UCBT TOUR CO Gets an A in Charleston, SCMar 18, 2015
Reliable company brings many laughs to Theatre 99
It really sucks reviewing improv shows. If the performers are slow or--worse still--unfunny, then there is nothing left to salvage. Usually of the up-down variety, there are no directors save the audience's laughter and the actors' imagination, and the show changes every night depending on that audience and those collective imaginations. If the performers aren't on top of their game, then all one can reasonably hope for is that the beer is cold. Luckily, with the exception of the inevitable unreliability of nightly improv, it's hard to find reasons not to recommend the ensemble that the Upright Citizens' Brigade Touring Company has brought to Charleston.
The key here is that it really is the quintessential ensemble show. The gelling of this group of (eight) comedians and performers is in plain evidence throughout. The ways in which they allow each other's ideas to flow through a bit's narrative, adapting and tweaking and adding for the most jiggle-joy possible; it's tough to beat. The set-up is given by the audience (one word ideas, always shouted: "Turkeys!" "Athol Fugard!" etc.) followed by a brief monologue from one of the performers on what the subject brings to mind, from which our magical mystery tour begins.
For this night's performance, the first act's subject was "Space!" (one lady was obsessed with "Ecuador!" but the performers gracefully avoided hearing her.) What came out of "Space!"? Well: a guy who's fallen from a cliff is then smothered by cement and a ten-pound sandwich; junior detectives assigned to cleaning the boss's office, who then fight crime with their mops and extreme prejudice; and, most notably, the line "Sorry, I was wiping off the orgy." All along the way we get skyscraper dog-piles, an impromptu marriage on a football field, babysitter spending sprees, pan-fried domestic pets, and a quasi-erotic exchange between a man and his friend's dismembered, talking leg. Put bluntly, if you can't find the humor in a man/dismembered-talking-leg relationship, then you sir have no soul.
In the second act, the UCB folks brought out Horatio Sanz. He was funny, and had a good bit where he was hiding a pretend dead wife in a pretend coat, but in some parts it was clear that he wasn't on the same wave length as the other guys (and gal). Still, it was cool to see him interact with performers besides his SNL regulars, and it is just this sort Wild West, anything goes mentality that makes this group so much fun to watch.
Obviously, there will be off nights. But that's the other great part about improv (if not of reviewing improv). It's the ultimate Buy-The-Ticket-Take-The-Ride theatre experience. And with this UCB ensemble, it will most likely be a happy one.
Amy Poehler in New York MagazineMar 18, 2015
Amy Poehler has two main qualifications for judging the city's manners. One, she's starred on Saturday Night Live since 2001-which means she works at Rockefeller Center, a maddening, tourist-choked hellhole for most of the TV season. ("You get used to people asking you, 'How do I get to the ground-zero gift shop?' " she says.) More important, she logged many, many hours waiting tables-the etiquette equivalent of years spent in the foxhole on the front lines of boorishness. "My absolute pet peeve is people who are rude to waiters," she says. "Any guy who's in any way difficult, your lady-boner immediately goes to zero."
And yet, on balance, she thinks New Yorkers are exceptionally polite-at least by the local definition. "Etiquette in New York is all about time management," she says. "In other places, you seem rude if you see someone and don't talk to them long enough. But here, it's all about speed. And people are fine with that. It's like, 'Hello. It's nice to see you. Thank you for giving me your kidney. I gotta go.' "
Of course, New York also offers its own unique etiquette conundrums: catcallers, meeting Oprah, the correct response to someone crapping in public. Thankfully, Ms. Poehler was kind enough to offer eight handy rules for civilized interaction in the city.
1. Be nice to everyone, especially people wearing hospital bracelets.
2. Don't ask white girls if they "left their ass at home."
3. If you have to bring your baby to a movie, make sure he laughs at appropriate times.
4. Don't eat Cheetos and then sit down at a fancy hotel piano.
5. If you are in Central Park and think you are getting mugged, first check to see if maybe you're just part of a student film.
6. If you see Oprah at a fancy function, don't grab her wrist and ask for money. Quietly sneak up behind her and whisper, "You give me that money, Oprah. You hear me?"
7. When walking on a New York street, try not to spit, litter, bleed, or take a crap.
8. If you need to do any of these things, try to do it between two parked cars.
HOT CLASSES: Los Angeles Confidential takes you "inside LA's most prestigious improv studios"Mar 18, 2015
In LA, everyone's pretty and everyone has a smidgeon of talent to capitalize on. We sat in on the town's top improv classes to see how some rising stars get a leg up.
UPRIGHT CITIZENS BRIGADE
The Comedians of Chaos.
Chicago, 1990 (company); New York City, 1997 (Training Program); New York City, 1999 (Theatre); Los Angeles, 2005 (Theatre and Training Program).
Amy Poehler, Horatio Sanz, Andy Milonakis, Neil Flynn, Ian Roberts, Matt Besser, Matt Walsh, Adam McKay, Rob Corddry, Ed Helms, Rob Riggle, Danielle Schneider, Scot Armstrong, Andrew Daly, and dozens of other soon-to-be-household names.
In 1990, five young, brash, and disgruntled Chicago comics (Horatio Sanz, Matt Besser, Matt Walsh, Ian Roberts, and Adam McKay) formed the Upright Citizens Brigade out of disgust with what was pitifully passing as comedy at the time. Brandishing a mission statement espousing the virtues and promotion of "chaos," the troupe fervently challenged complacency -- among audiences and the general public.
Techniques learned from ImprovOlympic's Del Close and the Harold method brought cohesion to UCB's often chaotic improvisations. During this time, UCB members came and left to take jobs with shows such as SNL and Late Night with Conan O'Brien.
In 1996, the four remaining members (Besser, Walsh, Roberts, and newcomer Amy Poehler) moved their special brand of improv to New York City. Surprised by the lack of any training program for long-form improv in Manhattan, UCB quickly filled the gap, and began the UCB training program. In 2005, UCB spread its wings westward and set up both a theater and a training program in Hollywood. The results have been extraordinary, proving to be popular beyond expectations.
Why It's Cool
Never knowing what A-list comedian might be in the audience at a UCB performance. However, what really sets the UCB training apart is its "Game," where performers find the first unusual element in an improvised scene and then make a pattern out of it.
All improv classes end in a public performance, with the advanced-level shows having longer and more in-depth runs.
Advice To New Students
From Seth Morris, artistic director: "See the Harold Night Mondays, and ASSSSCAT on Saturdays and Sundays. Be ready to have fun, and don't try to be funny. Be good observers of the odd moments of real life. If that doesn't work, stick out your butt and puff your chest."
Currently six levels of improv classes are available. The lower division classes are largely dedicated to mastering the Harold and the Game, while the upper division teachers forms like "Movie" and "Deconstruction." Also offered are three levels of sketch writing classes for both the stage and television.