Congratulations UCBT Performers Named Variety's 10 Comics to WatchMar 18, 2015
The demo reels have been watched, the casting agents, comedy pros and funny biz followers consulted, and the results are in: Here's Variety's picks for the most exciting new laughmakers on the scene.
Who: Three years ago, Eliza Coupe, a recent graduate from the theater program at CalArts, was touring the country playing a soldier in an all-female version of King Lear. Shakespeare had worn her down: "I thought, 'If I hear one more depressing Elizabethan, I'm going to lose it -- I need to do something funny!'" says Coupe, 25.
The result of this epiphany was her one-woman sketch show, "The Patriots," which premiered at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York last November and won her the break-out performer award at Aspen's U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in March.
Developed while Coupe was training at the Groundlings and UCB, "The Patriots" is a collection of characters -- a drunken bimbette, a 9-year-old Irish girl, a foulmouthed Bostonian -- who embody the best and worst of American culture. "They're the committee that lives in my head," says the mile-a-minute Coupe.
Aspen producer Kirsten Ames first saw Coupe in a workshop in 2004 and became her manager.
"I've been scouting for six years, and when you see it, you know it," she says. "She's like a character actress in a leading-lady body."
Coupe seems to be enjoying her newfound industry interaction. "Agents really feed you well," she observes.
What's Going On: She'll appear later this year in a new Sierra Mist ad campaign, and she has a small part in the upcoming Chris Rock movie, I Think I Love My Wife. An MTV pilot for a sketch show with Nick Cannon is also in the pipeline.
"There are a lot of things -- I'm going to use an industry phrase -- 'in the mix' for me," Coupe says. "I've gone out on six auditions in the last two days, and I've gotten callbacks on almost all of them."
Take: "I think the terminology used in this industry is hilarious. I had a meeting the other day, and someone actually said in conversation, 'Cut to next week.' I looked around and was, like, what? Are we in a movie script right now?"
Who: While some young comedians were honing their act at the 2005 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Rebecca Drysdale was blowing auds away with her fierce vulnerability and bravado.
In 20 minutes, Drysdale arrested such sacred cows as her Jewish upbringing, her lesbianism and the industry itself.
"Comedians don't always have something to say, and I so respect the fact that Rebecca does in an inventive way," says U.S. Comedy Arts artistic director Pat Tourk Lee.
One of the highlights from Drysdale's one-woman show was her pungent rhyme about the social clash between butch and lipstick lesbians told to the rhythm scheme of Dr. Seuss' The Sneetches.
In another bit, she impersonates a rapper who bases his own pungent rhyme around the most inflamatory of racial slurs.Above all, Drysdale's shows are void of an overriding theme or character arc -- and that's intentional.
The comedienne prefers that the crowd becomes familiar with her facets through various vignettes, some slightly personal -- i.e. a candid re-enactment of her bat mitzvah speech.
Others routines are even more personal, such as a four-minute nude shower scene where she croons "Candle on the Water" from the Disney pic Pete's Dragon.
"It's interesting listening to people's strong reactions about the scene," Drysdale says.
"I think there's a little bit of goofiness when you sing alone in the car or in the shower. But taking a private moment and making it public is quite interesting."
While some emerging artists are careful about expressing their sexual orientation early in their careers, Drysdale is indifferent. "The quickest way for me to get to what I actually do is to simply say 'I'm gay,' " she explains. "I don't want to deal with coming out later on."
Drysdale left Sarah Lawrence College to cut her teeth in sketch and improv at Chicago's Second City and Improv Olympic. Her success at Aspen prompted a move to New York City and set her apart from her brother, Eric Drysdale, a scribe on The Colbert Report.
What's Going On: After winning Aspen's breakout comedy award in 2005, Drysdale landed a pilot-talent holding deal with HBO. She'll re-open "Rebecca Drysdale Is One Woman in Several Pieces," a revised version of the show she staged in Aspen, at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York.
Take: "Growing up, my friends and I were just nerds about sketch comedy. I would contemplate the similarities between a blossoming Whoopi Goldberg and a young Steve Martin. I was a Trekkie of sketch comedy. I knew more then I do now."-Anthony D'Alessandro
Check back in August for the UCBTLA stage debut of Rebecca Drysdale's one-woman show.
Who: The Gotham-based sketch comedy quartet includes Aziz Ansari, Rob Huebel, Paul Scheer and Jason Woliner.
A veteran improv performer, Scheer teamed with fellow thesp Huebel and Aspen award-winning standup Ansari at New York's Upright Citizens Brigade.
Through stints at Ansari's weekly UCB show, "Crash Test," the threesome honed their satirical act and created recurring characters that Ansari succinctly describes as "idiots with high status.""Scheer and Huebel have worked together for a long time, and they're just so good together," says UCB artistic director Anthony King. "Aziz brings in his own thing but he fits right in perfectly."
Soon, helmer Jason Woliner came on board, and the newly monikered Human Giant began to expand their sketches into short films. One of these was Shutterbugs, a Channel 102 pilot featuring Ansari and Huebel as the proprietors of a talent agency for preschoolers. Sharp and, at times, gloriously offensive, the pilot and its two sequels found a considerable viral audience on MySpace and YouTube. (Ansari's advice to a young Korean tyke: "Why don't you call us back when you're not Asian?")
As for the group's moniker and silhouette logo, both were inspired by big bald actor Michael Clarke Duncan." We were so enamored with Michael Clarke Duncan, but we didn't know if he'd find it funny or be freaked out," says Scheer, with a tremor of fear in his voice. "If he's not satisfied, he could just break us."
What's Going On: The group is developing a sketch comedy show for MTV and plans to release another short -- a spoof of overblown David Blaine-style magic specials called "The Illusionators" -- online soon. Individually, Ansari is starring in the Weinstein Co.'s upcoming feature School for Scoundrels, Huebel has an NBC sitcom in development and Scheer has a pilot brewing at TBS called 10 Items or Less. Huebel, Scheer and Woliner are also involved with VH1's Best Week Ever in various capacities.
Takes: Scheer: "The most success we've had has just been from us doing our own thing, doing whatever makes us laugh."Huebel: "Like Shutterbugs, it's really just us being assholes to little kids, and we think that's hilarious."-Andrew Barker
Catch Rob Huebel and Paul Scheer weekly in the hit UCBTLA improv show MySpace Wednesdays at 9:30pm.
Who: Morgan Murphy, 24, started doing standup during her freshman year at Loyola Marymount -- and things started moving quickly for her. She braved open mics. She got laughs easily. She ventured to New York to intern for Conan O'Brien. ICM signed her.
As for her style, picture comedian Steven Wright, the master of ironic, low-key delivery, only with hair -- gobs of curly red hair. Onstage, Murphy keeps her demeanor beyond blase, often telling audiences that her mom beat her with her trophies when she was a child -- that's how she learned irony. She looks down, looks up -- her big red curls clash with her aloofness -- and launches into the next joke.
She was still in college with Mr. Show writers Scott Aukerman and B.J. Porter hired her to draft a pilot, The Offensive Show, based on her act.The pilot didn't get picked up, but Murphy landed a writing job on Comedy Central's Crank Yankers upon graduation.
The show's exec producer, Jimmy Kimmel, soon asked her to write for his ABC latenight show. Murphy became the only female writer on the team. She felt at home there. Kimmel invited her to perform live standup on several episodes."
Morgan's fresh," says Bobcat Goldthwait, who directed her in his new movie, Stay. "She's a female comic, but she's not up there talking about how attractive or unattractive she is, or manbashing. You could change the gender of her material and it would still apply.""Morgan is one of the funniest and most unique comics I know," Kimmel adds. "It's hard to believe she's only 12 years old."
What's Going On: Murphy left Jimmy Kimmel Live in March, after two seasons, to focus on her own projects. She'll pitch a pilot this summer. Meanwhile, she's doing punch-up work for DreamWorks Animation, adding some jokes to upcoming Aardman-produced feature "Flushed Away." And she'll attend the Montreal Comedy Festival as a New Face 2006. Murphy is repped out of CAA and managed by Peter Safran.
Take: "I think it's a time when men and women are on a very similar playing field, as far as if you're funny, you're funny, I think there was a time when it was like, 'Come on, we need more women in here.' Now, it's like, 'We need more funny people in here.'"-Betsy BoydMorgan Murphy is the creator and host of the UCBTLA reading series A Million Gazillion Quadrillion Little Pieces and has been featured in several shows at UCBTLA including Comedy Death-Ray, See You Next Tuesday, ASSSSCAT and Kosher Comedy.
THE WHITEST KIDS U KNOW
Who: The sketch group met in a spillover dormitory in Brooklyn in 2000. Made up of Trevor Moore, Darren Trumeter Jr., Sam Brown, Zach Cregger and Timmy Williams, The Whitest Kids come from all over -- South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, Massachusetts.
Their reputation for unpolished hit-or-miss hilarity precedes them around the NYC comedy circuit.In 2005, after David Cross ended his popular sketch-show run of "Tinkle" at a club called Pianos in Manhattan, the guys were invited to fill the coveted slot.They dreamed up a Sunday night show featuring audience interaction and other silly surprises."
We do a sketch about somebody who finds out they have brain cancer," Moore says. "They're crying and horrible for about two minutes, then the waiter comes in and says they have a clam chowder that cures brain cancer."
One of Cregger's sketches has him on a date with a woman who refuses to chip in for dinner -- he turns to the audience for moral support and a vote.The group also makes short films -- some studied at the School of Visual Arts -- which are slightly more polished versions of their sketch work. Notable is a parody of an iconic pregnancy-test commercial -- when the moment of truth arrives for the giddy young couple, it turns out that the woman has somehow mistaken her boyfriend's ultraslim iPod Shuffle for the test stick and has urinated on that instead."
The Whitest Kids are a completely different type of comedy," says Jasper Coolidge, talent buyer at Pianos. "Word got around like wildfire. Time Out New York started writing about them. They became a happening on Sundays. "The Whitest Kids, they're like us. It's like hanging out in a room watching your friends telling jokes."
What's Going On: The Kids won best sketch group at Aspen's U.S. Comedy Arts Festival 2006.Cable TV's Fuse Channel then signed the team to write and perform 10 episodes of a sketch series next season.
Individually, Moore and Cregger are writing a script for Paramount, which they plan to direct. The plot follows a basketball team into Armageddon.
Takes: Cregger: "Right now is a very exciting time for comedy, especially in New York. I'm seeing a lot of young comedians really step up and just do it."Moore: "I think our goal is to do a really great TV show for a couple of years and then do movies. Everyone can go do their own thing. But following the Monty Python plan, we'll keep coming back together every couple of years."-Betsy Boyd
UCBT IN THE NY POST: "The Improv Institution"Mar 17, 2015
HOW 'ASSSSCAT' AND THE UPRIGHT CITIZENS BRIGADE REINVENTED NEW YORK COMEDY
LEAKY pipes and a crumbling theater are the sort of mid-show calamities that would spell disaster for most performers. But for the comedy warriors of the Upright Citizens Brigade, they're just inspiration.
'We had some leakage problems in our theater, and we put garbage bags around these pipes to collect the water,' UCB co-founder Matt Besser tells The Post. 'As time went on, the garbage bags filled up with dirty water, and there was one bag we forgot.'
That bag, hanging over the seats at the troupe's UCB Theater, exploded in the middle of a Sunday night 'Asssscat' show, drenching a fan.
'On Broadway, they would evacuate the place,' says Besser. 'But it became a rainstorm in our improv, and we pulled the audience member into the scene.'
That unpredictability, that willingness to take a moment and run with it no matter how bizarre or unforeseen, is why 'Asssscat,' which celebrates it's 10th anniversary Tuesday at Irving Plaza, is the most highly regarded, and funniest, showcase for long-form improv in the comedy world.
'Asssscat,' a name derived from a troupe member shouting out the nonsense word from the side of the stage during a particularly crazy night, goes on twice every Sunday at the Upright Citizen's Brigade Theater, and once each Saturday and Sunday at the theater it opened last year in Los Angeles.
The show began as a way for the core troupe - Besser, Ian Roberts, Matt Walsh and Amy Poehler - to polish their improv chops while working on sketch-comedy shows. During an 'Asssscat,' a random audience suggestion inspires a real-life tale from a guest monologuist. The improvisers then create scenes based on the story.
Despite the UCBers, ascension in the comedy world - Poehler's on the Weekend Update desk at Saturday Night Live, Walsh stars in Comedy Central's Dog Bites Man, Besser creates TV shows in Los Angeles, and Roberts appears in films such as Anchorman - their commitment to 'Asssscat' has never waned. All but Poehler now live in L.A., so the average weekend finds her performing here while the other brigadiers hold court West Coast-style.
While the ensemble is a primary attraction, 'Asssscat' is just as revered for its many special guests. Jack Black, David Cross, Sarah Silverman, Janeane Garofalo and Andy Richter, to name just a few, have all lent tales of woe to the monologue. Guest improvisers have included Mike Myers, Will Ferrell, Robin Williams, Tina Fey, Rachel Dratch and Horatio Sanz - who helped found the troupe when it was still in Chicago.
'I think UCB attracts the best people - no-nonsense, no-bulls--t people who really care about the work,' says Sanz, one of the most frequent 'Asssscat' guests and slated to perform Tuesday. 'People wanna be around the funniest people, and I think our theater has a core who cares about what's funny a little more than if they're gonna be famous.'
Meanwhile, 'Asssscat' has developed a Rocky Horror-like cult, with fans who've seen it hundreds of times - the difference being that every 'Asssscat' is completely new. Lines form outside the tiny theater hours in advance, as fans make sure they'll get a seat. They speak of the show in magical, secretive terms, as if they're privy to comedy's greatest hidden treasure.
UCB student Justin Purnell has seen close to 300 'Asssscat' per-formances, rarely missing a Sunday night. For Purnell, the performers are this generation's enter-tainment royalty.
'There's a comedy boom, and comedians are like rock stars,' says Purnell. ''Asssscat' is a chance to see these stars jam. If in the '60s, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones and The Beatles played a show - we see that every Sunday.'
While the show's hard-core followers are mostly twentysomethings, they are by no means exclusively young. Fifty-two-year-old Ben Dasaro estimates he's been to more than 200 'Asssscat' nights, and he speaks of it in equally glowing terms.
'You're in an intimate theater, you've got some of the top improvising minds in the country, and you feel like they've created this little show exclusively for you,' says Dasaro.
When that gift includes celebrities who are rarely seen in such intimate settings, all the better.
'We have always had a young, enthusiastic audience,' says Poehler, 'And they're there because one night Alec Baldwin's doing a monologue, and the next night Conan is there. Henry Winkler came in recently and told about landing the role of Fonzie. It's always an amazing journey as to what's coming out of people's mouths.'
It's easy to believe that, were Poehler not one of the show's driving forces, she would be a ravenous fan. Despite her hectic day job, Poehler never misses an 'Asssscat,' calling it her 'comedy church' and inspiration for her SNL work.
'When I have to pitch ideas on Monday, 'Asssscat' loosens me up,' she says. 'It's a constantly changing animal, there's a sense of danger, and the group mind, to me, is really exciting.'
One of the odd side effects of that 'group mind' - that is, improvising a completely fluid show on the fly, as a team - is that the performers are so in the moment that afterward, they forget what happened. Asked for their favorite 'Asssscat' moment after performing it for 10 years, both Poehler and Walsh drew blanks.
'I don't journal anything after the show, so it's just gone,' says Walsh. 'It's a very temporary art form. You're paying attention to what's in the moment, and then you go to the bar.'
Adding to the cult sensibility, fans claim that the show's strongest moments have a 'you just had to be there' aura. It moves so fast and furious, so bereft of anything resembling traditional plot or logic, that the hilarity is as fleeting as it constant.
'Everyone is so engaged in what's happening that you don't take notes,' says Purnell. 'It's a great feeling, but to try to remember and quote it, it doesn't translate. You're never able to explain it to your friends.'
But, as enraptured devotees, that doesn't stop them from trying.
'There was one where Amy Poehler was supposed to be getting high,' Dasaro says, 'and decided he would be the special effect. So he picked her up and carried her, as if she was floating around the room, having a trip. It was one of the most hysterical things I'd ever seen.'
The initial mystique of 'Asssscat' stemmed partly from UCB's pioneer status in 1996. Troupe members had been trained in Chicago by comedy guru Del Close at Chicago's ImprovOlympic. When they moved to New York, they brought the city a gift.
New York is the capital of stand-up comedy, but we didn't have a serious forum for long-form improvisation. While groups like the Groundlings in Los Angeles and Second City in Chicago had long been farm teams for SNL and sitcoms, New York didn't have an organized source of talent other than clubs like Caroline's and the Comic Strip.
'We had no plan to open up a school and theater,' says Besser, 'but when we moved to New York, long-form improv wasn't being done here. Word spread because of its uniqueness, and people wanted to learn it.'
The four rented space to teach classes and perform, eventually opening their own theater on West 22nd Street in 1999, and moving it to West 26th Street in 2003.
Since then, UCB alumni such as Rob Corddry, Paul Scheer, and Ed Helms get laughs on VH1's Best Week Ever and Conan O'Brien frequently taps UCBregulars for skits.
Producers see the UCB as 'an important, vibrant outlet for comedians,' says Sanz, who thinks the theater's only weakness is that it doesn't stress acting. 'But a lot of the talent that's come out, you see them on VH1 and stuff, and it's easy to throw guys into things like The Daily Show because it's less -oriented, and more about funny guys saying funny things.'
Corddry is one of those 'funny guys.' He credits the theater with changing the whole notion of improv.
'In the past, improv just provided a forum for people in the industry to see people perform,' Corddry says. 'But UCB took it to a different, more interesting level, because they changed comedy, making it more realistic.' Nowadays, UCB's brand of long-form improv is a comedy staple, and 'Asssscat' is its premiere showcase. After 10 years, both the troupe and its fans are ecstatic that success and familiarity haven't tamed their passion.
'The magic of any house is the family that lives in it, and the spirit of UCB is due to the people who perform there,' says Poehler. ''Asssscat' took on its own magic a long time ago, and we've just been along for the ride.'
UCBT IN THE NY POST: "Citizens Reign"Mar 17, 2015
WANT proof of Upright Citizens Brigade's dominance in the comedy world? Start by turning on your TV. While the most visible UCB success to date is SNL star and Weekend Update co-anchor Amy Poehler, the theater/training group is making its mark throughout the entertainment landscape, starting with that other beloved comedy institution, The Daily Show.
Rob Corddry and Ed Helms, veteran Daily Show correspondents, both spent years training at the theater and honing their craft on the UCB stage. Corddry, who will star in the Fox sitcom The Winner later this year, performed there with the highly acclaimed sketch group Naked Babies, and Helms played on the improv team the Syndicate.
All evidence shows that Poehler, Corddry and Helms are just the tip of the iceberg for UCB. Slowly but surely, UCB vets are popping up both onscreen and behind the scenes, littering the entertainment universe with UCB stars in the making.
Former Marine Rob Riggle spent a season as a cast member on SNL, and Dannah Feinglass and Andrew Daly both held slots on MAD TV.
Rob Huebel - who won an Emmy producing segments for The Awful Truth with Michael Moore - has been a frequent chatting head on VH1's Best Week Ever, but you've probably seen even more of him while settling down for a flick, as Inconsiderate Cellphone Man. Paul Scheer and Danielle Schneider are also BWE regulars, and Scheer will soon be seen in School for Scoundrels with Billy Bob Thornton and Trainwreck: My Life as an Idiot with Sean William Scott.
Original troupe member Adam McKay served as head writer for SNL and has since written and directed Anchorman and Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby.
UCB vet and School for Scoundrels screenwriter Scot Armstrong has not only found success, but also dedicated himself to bringing UCB buddies into the big time. Armstrong, who still performs every Saturday night with his troupe Mother, co-wrote the films Road Trip, Old School and Starsky & Hutch. His production company has given UCB talent development deals.
UCB vets Jason Mantzoukas, Brian Huskey and Huebel work with Armstrong, as do Joe Ventura, who wrote for UCB's Comedy Central show, and Demetri Martin, who stages Obie-winning shows at the theater.
Armstrong has cast UCB vets cast in School for Scoundrels, include Horatio Sanz, Scheer, Daly, Jon Glaser and Aziz Ansari. Also cast in the film is Matt Walsh, UCB co-founder and co-star of Comedy Central's Dog Bites Man.
He has not only been cast in every one of Armstrong's films, but is always given the same character name: Walsh.