NY notes: Upright Citizens

May 5, 2008
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About a year ago, on a previous trip to NYC, I happened to be in town with a free Sunday evening. That's usually not the most happening time in any town, but I knew there had to be something outstanding going on in Manhattan.

I found it just south of Madison Square Garden at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. UCB had its own series on Comedy Central years back, but it is perhaps best known now as the home base for such "Saturday Night Live" players as Horatio Sanz, Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler.

The New York theatre offers nearly nonstop improvisational shows seven days a week at absurd prices. The highest ticket price is $8. Many shows are free. Plus, you've got to love a place where you can get a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon for $2 and a souvenir t-shirt for only $12. Who said New York is unaffordable?

On that Sunday visit, I braved a long line to catch the Poehler-run group "Assscat 3000," which offered long-form improv that starts with a single audience suggestion that is magnified by a guest monologist. The company (which on my stop included Poehler, Meyers, and "30 Rock" co-star Jack McBrayer, and some "Conan O'Brian Show" writers) then used the monologue to inspire scenes that miraculously wove together while also being, oh, hilarious.

These days, with Poehler hot from her film "Baby Mama," it's even tougher to get in to the Sunday shows. Still, there's plenty going on other evenings at UCB, which I discovered on Saturday's visit.

First up: "Mother: The Soundtrack," where the signature game involves collecting iPods from audience members before the show and turning them over to the guys in the sound booth. The company then constructs scenes based on the songs played (with no prior knowledge of what would be selected, of course). 

The gang behind the second show, "Reuben Williams: As Seen on TV," creates a TV network (including promos and commercials) based on the contents of an audience member's wallet.

This week, there were great ideas, big laughs, a few dead spots, and stand-out performers in both companies (watch for a guy named Jon Daly, a comic with a great face, a sharp mind and a demented capable-of-anything vibe reminscent of The Kids in the Hall crew) and while neither show qualified as world-class in the way that Poehler's did, both were well worth the minor cost of admission. And both gave me more reason to continue touting Upright Citizens Brigade as a great place to find an after-show show, a before-concert show, on an in-between-whatever-else- you-are-doing-in-the-city show.

On my visit, the UCB stop came after a day that included Broadway's new musical "A Catered Affair" and a head trip experience of the off-Broadway hit "Fuerzabruta." More on those in an upcoming IBJ column.
  • Hah! I laughed out loud (and then cringed a little) at the thought of someone basing an improv on the messy contents of my wallet.

    But I would like to see someone riff on my library card.

    One time I was at an improv show and during intermission I put librarian in the goldfish bowl for occupations. Later, I saw the comic draw my card. She said, No! and threw it out!

    How could she think there was nothing funny about being a librarian? I wanted to refer her to the Unshelved comic strip. (www.unshelved.com)

    Anyway, thanks for another fun NYC post, Lou!

    Hope Baugh
  • Funny you write about this Lou because on a recent visit to NYC I took your suggestion to go to UCB and caught a Friday night skit, God's Pottery Saves the World! and let me just say I went assuming I'd love it...

    well, it was terrible..at first. But I think the funniest aspect of the skit was re-telling people what exactly it's about, and maybe that is the punch line. My mom, aunt, cousin and mom's 50 something friends all hated it. Until we started cracking up about it after the fact.

    I was bummed not to see something great like Amy's company, but maybe next time.

    Thanks for the suggestion. It was an easy walk from the Theater District.

    We also caught Mamma Mia...a classic broadway show that is VERY old news, I know, but it was hilarious and had a great cast.
  • Chelsea,
    Sorry you had such a bad experience with UCB.
    I remember dragging a bunch of friends to the L.A. Second City years ago anticipating something wonderful and watching sketch after sketch hit the wall (even with such SC vets as Richard Kind in the cast). So I know how you feel.
    Folks considering UCB should be aware that just about every performance represents a different company of performers. Your mileage by vary.
  • Friday nights offer 2 excellent shows at ucb
    the stepfathers - featuring the very talented Chris gethard and Bobby Moynihan
    and Death by Roo Roo who are the most vetran troupe at the theater . their 11 pm slot is always full and nothing short of Hilarious!

    other show to watch for are nights of our lives - usually last wednesday of the month . a great story telling group that includes John flynn and Chris Gethard [ it is my favorite show at the theater]

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