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
The easiset way to review my own personal DCM10 experience would be chronologically, so here goes…
Arrived late Friday/early Saturday in time for Director’s Commentary Live, which takes the MST3K approach to commenting on movies and spins it into a mostly hilarious version of the cast and crew commentary you’d find on a DVD. They took on 1992’s Universal Soldier with Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren. Not every quip hit the mark. Among those that did: "We don’t have sleeves. We don’t pay for sleeves!" "This is where I was trying to figure out what movie I was in." "Not me. ME! Not me. Not me. ME!" Wicked Fuckin’ Queeyah followed, and if the phonetics don’t give it away, it’s all Boston stereotypes in Red Sox shirts and hats. They tried their intro three times before continuing. "Start it ovah!" It was a good lead-in for Cracked Out, the rapping duo of Jon Daly and Brett Gelman, who got all glittered and zebra-striped out for the occasion. Their best improvised rap of the night played with their ninth-grade experiences. Matt Walsh and Brian Huskey led the buttoned-up What Would Jesus Freeze?, which included the members of Derrick and Neil Campbell and Paul Rust as Christians trying their hand at the improv game of freeze-tag, and naturally got stumped by the audience suggestion of "dildo." Campbell’s deaf (and dumb?) character stole this show. The Sunshine Gang‘s take on 1934-era improv brought the energy level down a little bit, whether you liked it or not.
Backstage, Casey Wilson was working on her dance moves, but neither she nor Cracked Out were any match for Campbell and Rust in the Break Dance Improv Contest With Freestyle Rapping, because these guys portrayed The Hot Stove Boys, mini men who kept hot-footing it around the stage for the entire 15-minutes because they were dancing on a hot stove.
Perezprov? If I could draw some drool on this show, I would. Chum Chat took the form of an all-male community board meeting that ended up voting on murders, but the funniest moment came after Chris Gethard left the meeting early to change costume for the next show, only to be goaded after he popped his head back in through the curtains. That next show is a great example of the outrageousness that happens during the Marathon, as The 1986 Mets Extravaganza was all set-up, as it took just about the entire 15 minutes to introduce the team members, who each took to the microphone to say raucous just true things about their real-life counterparts, with Gethard at the helm as Darryl Strawberry, and including Nick Kroll as Wally Backman, Bobby Moynihan as Bobby Ojeda, Ben Schwartz as Jesse Orosco, Brian Huskey as Doc Gooden, Curtis Gemberling as Howard Johnson and Billy Merritt as Mookie Wilson. No Posers was a rock trio led by Seth Morris. Then the ridiculousness of To Catch a Predator: Improv Edition, with Paul Scheer playing the host, Chris Gethard as the decoy boy, and a never-ending run of guys looking to become pedophile, knocking on the door so fast that Scheer could hardly keep up — which was, of course, part of the fun of this show. Jon Daly’s Super Gay Osborne was a treat. Some dude’s saggy balls were not. Working Girls brought the energy level back down as a group of regular working women who decided to take an improv class, and now they’re trying to remember what they learned. My first night ended with Ben Schwartz taking it from the "audience," including an empty water bottle to the face, for 15 minutes in Worst. Heckle. Ever. The funniest moments happened when the heckles switched from fake topics to Schwartz’s own projects, causing our hero to crack up.
Glennis McMurray and Eliza Skinner are I Eat Pandas.
Photo by Mark Hambly
Night Two began for me on a high note with I Eat Pandas, who performed dare I say, the best musical ever about pedophiles? Eliza Skinner and Glennis McMurray deserved that standing ovation. They are wonderful and have a few UCB shows coming up this month, so go see them! Just Pallin Around has gotten mixed reviews on the message boards, and I can see how…this trio from Chicago liked to challenge each other to describe unseen things (funny ha ha), but also battled for control of the scene more than a few times (ergh).
I remember hearing about Code Duello: Hamilton & Burr, when these guys (Neil Reynolds as Aaron Burr, Matt Tucker as Alexander Hamilton) started this structured long-form improv show as part of the now departed Tribe Boston collective two years ago. In full costume, the duo starts at the scene of the historic duel to the death, then flashes back for an audience suggestion that might posit how these two powerful politicians from the American Revolution could come to bear arms against one another. On this night, ’twas "rabies." Rabies, ladies and gentleman. And somehow, over the course of a half-hour, Reynolds and Tucker found many ways to make merriment, including time travel and impassioned pleas to the audience, serving as first the Congress, then as the New York Legislature, as Hamilton wanted to marry a tiger that wasn’t a tiger, and Burr wanted to clarify the Constitution, and multiple applause breaks later, a big standing ovation for the dueling duo. Wow.
Reuben Williams: As Seen on TV had fun basing a TV network on an audience member’s wallet, especially after taking off the rubber band (?!) to find multiple Dave & Buster’s Power Cards, a Spencer’s Gift card, and paperwork for Hepatitis B vaccinations. Ed Helms and Seth Morris brought Seth & Ed’s Puppet Talk Show a night later than scheduled because Helms couldn’t get out of Los Angeles sooner, but how high must guest Doug Benson have been to try a call-and-response audience shout based on Bernie Mac?! Jason Woliner, the "silent" fourth member and director of Human Giant, also guested and revealed his childhood role on Weekend at Bernies, and also talked about being a plant at birthday parties for his dad, who was a working magician. Woliner also acknowledged he was way too hard on a kid actor during his first day of shooting for the Human Giant pilot. Last Day of School, a Los Angeles troupe that includes Campbell and Rust, brought things back to "normal" improv, sort of, but then it was time for Matt Besser as Pope Benedict to host America’s Best Comic, The Finals! With a guy playing Frank Caliendo and heckling the other contestants. Jon Daly brought out his tree comic character. Goofy fun. Took a break during Hey, Uncle Gary! to get my mind prepared for the rest of this late-night run, starting with James Adomian’s sublime turn as Gary Busey (mentioned and pictured above) for The Smartest Panel of Experts in the Universe Ever. Simply dominated this show with funny at every turn, though Jackie Clarke as Cindy McCain and Seth Morris as a white Barry White did manage to sneak in a few good lines, too. The Scramble and Porn Prov suffered not just from energy levels in the room, but also from the major expectations for Match Game 76. How many people could you get on the stage and in the UCB, anyhow? We’d find out.
The excitement continued to build as they set up all of the chairs, as Paul Scheer entered as Gene Rayburn, even more as Jack McBrayer emerged as the contestant to be booed and bullied relentlessly, and then the cavalcade of stars, including Orson Welles, Flipper, O.J. Simpson, Willie Nelson, Batman, the Joker, Kate Jackson, the Dunkin Donuts "time to make the doughnuts" guy, the Golden Girls with the ashes of Estelle Getty, Dean Martin, the Son of Sam, Lenny and Squiggy from Laverne & Shirley, Chuck Cunningham from Happy Days, Dr. Zaius from Planet of the Apes, Tokey the Bear, and oh, did I mention Brooke Shields? As in, the real-life Brooke Shields. Scheer had blogged earlier in the week that a surprise celebrity guest would participate, and Shields certainly filled the bill as her stage entrance took an already ramped-up crowd and exploded into a roaring approval and applause break. For you kids too young to recall, Match Game was an amazing TV game show from the 1970s, and you had to match your fill in the blank answers with those of six celebrities. Here, everything is crazier. To wit, the first question, paraphrasing here: "When King Kong went out for the seventh inning, he stretched out the (blank)." Cue the theme music! Believe it or not, when they got around to Brooke Shields for her answer, her paper turned to reveal: "Michael Jackson’s face." How far we have come, ladies and germs. How far we have come. Didn’t she "date" him back in the Thriller days? Comedy, people! Horatio Sanz, as the Joker, poked fun at the late Heath Ledger with his answers, then lobbed a stinky smoke bomb onstage, which helped clear the room more than a bit, and good thing Del Close’s Masters of Improv wasn’t a real thing (well, it was a show, but not featuring actual legends and/or confidantes of Close). A lot of the overpacked audience called it a night at this point, though I stuck around to watch Nick Kroll’s FabriceFabriceathon, which featured John Mulaney in a kimono as George Takei, and other guest appearances by TJ Miller, Curtis Gemberling and Brett Gelman. Drunken Sonic Assault wasn’t too hard on the ears, and gave everyone a chance to sing the theme to Fame several times.
By the time I was ready for more on Sunday, a long line awaited outside the UCB, with only time to catch Baby Wants Candy work its improvised musical magic, with some inspired wicked improv around the Kit Kat Kaboodle and an assist from Eliza Skinner, followed by the TV "cooking" show of Walsh and Roberts, which gives everyone in the audience a chance to settle down and ease into the final minutes of the Marathon. I didn’t dare taste-test either the peanut butter and bacon pancake sandwiches or the peanut butter and banana pancake sandwiches. Maybe next year.