American Summer: The Live Radio Play" 5 p.m. Jan. 21. $60. Marines' Memorial Theatre.

Tribute to the Upright Citizens Brigade With Matt Besser, Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh. 5 p.m. Jan. 22. $35. Cobb's Comedy Club.

"A.S.S.S.S.C.A.T." Performance of the Upright Citizens Brigade's long-running hit improv show. 10:30 p.m. Jan. 21. $35. Eureka Theater. 
LA General

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