Comedy Central has gone through so many phases for how it goes about showcasing young comedic talent, that every so often, an idea becomes reality and years later, you wonder how, exactly.
Such was Comic Cabana, the 1997 summer series on Comedy Central that may have been the first real TV credit for the Upright Citizens Brigade quartet of Amy Poehler, Matt Walsh, Matt Besser and Ian Roberts. It came a year before they'd get their own Comedy Central series and two before they could open up their own theater in New York City.
A comedy fan named Danielle who goes by schwaggology on Tumblr was up late the other night watching the first season of the Upright Citizens Brigade's Comedy Central series from way back in 1998 when something caught her eye.
Sitting alongside UCB members Amy Poehler and Matt Besser were mostly college-aged fresh-faced kids (just as you'd see in many UCB show audiences today in NYC or Hollywood). But in the third episode of season one, "Saigon Suicide Squad," check out a few faces in particular. As Danielle points out with arrows, you can see what Paul Scheer, Rob Corddry, Nick Kroll and Rob Riggle looked like many years before they were TV famous themselves.
I wanted to find out more about how this episode could attract so much future talent, so I asked Paul Scheer how he got this very early TV credit. Scheer told The Comic's Comic:
"As far as Saigon -- I was in every episode of UCB season 1 sometimes twice an episode (as an extra -- I think I eventually got one line). They used all their students as extras, none of us got paid but they had great snacks. Saigon was a taping of their amazing stage show, so that was an easy one but that was a super fun night up in Harlem.
I think Nick was a freshman in Georgetown. I was still in NYU. But if you watch the 1st season everyone is there. It's fun looking back."
This photo also works as a great advertisement for taking classes at the UCB's Theatres: From students to stars!
Matt Walsh is finishing up work on his first feature film as a director, the highly improvised movie, High Road.
So naturally, The Comic's Comic spoke to the UCB comedian about it on 4/20. Or was it just coincidental timing?
"It is interesting numerology," Walsh told me. "We're still finishing the movie. We're in the sound mix right now. A little color correct and we're done."
Audiences will get to see the finished product next weekend when the film premieres April 29 at the Newport Beach Film Festival. The film stars James Pumphrey as a man caught between his girlfriend (played by SNL's Abby Elliott), his band, and dealing his weed. The rest of the cast includes Rob Riggle, Lizzy Caplan, Joe LoTruglio, Rich Fulcher, Horatio Sanz, Dylan O'Brien, Zach Woods, Matt Jones, Ed Helms and Kyle Gass. Here's the "red-band" trailer (red-band = swearing and other things making this video NSFW)!
How did the making of High Road differ from the UCB's first film, Wild Girls Gone? "Good question. How is it different? I think we have better technology. We have better cameras now. This one was shot more like a documentary. We had d.p.'s who had shot documentaries...so the approach was more documentary-style."
For structure, did you write a full script, just an outline, or did you have the actors treat it with the UCB "game" approach? "We had roughly 65 scenes and each scene had a paragraph of plot and character count: Who's in the scene and when they come in. And then for the comedy's sake, we had game in each scene so characters could find what was funny in each moment that the players could play around in."
As you're finishing it now, how do you feel about using that process? "I'm very happy. I'm very fortunate to have a really talented, good-looking cast. They're all good on camera and they improvise dialogue that I never would have been able to write. And each character has their own certain voice and idiosyncrasy that they bring to it."
Did that process work the same as if you'd used a fully-written script?
The Upright Citizens Brigade recently celebrated its fifth anniversary of going Hollywood with a big night of comedy at its Los Angeles theater in September.
Three of the UCB founders have moved from NYC to LA, and over the years, many popular Harold and Maude players and groups have followed suit. LA Weekly caught up with Messrs. Besser, Roberts and Walsh for an interview, and here's how they explained their motives upon making the big move West:
Matt Besser: The Tamarind Theatre here on Franklin happen to open up and it was during the same time that many of the performers from UCB New York were moving out here, so it was good timing that way. We started with more of a focus on improv in New York. In L.A. there was already improv, so we wanted it to start off with more of a balance between sketch and stand-up for the L.A. branch. That's one of the main differences between the two theaters. Immediately, we had Comedy Death Ray, which in my opinion, is the best stand-up show in town. We also have many shows that combine performers whether it be a game show or a story-type of show. That was always the aim of this theater.
Ian Roberts: Another goal is to have a place that we wish existed when we first started. A place that is friendly to performers and doesn't charge people to do their shows.
Matt Walsh: Even Luna in New York was a great comedy show but it was only on Monday nights, so if you went there on Wednesdays there would be a jam band playing. This is a theater that's known for doing one thing, which is good comedy.
While I was in Los Angeles last month, I caught up with the UCB Theatre's L.A. artistic director, Neil Campbell -- whom you can also see onstage in groups doing sketch in A Kiss From Daddy and improv with Last Day of School. Here's what Campbell had to tell me when we sat down in his office before a full night of shows in the theatre:
We're just a few days away from the start of the 12th annual Del Close Marathon -- that's DCM12 for short (and for Twitter hashtag purposes) -- and the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre has released the footage from the show that's always a DCM showstopper: That late-late-night Saturday all-star showcase parody of "Match Game '76," where in recent years, the only things you can count on are Paul Scheer doing his own version of the late Gene Rayburn, contestant Jack McBrayer playing himself and seemingly more frightened every year because he doesn't know how or what the dozens of UCB players (in celebrity characters) will do to taunt him. It's at 2 a.m. Sunday this weekend.
Last year, for DCM11, the cast of characters were played by the likes of Rob Huebel, Brett Gelman, Nick Kroll, Doug Benson, Horatio Sanz, Anthony Atamanuik, Matt Besser, Matt Walsh, Chris Gethard, Rob Lathan, Jon Daly, Katie Dippold, Seth Morris, Sean Conroy, Owen Burke, James Adomian and yes, that is Sarah Silverman in disguise as Carl Weathers. Oh, and people also did the show completely disguised as Flipper and Dr. Zaius.
Let's just say it's Not Safe For Work, because it most definitely is. See you this weekend. Roll it!
Comedy nerds were abuzz today that the SPIKE cable network may have canceled Players, the inventive and delightful improvised comedy from the minds of the UCB's Matt Walsh, Ian Roberts and friends.
Walsh himself went to Twitter tonight to say: Not exactly. He wrote: "to all Players fans, Spike is going to postpone remaining Players episodes til July for a summer season after "Joes vs Bros". keep u posted"
Which actually sounds more like good news to me. Instead of competing with network offerings in the spring, a summer reboot gives Players a chance to find its audience -- and maybe even market to it. Plus, as I noted in my review of Players, it doesn't have to be paired with Blue Mountain State. So, a yay from me. What say you?
Back before they were famous for being the Upright Citizens Brigade, the UCB players produced their first feature-length film that spoofed both Spring Break and Girls Gone Wild. Naturally, it's called Wild Girls Gone, and it's only now available for your digital download pleasure via iTunes.
That seemed so random, but then again, this isn't the only random comedy news for today.
I have to admit that part of me worried that Players, the new sitcom from Upright Citizens Brigade leaders Matt Walsh and Ian Roberts, might not be very good. All of that part of me, it turns out, was worried simply because their series is airing on SPIKE.
Let's just say some of SPIKE's original programming seems like it's leftovers that got passed over from other networks. The "sitcom" that airs before Players, called Blue Mountain State, didn't appear to have any actual jokes in it -- merely college football jock premises and the hilarity of compromising sexual positions with Cloris Leachman, in the episode broadcasted immediately prior to the debut of Players. The page for BMS calls it a "new original comedy," and yet the reality is the exact opposite. More BS than BMS, am I right? I bring all of that up because for all of the effort that seemingly goes into that series, knowing how Walsh, Roberts and their funny friends are able to take something as basic as an Arizona sports bar and a plot outline, then weave some inspired improvisational punchlines and moments out of it. It's really great. Don't want to take my word for it? You can watch the premiere episode, "Krista's Mom" (no, not "Grand Reopening," despite what The Onion seemed to think), again tonight on SPIKE. Or you can watch it right here, at your convenience. New episodes air at 10:30 p.m. Tuesdays.
You've heard of 2 Girls, 1 Cup, right? I'm not going to link to that viral video shocker that shocked millions with its NSFW depths. But the Upright Citizens Brigade's Ian Roberts, co-star of the upcoming Spike TV sitcom, Players, decided that without a proper marketing budget, he would re-create that video all by himself in "1 Guy, 1 Cup." As UCB co-founder Matt Walsh sat by and told him repeatedly not to do such a thing.
You know. These guys are such great improvisers that I fully laughed out loud and even gagged a bit as Roberts does his own very NSFW thing. That's a testament to how good Walsh and Roberts are. So I don't even have to question whether this is real or "real" or outright fake. Because it's just plain funny. Roll the clip! I warned you. This is Not Safe For Work.
Earlier: Watch actual previews of Players.
Spike has set a debut date, web page and promo videos for the new sitcom Players, which co-stars the Upright Citizens Brigade's Matt Walsh and Ian Roberts as two brothers who open a sports bar in Phoenix. Hijinx invariably ensues. The initial 15-second teaser showed that Horatio Sanz and Jon Daly get mixed up in the madness, and Walsh told Marc Maron on the latest WTF podcast that Danielle Schneider, James Pumphrey and June Diane Raphael also are part of the initial 10-episode season.
The series kicks off at 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 2.
Based on the first preview clips, I'm beginning to wonder if they ever have any customers at their sports bar, because here is a clip in which they sit around playing Truth or Dare:
Oh, wait. I do see other people in the bar. Here's a scene in which Roberts chastises Walsh for gambling on the Special Olympics.
And here's a clip of an intervention that goes slightly differently than you would expect, except now that I've told you this, of course:
We're not sure on the hows, whys are wheres of this, but the original members of The Upright Citizens Brigade will be reuniting for "The Greatest Improv Show Ever" this weekend. Well, that's the title of it, anyhow. High noon Saturday in Solvang, Calif. Solvang? Sure, why not Solvang. UCB co-founder/player Matt Walsh asked overnight via Twitter: "Why isn't all of America talking about this?" Maybe it's because your "Ultimate Comedy Bash" is in Solvang?! Just maybe.
The bash kicks off on Friday with a "Fresh Faces" show hosted by Paul F. Tompkins and also features "The Greatest Comedy Show Ever" on Saturday afternoon. I'd tell you more, but you can see it's all printed up nice and colorful already! Click on the image to enlarge it. TWSS.
Derrick comedy has a laugh-out-loud hilarious, dark comedy movie on their hands, and if all things go well, soon enough, there will be a distribution deal for Mystery Team. How do I know this? I managed to get in on one of the intimate free screenings in New York City earlier this week, and talked to four-fifths of the team behind Mystery Team afterward (Dan Eckman, Meggie McFadden, DC Pierson and Dominic Dierkes -- Donald Glover was over in Long Island City being executive story editor on 30 Rock). Roll the clip!
As mentioned in the clip, Mystery Team debuted in January at the Sundance Film Festival to mostly positive reviews and buzz. Director/co-writer/editor Eckman said he managed to cut more than six minutes from the version Sundance audiences saw, getting the running time down to a leaner 98 minutes. "Watching it with an audience six times at Sundance really opened the whole thing up," Eckman told me.
If you haven't heard the buzz yet, let me fill you in. Donald Glover, DC Pierson and Dominic Dierkes play three high-schoolers who are still living off of their childhood "fame" as boy detectives who solved neighborhood mysteries a la Encyclopedia Brown. Glover's Jason is as animated as a Looney Tunes character with a propensity for disguises that rely on fake mustaches. Pierson's Duncan has memorized trivial trivia and thinks that makes him a boy genius when it just makes him a nerd. Dierkes' Charlie is a dumb jock without being a jock. They're 17, but still living as if they were 7. "No case too hard, no case too tough," reads the hand-painted sign outside Jason's house. And their mysteries are as tough as figuring out who stuck their fingers in an old lady's pie. Until a girl rings Jason's bell and asks him to solve the murder of her parents. The boys take the case and quickly find themselves in over their heads, literally and figuratively. Will they grow up and/or solve the case? Aubrey Plaza (NBC's Parks & Recreation) plays the other orphaned sister. Bobby Moynihan (Saturday Night Live) shows up every so often as a grocery store cashier who still idolizes the Mystery Team. And there are plenty of other great comedian cameos and supporting roles with an emphasis on the UCB: Tom Shillue, Matt Walsh, Kay Cannon, Neil Casey, Jon Daly, Will Hines, Ellie Kemper, Anthony King, John Lutz, Ben Schwartz, Kevin Brown and Robbie Sublett among them.
We're knee-deep in pilot season, and the trades are packed full of announcements by the networks of deals made and scripts ordered, but we all need to remind ourselves that many of these shows will never make it to the airwaves. That's why Spike TV's announcement yesterday -- yes, Spike TV is still a network -- is more significant and worth sharing. They have given Upright Citizens Brigade co-founders Matt Walsh and Ian Roberts a 10-episode order for a sitcom called Players that will debut this summer.
Walsh and Roberts like to end each Del Close Marathon with their so-fake-it's-actually-real TV cooking show, but for Spike TV, they're leaving the microwave behind (maybe) and entering the world of sports bars. From the press release: Walsh will play Bruce, who lives out his fantasy of owning a sports bar, betting on sports and dating the waitresses. Roberts will play his older, uptight brother Ken. Danielle Schneider and James Pumphery also will be part of the main cast. Jason Woliner, who directed Human Giant, directed the Players presentation and serves as a co-executive producer. Production starts this month in Los Angeles.
So, it's mid-October, and you're wondering, is it not a little late to begin reviewing the new fall crop of TV sitcoms? No. It is not. In fact, most TV critics weigh in too early, often with just a pilot episode to go on, sometimes with a second episode, but usually hardly without time to see if the producers, writers and cast have been able to expand upon a premise or build a storyline worth laughing at and following from week to week. Most people wouldn't have given Seinfeld much of a chance with its pilot, and conventional wisdom now hails that sitcom as one of the best ever. Cheers took a while to find its audience, but NBC stuck with it and it paid dividends for all involved. Of course, the mainstream thinking now holds that the sitcom is dead and/or dying, that networks cannot take chances on sitcoms, and that your best laughs are coming in hourlong "dramedies" or dramas that are really comedies in disguise (see: House, Bones, Chuck, Life, Pushing Daisies, Ugly Betty, and so on and so forth). But that's not stopping folks from trying to launch new sitcoms, so let's see how they're doing after four weeks. First up: Worst Week.
Sitcom: Worst Week (CBS) 9:30 p.m. ET/PT Mondays
Premise: Sam Briggs (Kyle Bornheimer), an entertainment magazine editor, has gotten his girlfriend Melanie Clayton (Erinn Hayes) pregnant and they're getting married, but first they have to get her parents to like him. Which is tough when they decide to break the news when her family gets together for her father's (Kurtwood Smith) 65th birthday. And everything that can go wrong does. Does this sound like Meet the Parents? Of course. But the show is based upon a British TV comedy.
Early impression: Whereas a drama such as 24 can revolve an entire season around one limited timeframe plotline (and even that has proven difficult some seasons), comedies haven't had such luck borrowing that structure (don't see: ABC's Big Day in 2006, NBC's Watching Ellie in 2002). But this show could get past the initial "worst week" in question because it's really tackling an age-old sitcom idea of having problems with your in-laws.
Can you judge a show by its pilot: Let's hope not. Who would be that stupid to shower in a drunk girl's apartment without making sure there are towels, then get kicked out of said apartment without your clothes or belongings, then decide rather than get your stuff back, hail a taxi to your potential in-laws, have them pay, then pee on the family dinner. Oh, right. It's a network sitcom pilot. No wonder this family doesn't like this guy. There's no redeeming aspects to the guy. You sigh at his antics instead of laughing with/at him. Why does Mel even love Sam?
Comedy pedigree: Hayes co-starred in Rob Corddry's 2007 short-lived FOX sitcom The Winner (and in Corddry's new WB online project Childrens' Hospital), and Smith already has comedic dad foil down pat from 200 episodes of it on FOX's That 70s Show. Fortunately, the show also has populated its first four episodes with a great cast of supporting characters and bit players. Aziz Ansari appears in the pilot as a funeral home worker. Jessica St. Clair shows up in episode two as the girlfriend's married-with-children sister. Dr. Ken Jeong owns a bird shop. In episode three, we see Nick Kroll appear as Sam's friend, Adam, while UCB original member Matt Walsh plays a kid's character called "Peace Mon." And in episode four, Chicago stand-up comedian Hayes MacArthur arrives as St. Clair's husband (aka the good son-in-law), Loni Love is a nurse, and Brian Huskey plays the main couple's ob-gyn. It's a bit of curiously coincidental casting (or is it intentional?!) to have a few regulars from VH1's Best Week Ever lighten up this Worst Week.
Only now unwinding from my second tour through the Upright Citizen Brigade's Del Close Marathon, which ended Sunday night (though starting the tour after an all-nighter to Washington, D.C., and back probably contributed to the fatigue on my end), and wished, as I did last summer, that I had gotten to see more of the 150+ improv and variety shows that happened during DCM10. At least two video cameras captured some of the highlights, which I expect to see online one of these days at UCBComedy.
The Marathon is crazy for improvisers and comedy fans alike, with shows running almost continuously (save for a couple of breaks to clean the theaters) at the UCB home in Chelsea and three nearby theaters from Friday afternoon to Sunday night. Comedians come from all over the country to participate, and even then, to fill all of those hours, the Marathon's programmers schedule some completely off-the-wall shows. I cannot speak for the daytime shows from last weekend, but during the primetime and late-night hours, the atmosphere -- hot, sweaty and reeking of alcoholic sweat -- really favors the louder, crazier uptempo shows over the improv groups that actually try best to honor Del Close and his Harold long-form. It's not a fault of the performers. But after you've seen "Gary Busey" prove he's the smartest expert in the universe, it's hard to pay close attention to all that's going on in the Scramble. And the Marathon peaks at 2:30 a.m. Sunday during the half-hour lunacy that is Match Game 76, and when Horatio Sanz as Heath Ledger's Joker launches a smoke bomb, well, even a troupe hoping to parody Close has no chance. I spent my entire DCM10 at the UCB (sorry, big-time shows at the FIT, but maybe we'll meet again in 2009), and the best shows I saw over the weekend were strong in concept, structure and execution.
James Adomian as "Gary Busey" during The Smartest Panel of Experts in the Universe Ever.
Photo by Keith Huang
I caught up with Upright Citizens Brigade co-founders Matt Besser and Matt Walsh earlier today, or should I say, they caught up with me (thank you, telephones!). Don't know how you're spending your Memorial Day weekend, but Messrs. Besser and Walsh will be among the comedian contingent heading for the Gorge in George, Wash., for this weekend's Sasquatch! Music Festival (the full comedy lineup includes Matt Besser, Matt Walsh, Horatio Sanz, Tim Meadows, Jerry Minor, Rich Fulcher, and Sean Conroy / Brian Posehn / Michael Ian Black / Michael Showalter / Eugene Mirman / Morgan Murphy / Marc Maron / Reggie Watts / People's Republic of Komedy featuring: Andy Haynes, Kevin Hyder, Aziza Diaz, Derek Sheen, and Andy Peters / Seattle School featuring: Mike Min, Korby Sears, and Liza Keckler).
The Gorge routinely wins honors as the best natural outdoor amphitheater from industry watchers such as Pollstar, and for good reason: The main stage has the Columbia River gorge and the setting sun as its backdrop. Been there and done that. Good times. But I hadn't seen comedy there before. Sasquatch has a separate comedy tent at the top of the hill. Enough with the logistics, though. Let's get to my interviews with Matt Besser and Matt Walsh about this weekend's festival, their still relatively new UCB Comedy website, and the upcoming 10th anniversary of the Del Close Marathon in New York City this summer.
Will you guys be camping out on the grounds at the Gorge with everyone else?
Walsh: "They've got RVs set up for us...We'll probably be writing bits right when we get there."
With multiple shows on Saturday and Sunday, how do you pace yourselves to make sure you've got enough funny to go around?
Besser: "Like a marathon? We'll have people standing next to the stage with Gatorade. I won't bother going to the bathroom, if that's what you mean. Yeah, we'll pace ourselves. But no. I think I can sprint. If Chappelle can do it all in one night, we can certainly do it as a group. Am I right?"
Walsh: "Don't get too high. Or drunk. No. I think the bits are written. I think because it's interactive, a lot of it is presentational. We'll be addressing the audience. Guest artists will come on."
How is performing at a festival, or even any larger venue, different from the audiences at the UCB's theaters in New York and Los Angeles?
Walsh: "It's challenging, because it's a big audience. It's more akin to stand-up, addressing the audience. But they're not in a fictional world. We're onstage. At a huge concert. We're not asking 20,000 people to suspend their disbelief that we're in a Starbucks."
Besser: "When you do a festival like this, you're drawing people who have zero knowledge of who you are. The first time we did a music festival like this, it was a Gathering of the Vibes, kind of jam-band festival, I'd say a good portion of the crowd had no idea who we were. This dude yelled out, 'Hey dude, where's your guitar!' We thought he was playing with us but he was serious...I guess."
That sounds a lot like the inspiration for the sketch you guys did at this year's SXSW festival in Austin, right?
Let's watch that sketch!
Besser: "Yes. South by Southwest. What was weird about that night. I actually had a guy in the venue who worked there try to kick me out. Four or five lines into the sketch, he walks up and pats me on the shoulder, saying, 'Hey, c'mon, you got to go.' He's saying this into my ear. 'Alright, buddy, we've had enough.' And I'm trying to explain I'm doing a bit without letting everyone hear me! Are my lines too clever?...And then even when I do get onstage, there's one girl, when I say 'Comedy's easy,' Walsh's next line is supposed to be, 'If it's so easy, why don't you try it,' but this girl in the audience says it, 'If it's so easy, why don't you try it?' There's that interesting aspect of people who aren't used to whatever, breaking that fourth wall, that we do."
Walsh says you may expect to see similar things this weekend. "I think some of the things we're going to incorporate will be organic to that (music festival) atmosphere," he says.
Why do more and more music festivals (Bonnaroo, SXSW, Coachella, etc.) want to include comedy into their formulas?
Walsh: "I suppose, one, it's worked before...I would presume they want to attract a wider audience. And there's a lot of down time so they want to entertain audiences while they're in between bands, so it's a simple thing to include comedy. So basically, we're the intermission entertainment."
Besser: "They don’t always work on the same stage, one after the other, that can be rough. But giving them a separate tent, where they can get a break from a full day of music, that can work."
Earlier this year, they also launched UCBComedy.com as "a third stage" for the many performers who now make up the UCB collective at their first two actual stages in New York City and Los Angeles.
Walsh: "It's an opportunity to give them an outlet for their ideas. It's just an extension of the brand. We want to be a network. We want to program things. We've got the two theaters in New York and Los Angeles. To program a Website is a logical next step...The truth of it is, there's so much more video in live shows anyway. That's one thing we've found in Los Angeles."
Besser says two things set UCB's comedy site apart from the other online comedy video sites: 1) live clips from UCB shows, and the fact that they don't allow people outside of the UCB to upload clips.
Besser: "That's our whole philosophy to the site. It's our third stage. It's not open to anyone to upload...It's another way for them to showcase themselves and get their stuff out there. And it's great. Especially if you don't live in a big city, to experience these shows."
One thing I've noticed from comedy fans is that they increasingly go online immediately in search of clips and reviews of shows they've just seen themselves. Have you noticed any of that with uploading clips of live UCB shows?
Besser: "To get footage that's cut the next day, is impossible, unless you're a full-scale production...Some people are big fans and will watch a one-camera feed for 30 minutes, but not everyone."
Any other feedback?
Walsh: "People really like it. Unfortunately, things with bikini-clad women get more hits, because those images in clips have more appeal with young men...there's great variety, though. Clips from live shows. We've figured out how to shoot them really well, like a Comedy Central special, so they appear really well."
How was working on the HBO pilot for David's Situation with Bob Odenkirk and David Cross?
Besser: "That was great. Besides working with Bob and David, who are geniuses. Eric Hoffman is who I started doing, back in Chicago, when I was doing sketches for the first time, I was doing them with him and Walsh, Bean Can Tour, ever Friday night. So that was a reunion. But the show itself is crazy. Like The Young Ones."
Do you think it's an automatic go because of Bob and David's past history with HBO and Mr. Show, or do you still need to wait by the phone? Besser laughs.
Besser: "I would never say anything like that one way or the other. I am not that high up in the process."
In August, you guys will come back to New York City for the 10th anniversary of the Del Close Marathon. Anything special up your sleeves?
Besser: "It's just more and bigger, really...Kim Howard Johnson, who wrote the Del Close book this year. It's a really great book, and the festival is all about him, so Kim is going to start it off first with a panel...that will be special and neat."
Walsh: "There's talk of a Carnegie Hall show, and the marathon itself is a physical task in itself. It's literally 70 hours of endurance. All of us will do 5 or 10 shows...We get people from all over the country to see what other sketch performers are doing, so it's great for the performers, too. It makes it a real festival."
Had you ever thought about setting a world record from Del Close? The Comic Strip Live in New York says it vows to set an official Guinness World Record in June with a 50-hour stand-up show.
Besser: "Hadn't thought about it." Laughs. "Totally, it's been 72. Man, that's your article. Get the real record!"
What happens when you look over your handwritten notes a year later? Let's find out as we jog our memories on the 2007 Del Close Marathon, held over the last weekend in July...
Satellites: Oh, this was a fun way to start my Del Close Marathon in 2007, as Ed Helms, Rob Riggle and Jason Sudeikis got themselves all excited about going to another Dave Matthews Band concert. They got nostalgic (Riggle claimed this would be his 217th DMB concert experience), interacted with fans (as in, audience members) and Sudeikis proved his chops playing multiple parts in this half-hour improvised set, including a drug dealer in Detroit and a driver to a show in Miami.
Bro'in Out: With Leo Allen and Seth Morris co-hosting, and guests played by Matt Walsh, Ed Helms, and Matt Besser, among others, with Besser playing the role of MySpace's founder, Tom. "A lot of people don't want to be friends based on first impressions of their voice," said Besser as Tom, who continued to hold the MySpace Tom pose throughout the show. "I have a deformed spine that doesn't allow me to face forward."
Chuckle Sandwich: This Chicago-based quartet opened with a song, and showed why T.J. Miller would soon go on to bigger things. Micah Sherman also showed a bunch of energy at this midnight show.
The Smartest Panel of Experts in the Universe Ever: My notes on this are messy, and as I recall, this show was messy, too, and Horatio Sanz was in it. I wrote immediately after this that the UCB theater really cleared out afterward, which made things tough on the show that followed, the low-energy Bastards Inc. Directors Commentary LIVE came next and took on "Dirty Dancing," with players taking on roles as cast and crew from this 1980s movie, and the show completely lost control about halfway through as the players went to greater lengths to one-up each other in their risque comments.
I returned on Saturday afternoon in time to see I Eat Pandas earn a standing ovation at 5:30 p.m. My $20 wristband got me into most shows, but it'd take another $10 to get me a guaranteed seat over at the FIT for the Daily Show/Colbert Report Improv Jam (only about 20 people from the stand-by line got in) as Riggle, John Oliver, Ed Helms and several Colbert writers, including Laura Krafft, took audience suggestions. The first one? Iraq?! "I should probably jump into this one," Riggle said. "Because you're a Marine," another player said. "Everything about Iraq is hilarious," offered Helms. "That guy (pointing to the audience member) should be forced to do 10 minutes on Iraq right now." But they ran with the suggestion and got many laughs. They also played off of a military group that attended a Chicago improv show, and imagined a group of St. Olaf and Carleton College students facing off at the town's only bar.
Arrived back at the UCB to see the end of Ian Roberts' Lazy Man show, followed by the iO Chicago team of Washington Generals, who seemed to be led, at least on this night, by a guy I'd seen earlier in Chuckle Sandwich. According to Jim came next, and no, not about the ABC-TV sitcom with Jim Belushi, but rather Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland, and Matt Walsh played Gary Sheffield, and I had to write how one woman in the audience remarked, "It's so ridiculous." Yes, and in improv, ridiculous is usually a good thing. They stopped the show seven minutes early for a Q&A with the audience which just got weirder. Pass the Mic was billed as improvised stand-up, and it seemed more like improvised monologues. As Leo Allen noted at one point, "For anyone onstage, your constant writing is horrible." The show turned out to be a bit of a misnomer, as each player told true and funny stories from his or her childhood, building off of the previous player's story. No one even used the actual audience suggestion of hurdles, by the way. BirdDog, from Chicago, seemed more style than substance, although they also seemed to adhere more to the style of Del Close in doing so, which made it apt. And they did make good use of the mic for a talent show. C,C,+C Improv Factory drew consistently big laughs with quick quips. Cracked Out (Jon Daly and Brett Gelman) got the place more than standing room only and laughing. "There's no booing in improv hip-hop!" Derrick smartly recognized the funny nature of quick flashbacks. Match Game 76 had so many "celebs" onstage, including Paul Scheer as the late Gene Rayburn, Jack McBrayer, Ed Helms (as Mark Spitz), and so many others, that it was hard for anyone to follow -- just sit back and watch the madness unfold. If you're going to follow Match Game, getting the audience's attention with Mexican wrestling masks and attitude might just have done the trick for Senor Bueno. Pajama Jammy Jam spun off from Houseparty with one of the guys from Derrick playing Play from Kid and Play. Oh, Hello, led by John Mulaney, played up the shtick of Upper West Siders trying improv. Drunken Sonic Assault, hosted by Walsh and Besser, hit two out of three targets in their name. A weird Thanksgiving dinner played out next onstage, with Jackie Clarke, Riggle, Rob Huebel, Viking brothers, ghosts and a guy with his balls out named Balls Larry. The program tells me this show was called 2 Gays and a Lez with a Baseball Cap. My Left Fuck You was four guys with laptops using voice software. At 4:15 a.m. on a Sunday. Scheer re-emerged as Darth Vader for Star Wars Bounty Hunter Prov. Things got too weird for words in the next two early morning shows, Nicolas Cage Match and Dane Cookin It Up, with several comedians impersonating the two actors. It's no wonder my notes ended here.