In interviews over the years, members of the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre often have referred to their organization as “the Fugazi of comedy.”
It was no accident, then, that Fugazi frontman Ian MacKaye was chosen to deliver the monologues for a planned special reunion of the UCB’s founding four to celebrate the launch of their latest outpost in NYC’s East Village, the UCBeast.
It was an accident, however, that prevented the UCB four from getting back together last Saturday night, as Matt Besser and Ian Roberts were on a flight from Los Angeles that couldn’t land in New York City because of the odd October snowstorm that struck the Northeast. Amy Poehler told reporters that she was bummed for Besser, knowing how much he’d wanted to be there and how much the UCB’s “Fugazi of comedy” philosophy comes from him. Poehler said Besser even sent Fugazi the UCB’s earliest works. So I asked Besser about it. He’d hinted to me earlier in the month that the UCBeast monologist was someone he’d always wanted to meet.
Besser told The Comic’s Comic this week:
“We made it to Syracuse and had to turn back. Ian MacKaye is a real hero of mine and it is a true disappointment that I didn’t get to meet him. His Dischord Records policy of saying don’t buy this record for more than $6 was what inspired our low ticket prices. And of course his music inspire my teenage years… I’m very bummed I missed the opening for several reasons but that was #1. And yes, I sent him our first DVD.”
Turns out there’s an even deeper connection between MacKaye and comedy, as John Belushi personally invited him to participate in the Halloween episode of SNL in 1981 with musical guest Fear.
MacKaye’s final monologue, “by special request,” recounted that moment. Back then, he was leading punk band Minor Threat and living in D.C. He said he received a personal invitation over the phone from John Belushi, who promised SNL’s Dick Ebersol he’d return for a surprise cameo if SNL also booked punk band Fear as the musical guest. Belushi invited MacKaye and his friends to dance in front of the audience and Fear “to show the world what punk really was all about.” The password for punk music guys to get into 30 Rockefeller, in fact, was “Ian MacKaye.” MacKaye invited the guys from Cro-Mag and other punk music guys already in NYC for a prescheduled club gig. He said he encouraged everyone to “cool it down” for the dress rehearsal, as they waited in one of the skybox offices overlooking the SNL set, otherwise they’d never make it onto the live show later that Saturday night. Even so, MacKaye said someone toppled over one of the cameras, and there was much to-do about it. Still, they did make it onto the live show. And it was such chaos that NBC cut off the feed. MacKaye recalled that the live studio audience hated the punk dancers and were yelling at them.
Roll the clip.
Here’s another recollection from John Joseph.
For more on John Belushi’s connection to the punk music scene, read this.