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Jenn Bartels, Aubrey Plaza, & Casey Wilson Featured in the NY Daily News

Mar 13, 2015

New York's Next Funny Ladies 

Only a week after her prime-time hit 30 Rock returns to TV, Tina Fey will hit the big screen in Baby Mama, alongside fellow star comedian Amy Poehler. Count in one recent Vanity Fair cover and it's safe to say Fey is the reigning queen of comedy - and has at least temporarily stolen the spotlight from the Wilson/Stiller/Rogen fraternity that has dominated the form. New York's up-and-coming female comics can find plenty of inspiration in the resurgence heralded by Fey, Poehler, Kristen Wiig and Sarah Silverman, and for five women in the five boroughs, the stock character of the funny girl will never be relegated to the wings.


Jennifer Bartels, 26, was born in North Carolina, but spent part of her childhood in Staten Island. After college, she moved back. 'Staten Island has really played a part in the characters I pick to play,' she says. 'I'm big on playing, like, a Duane Reade employee that wants to get a pregnancy test or somebody that has a fight with Vinnie because he took her Honda.'

Bartels performs long-form improv comedy with her team, Twelve Thousand Dollars, at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, the place that launched the careers of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and other contemporary comic bigwigs.

Bartels calls Fey, and others such as Poehler and Kristen Wiig, 'new age,' women who are both successful and attractive. 'I think that stereotype of the vest with the tie and the water has died down a bit,' she says.

Beauty and funniness haven't always gone hand in hand in pop culture, Bartels points out. She grew up aspiring to the princessy leading roles.

'I always wanted to be the pretty girl,' she says, 'the one who's, like, 'Come, save me, please.' And I never got that. I was, like, 'Why am I playing the fat sister?' And I'm not fat at all.'

When she started reading for the comic parts, she began getting more work.

These days, she can be found taking the Staten Island ferry in time for a late-night improv show.

'At first, I envisioned Working Girl,' she says, 'where Carly Simon plays and I'm on the ferry in my tan tights and my Reeboks and I'm, like, 'I'm going to make a difference and be someone.' I literally played the song on my iPod to rev myself up. That worked for, like, one month.'


If Tina Fey set the standard for power-house comedian-slash-writers, Casey Wilson is ready to step up to the plate.

The 27-year-old is the newest member of the Saturday Night Live cast, the show's first hire after the end of the writers strike.

Her first feature film, Bride Wars, co-written with frequent collaborator June Raphael, is in production, with Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson as friends who plan their weddings for the same day.

'June and I are writing a little something for ourselves,' Wilson says of other projects on the slate. 'It's crass and kind of darker.'

Growing up in a boisterous family in Alexandria, Va., humor was almost genetic for Wilson.

'My dad's in politics, and my mom was too, so we were a very funny family,' she says. 'I have a younger brother who would raise his hand at the dinner table to get a word in because he was more shy. He was looked down upon in my family. 'If you want to talk, you better come up with something!''

Studying theater at NYU, Wilson met Raphael and the two created a two-woman show. 'We called it 'Rode Hard and Put Away Wet' after this phrase my mom used to call women who were, like, in an airport bar before 1 p.m.,' says Wilson. 'We wanted to do a show about those types of gals who've got too many miles on 'em but keep going.'

The show went from NYU to Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre - already a hot spot for comics. 'I went to see a show and Amy and Rachel Dratch were in it, and I just thought, 'This is for me,'' says Wilson.

After about a year, the show moved to Los Angeles, where Wilson performed for two years. It wasn't until she had nabbed her spot at SNL and moved back to Manhattan that she realized how much she missed New York.

'I feel like my L.A. experience was listening to musical theater in my car and crying. ... I'm so glad to be back.'

Her audition for SNL, she says, was one of the toughest performances of her life. 'You've got five minutes and you basically have to do - in Studio 8H - as many characters as you can think of. You just do them one after another, rapid-fire. I brought in a friend to help me do this bit about a quadriplegic stripper. He was gracious enough to carry my dead weight around.'

Being on the show, though, has been pure enjoyment - even starting her weekly performance at 11:30 p.m. is no trouble.

'I used to get this huge thing of coffee and before the first show Kristen Wiig was like, 'You know, I don't think you're going to need that coffee out there.' That adrenaline kicks in in such big way that it's like I've had my seven cups of crackalatta at Dunkin' Donuts.'


Even if you haven't been to a comedy club in a while, you may have spotted Aubrey Plaza dressed as an NBC page, giving a studio tour in prime time on the sitcom 30 Rock. It's an experience she knows well. The 23-year-old comedian once worked as an NBC page.

'When they were casting that episode they were looking for someone who could improvise what a page would say. Ideally, they wanted a former page who was also an actress and that was me,' she says. 'I even had my own page uniform I brought to the set.'

Plaza moved from her native Delaware to attend New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. She was in the perfect place to get behind the scenes at her dream gigs, interning at Saturday Night Live and working various other jobs at NBC.

'I think ultimately I want to be in a position where I can write my own movie and star in it,' she says. 'Or have my own TV show and be head writer - Tina Fey style.'

When interviewed on the phone, she was in Los Angeles for a series of auditions. In New York, she performs with Upright Citizens Brigade, on the same long-form improv team as Jenn Bartels, and has carved out a niche in Long Island City, where some 20 of her high-school friends ended up, leading her to christen the area 'Little Delaware.'

Like many young comics, her biggest break yet came from the Internet. She exchanges verbal jabs with comic Liz Cackowski in the online series The Jeannie Tate Show. Cackowski plays a suburban mom who hosts a talk show from behind the wheel of her minivan; Plaza plays her badass, substance-loving daughter. The series of videos, most under five minutes, have tallied more than half a million views on YouTube.

'After Jeannie Tate I'm constantly being cast as a mean, bad teenager,' says Plaza, who insists she was sweet growing up. 'I just think I have a really angry looking face. I don't smile that much, so people automatically assume I have dark secrets.'
NY Shows

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Congratulations Wyatt Cenac, newest correspondent on The Daily Show

Mar 11, 2015

Congratulations to UCBTLA performer Wyatt Cenac who was hired as a writer and correspondent for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Wyatt made his correspondent debut Tuesday, June 3.

Wyatt studied improv at UCBTLA under Matt Besser and Ian Roberts and performed with the Harold Team Robot Doctors. Also a stand-up and sketch comedian, Wyatt has been seen in numerous UCBTLA shows including Comedy Death-Ray, Rap Crisis Center, Quick & Dirty Musicals, The Doo Doo Show, Jeff Garlin's Combo Platter, See You Next Tuesday and many more.

Check out Wyatt's UCBTLA performer page for videos and upcoming shows.

LA General

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Fat Guy Stuck in Internet debuts on Adult Swim June 16; Vehicle for UCBT alums featured in NY Times

Mar 11, 2015

Curtis and John's Excellent Adventure

Behind every window in every converted warehouse or factory in Bushwick, Brooklyn, where artist work spaces are slowly flowering, there could be a photographer or a painter putting the finishing touches on a modern masterpiece, or a mad scientist plotting humanity's downfall. In one cramped and dank little space on Ingraham Street, two young Bushwick residents have commandeered the Internet itself to make it do their satirical bidding.

At 12:15 a.m. next Monday, the Cartoon Network will introduce a comedic adventure series, Fat Guy Stuck in Internet, as one of the cable channel's late-night offerings for grown-ups. The television show, the creation of John Gemberling and Curtis Gwinn, lampoons every fantasy adventure movie from The Goonies to The Matrix. As the show's title implies, Fat Guy is set inside the World Wide Web because, as Mr. Gemberling said, "It's this kind of repository for everything," a digital playground where he and Mr. Gwinn's pop-cultural obsessions can run amok.

An Abbott and Costello for the Internet age, the taller, clean-shaven Mr. Gwinn, 33, and the shorter, burlier Mr. Gemberling, 27, met eight years ago at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in Chelsea, where they attended improv classes, performed in shows, and bonded over their mutual love of video games.

The two, who now live and work in Bushwick, came up with the idea of a Web-based comedy series around the end of 2004, after Mr. Gwinn bought a $150 green screen. (He was enticed by an eBay listing that emphasized that this was the same technology that Peter Jackson used to place live actors in front of computer-generated landscapes in the Lord of the Rings series.) They initially produced short videos guerrilla-style in a Park Avenue advertising office, gaining after-hours access to the building by using a friend's security card.

The original videos starred Mr. Gemberling as a cocky, corpulent computer programmer, also named Gemberling, who gets trapped inside the Internet and must fight his way out by channeling his inner hero.

"It was this insane vanity piece," Mr. Gemberling said, "that someone would cast themselves as this messiah, and perform great feats - and then name it after themselves." Two years ago, the videos got the attention of executives at the Cartoon Network, who commissioned the pair to produce their own 10-episode series.

With the green-screen technology, which requires little more than a wall on which to hang the screen and a camera to point it at, Mr. Gwinn and Mr. Gemberling could produce the Cartoon Network series almost anywhere in the city, or the country, or the world, for that matter.

But they didn't expect to do so in Bushwick, particularly after they paid their first visit late last year to the space that would become their production offices and studio. Here, on a desolate stretch of Ingraham Street lined with warehouses and barbed wire fences, they work from an uninviting structure that looks like a white masonry and wood-panel gulag, and was even less inviting on first sight.

"The studio was just a concrete shell," Mr. Gemberling said, "and it was dank and drippy." Mr. Gwinn added: "There was a string of dead rats in various stages of decomposition on the street. I was really hung over the day we came to check it out, and I was like: 'No way. I've got to go home.' " Yet by electing to shoot their show in Bushwick rather than more expensive locations elsewhere in the city, the Fat Guy team was, at least, able to save money they could channel into other elements of the series. "We wouldn't have been able to do the show the way we did it," said Ryan McFaul, the director of Fat Guy. "Which is not to say it's massive, but it would have been scaled back even more." Mr. Gemberling and Mr. Gwinn have gained a greater appreciation for their adopted neighborhood since they moved from a slovenly bachelor pad in Murray Hill to Bushwick last July.

Now they live about 10 blocks from their offices in a renovated two-level apartment on Graham Avenue, a few blocks from the L train, on the borderline between East Williamsburg, the last vestiges of Brooklyn hipsterdom, and a still-forbidding swath of Bushwick. "It's like a little island that, if you can just get to it, you'll be fine," Mr. Gwinn said.

They recognize that their new accommodations are not necessarily representative of the neighborhood as a whole. The Fat Guy offices are, Mr. Gemberling said, "to a good degree, more desolate than where we live. Here, there's broken glass sprinkled everywhere on the street. If somebody comes up to you at night, you're alone. There's nobody to see it happen." (Indeed, an intern quit Fat Guy after being mugged twice.)

BUT the two men take it as a good omen that, in the same neighborhood where they produce a show whose genesis began with a random reference to Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films, they recently spotted Orlando Bloom, the young actor who played the elf-warrior Legolas in Mr. Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies. Mr. Bloom was standing outside their offices, checking out the spot for a new movie, on the recommendation of a location scout who had previously worked for Fat Guy. "He was on his cellphone, right in front of this building," Mr. Gwinn said. "He gave us the stink-eye. Legolas! We walked upstairs and we were like, what is going on?" Mr. Gemberling added proudly: "He would not have been here, were it not for 'Fat Guy Stuck in Internet.' We have literally brought Lord of the Rings to Bushwick." 

Check out the official Fat Guy Stuck In Internet site on Adult Swim.

LA General

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