In the early 90’s, Matt Besser, Amy Poehler, Ian Roberts, and Matt Walsh formed the Upright Citizens Brigade sketch comedy troupe in Chicago, Illinois. All four members shared an unquenchable thirst for comedy and live performance. This yearning eventually drove the troupe to make the move to New York City, where they were offered many opportunities in an otherwise stand-up oriented metropolis. A few years later their hard work paid off, resulting in a television deal with Comedy Central spanning from 1998 to 2000. And with the troupe’s ever-growing success, they opened their first UCB Theatre in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City, drawing in hundreds of aspiring comedians to polish their writing and improv skills.
Since the opening of the first UCB Theatre, their popularity has surged and, as a result, a sizeable expansion. In 2005, UCB’s comedic formulas reached the west coast with the opening of a 92-seat theater in Los Angeles, California. 2011 saw the opening of an East Village location in New York City. But the most recent addition to this expansive network of comedy theaters arrived this past year with the building of UCB: Sunset.
There is no doubt that the Upright Citizens Brigade is expanding its brand of comedy to the rest of the States, generating the pool of future writers, and actors and actresses for both television and the big screen. Some notable alumni to mention are Parks and Recreation’s Aubrey Plaza and Aziz Ansari, The Daily Show’s Rob Riggle and Jessica Williams, Community actor and 30 Rock writer Donald Glover, comedian Nick Kroll, and The Office’s Ellie Kemper. This is just a taste of the numerous alumni UCB’s training center has produced over the years.
What is the essence to UCB’s comedic approach? What makes it so successful?
One of its fundamental exercises is referred to as ‘The Game’. This ‘game’ is considered to be an unusual or funny oddity, which can then be explored and heightened within the scene between actors on stage. In long-form improv, this game continues to grow into different directions while also expanding in absurdity; as a result, comedy is born. This same ‘game’ also applies just as well when writing comedic sketches. If you find something to be funny, think of what is the lifeblood of its comedy, and then simply explore and heighten on that quirk. This ‘game’ is really the heart of UCB’s comedic philosophy.
The training center at UCB Theatre helps those who want to enhance their comedy through the use of improv and sketch writing courses. In regards to improv, there is a strong focus on the long form structure. In improv 101, UCB students are taught the basics of long-form improv, including the pivotal “yes-and”. As the improv program continues on, students learn about the ‘game’ of the scene and eventually apply this game to The Harold, which is a structure of long form improv developed by comedy guru, Del Close. Sketch writing courses teach the fundamentals of ‘The Game’ while also re-creating a writers’ room environment. Everyone pitches their sketch ideas, brainstorms off of one another, and delve into different sketch formats, such as commercial parodies and topical sketches. At the end of the program (Sketch 301), students actually get to write and show their sketches to a UCB audience. Though classes can be on the pricier side, about $400 per class, they are highly recommended programs for those serious about a career in comedy.
Unlike the courses offered, the shows themselves are incredibly cheap, sometimes even free. The great part about this is though you may only be paying five or ten dollars for a show, you are getting a substantial amount of value when it comes to the entertainment presented to you. Shows such as Asssscat and Harold Night, which are long form improv shows, always have lines stretching around the corner with eager patrons. Though the theater is mostly known for its improv and sketch comedy, there are a variety of genres presented at UCB. Put Your Hands Together presents a night of stand up comedy hosted by comedian Cameron Esposito, a platform for introducing young and upcoming comedians from around the nation. Maude Night is for anyone interested in high quality sketch comedy that UCB offers. Shows can sell out at the snap of a finger, so reserving seats in advance is highly recommended.
Upright Citizens Brigade is a great venue to experience quality entertainment by some of the best performers in the field of comedy. These are all masters of their craft, whether it comes to improve or sketch comedy. With prices as low as $5, it is easily the most affordable entertainment in the city of Los Angeles.