UCB Moved Its 55-Hour Improv Marathon To LA, Because All Its Performers Live Here Now
The Upright Citizens Brigade's Del Close Marathon (aka DCM) started 20 years ago in New York City, providing an annual opportunity to cram way too much improv comedy into 24-hours-a-day of nonstop shows. Now, the legendary festival's moving to Los Angeles, running this Friday through Sunday, presenting 55 hours of comedy made up on the spot.
"It's a raucous party," Walsh said. "But it's also a celebration of longform improvisation."
That's the form of comedy, made up in scenes based on suggestions from the audience, that the Upright Citizens Brigade has been teaching and performing for decades. They picked up the baton from the man considered the godfather of improv, Del Close.
HOW L.A. COMEDY DIFFERS FROM NEW YORK
The festival went out on top in NYC, playing Carnegie Hall during their 20th festival last year. While the theater recently made cutbacks as it faced financial struggles, UCB artistic director Beth Appel said that coming out to L.A. was a logical step, in part because that couldn't be topped.
"With the number of performers who are living in Los Angeles at this point, including the UCB [founders] themselves, it made sense to move it," Appel said.
Before, the L.A. talent all had to be flown out to New York, according to UCB co-founder Matt Walsh -- now they can just head down to their local venue.
"It's a much different vibe in New York," comedian/Saturday Night Live alum Bobby Moynihan said. "At the New York one, back in the day, it used to be like 'I can't wait to not take a shower for a week and feel like I'm a cool comedy guy.'"
Moynihan said that New York audiences tend to be younger, college-aged crowds.
"It seems like, in L.A., they're hipper, and a little older, and they don't want to laugh -- they look around the audience to see if everyone else is laughing first," Moynihan said.
L.A. audiences have a different sensibility, according to Appel.
"Audiences just tend to be much more sensitive in Los Angeles -- maybe more sympathetic," Appel said. "So you can mention something bad happen to a character, and they'll react as though that bad thing is happening. In New York, I think people are more willing to laugh at the bad thing happening to the person on stage."
Walsh has been in L.A. for a long time, but he said that he felt some of those differences when he first moved out here.
"We may have encountered early forms of political correctness that we weren't necessarily used to," Walsh said. "I don't think I see it anymore -- maybe I've learned."
Being in L.A. also means that UCB -- aka founders Walsh, Amy Poehler, Matt Besser, and Ian Roberts -- can participate in the festival a bit more, according to Appel.
A SMALLER BUT NOT GENTLER DCM
Appel said that this year's event will let UCB return the festival to a smaller scale, with the potential of building it back up in the future.
Part of the shift to L.A.: bringing in fewer teams from around the country, with a focus on UCB's own homegrown talent. They're also reducing the number of venues. Rather than taking over comedy theaters across the city, this year's DCM will be kept to the three stages at UCB's Franklin and Sunset locations.
"We are trying to figure out the logistics of running a festival in L.A.," Walsh said. "In New York, people walk a lot, or there's a subway. In L.A., we're encouraging people to take a Lyft."
This year's also shifted to more of an a la carte model, where rather than all-access wristbands, the festival has been selling tickets to certain blocks of shows. While it means less comedy in one go, it also means avoiding the giant lines that became a hallmark of DCM in New York.
THE MAGIC OF LIVE PERFORMANCE
UCB's turned out numerous performers who you'll see on all your favorite sitcoms (and way, way more commercials), but many of them still come back to do live shows at DCM despite their success.
"I'm never quite comfortable in front of a live audience, and I find it the most challenging," said Walsh, who has won two Emmy Awards for his role on Veep. "I'm consciously aware in a live show of, 'We have to find another new thing that's interesting.'"
He also loves the feeling of everyone in the room being on board for a comedic idea.
"You're all sharing a ride. The room becomes unified in a very wonderful and beautiful way, and you're all on that ride together," Walsh said.
LONG CRAZY NIGHTS
One of the trademarks of DCM is the overnight portions of the marathon, featuring the craziest shows of the whole event -- rather than relying on star power, they give you big crazy ideas in short bursts.
"It usually gets rowdy," Walsh said. "Chairs get thrown, and cups of beer are whipped at people's faces. It gets a little gnarly."
For those shows here in L.A., you get a pass and can come and go as you please, more like the DCM of old.
One of Moynihan's favorite overnight memories featured comedian Rob Riggle.
"It was Rob Riggle, during a marathon, just ripping all the seats off the chairs and putting them on the stage, and making people wrestle him," Moynihan said.
Walsh remembered the real danger in a show featuring comedian Anthony Atamanuik.
"He literally slipped and threw his back out, and nobody knew if he was doing a bit," Walsh said. "The show stage is covered with whip cream, and he's thrown his back out and has to finish the show on a very slippery stage. And everyone is wearing an adult diaper, because they're all babies who like pies."
Those overnight shows this year include watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend's Rachel Bloom getting coached in improv after not doing it in a long time, a show with five minutes of improv followed by forcing the crowd to give them a five-minute standing ovation, and more insanity.
THE FUTURE OF IMPROV
Many of the star improvisers at UCB started out as students themselves.
Appel explained that she came up as a student in New York herself. When she discovered UCB, she quit doing regular theater and moved to New York. She was on house comedy teams, taught classes, and moved to L.A. five and a half years ago to continue teaching and performing.
"I've spent my whole adult life and then some in and around UCB, and it's the place I really fully believe in the mission of, and it houses all of the best, most talented writers and performers," Appel said. "To be able to be part of developing those people's voices ... and seeing everyone go on to great things is really appealing."
Walsh was happy to see the improv artform diversifying beyond largely white men and the role DCM has had in spreading it.
"I'm proud that we can turn people on to improv and comedy, and that there's an outlet to pursue it that we've created -- hopefully a ladder, a stepping stone to get better at it," Walsh said.
WHAT YOU SHOULD SEE
One show UCB's artistic director recommended was Buffoons, with Moynihan, Eugene Cordero, and Charlie Sanders.
It's described as a sketch show made up on the spot, as well as a one-act play meets a memorial service meets performance art. Sooo... you figure it out.
"Their shows are insane, really unpredictable, often very meta," Appel said. "The last time they did a show, they brought an Ozark screener, and part of the show was just giving that to the tech and the audience watched part of an episode of Ozark."
Some of Appel's other DCM highlights are the teams/shows Naked Babies, Asian AF, Trash (featuring old school members of UCB team Death By Roo Roo), musical improv group Magic To Do, legendary improv team Dasariski, and Blindfolded -- featuring improv performed with everyone wearing blindfolds.
Below are a few more recommendations of shows that aren't sold out yet:
For the voyeur in all of us, you can check out a completely improvised second date. Moment of truth: do they make it to date number three?
Matt Walsh himself is among the comedians recording an improvised commentary with the fake cast and crew of an episode of that modern classic, Scooby-Doo.
This popular podcast features musical improv, with entire musicals made up based off an interview with their guest.
This group applies the Hamilton musical biography style to historical figures (and not-so-historical figures, i.e. Kim Kardashian) suggested by the audience. Go watch them try not to throw away their shot.
Then there's the overnight shows. Some of our favorites, which you can make your mind up on based on the titles:
- Carl Tart on a Hoverboard
- The L Ron Hubbard Invitational Monoscene
- Dave Attempts Improv with GoTribe Gym Members Only Interested in Talking about the GoTribe Gym
- We All Watch The Same YouTube Videos On Our Phone together
- Anything Can Be A Black Mirror Episode
- Do a 3 Line Scene, Get a Donut
And most importantly:
- We're Playing Britney Spears' Toxic for Ten Minutes
See everyone who's gone on, and who are still on their way, this weekend at UCB's Del Close Marathon. You can find the full schedule at DelCloseMarthon.com -- many of the shows still have tickets available.