Comedian Matt Besser Might Get Injured During His One-Man Show At UCB
Matt Besser co-founded the Upright Citizen’s Brigade in New York in 1996, along with Amy Poehler, Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh. Six years later, he made the move to L.A., and since then, he's become a veritable celebrity in the comedy world. This Sunday—and for one night only—Besser is performing his one-man show, "Besser Breaks The Record," at UCBTLA. In it, he'll attempt to shatter reams of comedy records.
Here, Besser talks to us about what it actually means to break a comedy record, inadvertently makes us feel kind of stupid for failing to grasp his extremely deadpan sarcasm, and provides the hugely underground deets about what’s cool to do near Universal City.
LAist: Tell me about the premise of this Sunday's show.
Matt Besser: It’s gonna be kind of the creative solo stuff that I’ve been doing at the theater for the last few years. I’m gonna be breaking a lot of comedy records—or at least trying to. My comedy nemesis is an alternative comedian from the Soviet Union who has directed the most characters in five minutes—Ivan Krushnev—and his record will be there for me to break.
Will Ivan be there?
No. I would not be in the same space with that guy.
In the press release, it says you’re going to do 50 characters. Is that true?
It’s the most characters you can perform within five minutes. Your typical sketch person on SNL or Mad TV or whathaveyou makes ten characters at most, but that’s through their entire career. I, in the space of five minutes, will do at least 15-20 characters.
What other comedy records will you be attempting to beat?
Fastest joke, most complicated set-up, best callback, tallest joke…I’ve done tallest joke before…
What does “tallest joke” mean?
The furthest away the joke is being told from the stage. When I broke it last I think it was 21 feet. Most people are six feet from the stage at most. I was up on a ladder—I mean up in the air.
So you’re not talking about standing out in the audience and telling the joke?
No, what you’re describing is widest joke.
The whole show isn’t about breaking records, though. I’m also gonna be rewriting the ten commandments, which is huge for the world. The ten commandments are in need of being rewritten. They’re kind of old. I’ve rewritten them for a modern era. That’s really the most important thing in the show. It’s almost like Moses coming down from the mountain.
And I can’t even tell you how I’m gonna open the show.
Who is your favorite character that you’ll be doing?
There’s the art critic who gets too close to the art; he finds everything blurry and out of focus. I’ll also be doing a Nazi David Blaine. He’s gonna attempt to not hate Jews for 24 hours.
Do you make up characters as you go?
I would never insult my audience by trying to make characters up on the spot. There’s another factor: Every character has to work. If it does not go over well, it does not count towards the record. These are characters I’ve been training with all year. It’s like running at the Olympics—or, a lot of them are more like diving. They are more subjective. I can think something is funny, but it’s up to the audience whether it is or not.
How do you come up with the characters?
A lot of comedians will observe real people in their lives and stuff like that. Mine is all algorithms. It’s all computer and algorithms. Really complicated stuff, like “Good Will Hunting” stuff. It’s hard to explain to someone who is not a mathematician. I factor in everything: Funny, topicality—it all gets factored in to make perfect characters.
Do you really use mathematical algorithms? I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic.
It’s all based on laughs per minute. If I do one that doesn’t get at least 10 laughs per minute I will throw it away. I break it all down to how many laughs they get per minute.
But you know, you can’t break records every night. People only jump the Grand Canyon once in a while. I will probably be injured at the end of this. If you exhaust yourself trying to fit too many characters into a too short a time, it’s like watching a marathon. Or a decathlon.
What kind of injury do you think you might sustain?
Dehydration, exhaustion—sometimes you’ll see a boxer pass out right after the victory. I could see that kind of thing happening.
UCB started in New York. What’s the difference between audiences in New York and LA?
The UCB theater audiences, they are pretty similar. Sometimes when I perform outside UCB in LA I feel like I’m performing in front of a crowd of reality show judges. But I think LA can sometimes bring out a crowd of, “prove it to me,” which is why I’m glad I’m breaking records. I’m not just there to provide laughs, I’m there to break records.
But when you’re in LA, you get all sorts of stars and big celebs and comedians. You’ve got to really bring it.
Where else do you perform?
Everywhere. I do all the indie rooms. There’s the Living Room—some guys have it in their living room; the Holy Fuck one, Tiger Lily, Hot Tub at The Virgil…it’s actually pretty fascinating doing a lot of vastly different rooms in a short amount of time to see how different rooms are.
What part of town do you live in?
Across from Universal City.
What do you like to do around there?
I’m the king of City Walk. A lot of people think City Walk is uncool, but it’s the hippest place in L.A. It’s a really cheesy place just for tourists but now that’s become so ironic that it’s flipped around, and it’s where all the cool people are. You can get any gummy animal. There’s at least four or five candy stores.
Catch Besser this Sunday, July 7th, at 9:30 p.m. at UCBTLA. Tickets available here, or at the door if you want to wait in line outside the theater for like an hour on the night of the show and still possibly not get seats.