This weekend is UCB’s 15th annual Del Close Marathon - a weekend of improv comedy across seven stages in New York City!
As artistic director, one of the biggest things that I do at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre is plan our annual Del Close Marathon. This is the second time I’ve had the honor of doing it, and I’m especially proud of this year’s marathon.
We had over 1000 teams submit from all around the world, the most we have ever had. This improv comedy thing must be catching on.
From Friday at 4pm until Sunday at midnight, we have improv comedy happening non-stop across seven stages, with special performances from UCB alumni and friends, like Nick Kroll, Horatio Sanz, Ellie Kemper, Bobby Moynihan, Mike Birbiglia, Zack Woods, and the founders of the UCB Theatre Amy Poehler, Matt Besser, Matt Walsh, and Ian Roberts. Check out the full schedule here:
You can get a wristband for $30 to check out all of the shows, or you can buy a ticket just to see some of our premium shows at our satellite stages at the SVA and FIT Theatres. For example, we’ve got Michael Cera (Arrested Development) doing a scene with Amy Poehler during Gravid Water, a show that pairs actors and improvisers together. Get a ticket for that show here.
A special thank you to John Frusciante, Alex Sidtis, Lynne Arkin, and Herson Castillo, my UCB admin colleagues, without whom DCM would not be possible. And thanks in advance to Pat Baer, Alex Adan, Phil Del Costello, Chuck Dauble, Rachael Mason, Claire Gilbertsen, and all of the theatre techs, managers, bartenders, interns, and volunteers who will be down in the trenches this weekend making everything happen.
If you are in New York City, I highly recommend stopping on by and checking out DCM. It is a very special thing and I’m beyond grateful to be a part of it.
Cartoons led me to believe that encountering quicksand would be a more daily worry than it actually has been…
I just finished reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, a subtley sci-fi coming of age novel (spoilers below). It was made into a 2010 film starring Andrew Garfield, Carey Mulligan, and Keira Knightley, which I saw a couple years back.
If you’ve heard anything about it, what you’ve probably heard is the shocking twist which gives this otherwise relatable childhood to adolescent to young adult story its sci-fi edge.
But what separates the film from the novel is how this shocking twist is made known. In the film, there is an M. Night type reveal. In the novel, this reveal moment never really happens.
The hidden-from-children-truth is a slow burn reveal, bits and pieces here and there over the years, that come into focus gradually. More like inching back from an impressionist painting at a painstakingly slow pace until the paint blobs become a recognizable landscape whole, rather than like flipping a canvas over and seeing everything that had been hidden all at once.
How this hidden-from-children-truth becomes revealed I think is really the most impressive part of the book, rather than the content of the shocking twist itself. It feels like Ishiguro captured something hard to capture about how these truths actually become known. To use a silly example, in films and TV shows, I feel like there is a moment when a child is told that Santa isn’t real, whereas the reality is more like you start to see cracks in the story you’ve been told, and you doubt it partially in some parts in your brain but hold onto the desire to believe it to be true in others, until one day you realize that at some point you stopped believing in that story. I think the same thing is true though for the more important hidden-from-children-truths out there too though. Such as, you know, that quicksand isn’t actually around every corner, which is really something that my Saturday morning cartoons led me to believe was the case.
In Defense Of The UCB Theatre’s Business Model
Yesterday the New York Times published an article that was critical of the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre’s business model. I’d like to say a few words defending the UCB Theatre.
In a nutshell, this is what I’m talking about in case you don’t know: the UCB Theatre is a comedy theatre that was founded by Amy Poehler, Matt Besser, Matt Walsh, and Ian Roberts. The UCB were originally a sketch and improv group from Chicago who moved to NYC to pursue a sketch show on Comedy Central in 1996, which ran for several seasons. They began teaching the Chicago style of sketch and improv that they learned from their teacher Del Close, and eventually founded a comedy school and theatre. From the start, UCB has had cheap ticket prices ($5 - $10) and has endeavored to be a place where interesting, alternative comedy can happen, and defines itself as a comedy theatre rather than a comedy club. To this end, the UCB has chosen to not pay its performers in order to keep ticket prices low. It is a place where students of comedy can practice the craft they are learning and more established performers can come work stuff out in a low pressure space with a comedy-loving vibe. The NYT was critical of this policy to not pay its performers in order to keep ticket prices low and to keep this low-pressure vibe in place.
Full disclosure: this is a biased defense. I currently am the artistic director of the UCB Theatre, where I also teach and perform on a weekly basis. The UCB has been good to me, so it is perhaps not a surprise that I love the UCB. Perhaps in saying why I love the UCB, though, I might be able to express why I support its business model.
I think of the UCB Theatre as comedy grad school. When you go to grad school, you forsake financial compensation for a period of time for the benefit of the experience and the hope that it will lead to a career in the field you’re studying. Unfortunately there are a finite number of jobs out there and not everybody gets the one they want, but hopefully you’re living your life in such a way that you’re enjoying the experience of what you’re doing while you’re doing it without your current happiness being dependent upon a future outcome that is largely outside of your control.
Although while I’ve primarily done improv comedy at UCB, I also do some stand-up. When I first started doing stand-up in the city five years ago, I would do barker shows, bringer shows, and pay-to-perform shows. A barker show meant that I had to hand out fliers for a period of time (usually one to two hours) before the show in order to get five minutes of stage time. I did this at the Sage Theatre in Times Square every week. Nothing like hundreds of tourists saying no to you and mocking you to give you the confidence you need to go do a comedy show. 120 minutes of work for 5 minutes of stage time. A bringer show meant that I had to bring a certain number of friends to buy tickets in order for me to get stage time. I sometimes would offer to buy my friends their ticket and pay for their two-drink-minimum just to make sure I got the quota. And a pay-to-perform show meant just that - I did an open mic in the basement of a Mexican food place called Maui Taco once a week where I had to pay $5 to get five minutes of stage time.
When I was new to the city and first doing stand-up, it was worth it for me to do these barker/bringer/pay-to-play shows. After a while I started to meet other comedians and started to get offered better performance opportunities. Eventually I got to the point where it was no longer worth it for me to do these types of shows. That doesn’t mean that I think those types of shows should stop existing. The UCB, by the way, does not do barker/bringer/pay-to-play shows. Those models work for some places, which is great. You can pick the place that has the model that is the best fit for you based on the point you’re at in your development. During this debate over the last few weeks, I’ve had a lot of conversations with comics, and one of them put it to me this way: “If I have a paying gig, I’ll take that over doing a show at UCB where I don’t get paid. If I don’t have a paying gig, I’d rather perform at UCB and get stage time than not perform at all.” That calculation makes sense to me. If you’re at the point in your career where you can get paying gigs every night of the week, then you probably don’t need the UCB any more. That is awesome. We want people to develop at UCB, then stop needing us and go off into the world.
I think not approving of the UCB business model is a perfectly valid position to take. There are of course other models that we could adopt and that other venues have successfully adopted, and internally we’ve brought up in discussion the possibility of paying performers or finding a different model many times. Ultimately though, after considering it and considering it many times over the years, we at UCB want to prioritize keeping ticket prices low, which helps to get a good, young, comedy-savvy crowd, and also gives performers the freedom to take more risks and find their voice. We like that vibe and don’t want to change it.
Every week at UCB, dozens of stand-up comics show their approval of our model by performing at our theatre because they recognize the value that it gives them. As Matt Besser said, we pay our comics, just not with money. As artistic director, I’m currently working on making the line-up of comics for an industry showcase in early March. This will give eight comics who have never been on TV before the chance to make that next step in their career. This is one of the many ways that UCB pays its performers.
I think about, talk about, write, practice, teach, direct, and perform comedy every week of my life. I didn’t get into comedy because I thought I would definitely get paid to do it one day. I started doing and it and keep doing it because I love it. The UCB Theatre is a place for people who love comedy and want to immerse themselves in it. If that sounds like you, please come join us. All are welcome.