SXSWORLD March Film + Interactive


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New Comic Generation Trains on Famed Troupe's Stages by Scott Schinder On Tuesday night at Esther's Follies, it will present an all-improv show featuring talent from its New York and L.A. companies, followed by a stand-up showcase that will feature Pete Holmes, Gabe Leidman and other UCB regulars. On Wednesday afternoon, the Next Stage will host a live edition of the cult-favorite TV/podcast talkfest "Th e Chris Gethard Show," hosted by actor/writer/comic Gethard, a 12-year UCB New York vet who began taking classes with the group as a teenager. "UCB has been a major force in my life," Gethard a seminal performing unit to an expansive bi-coastal institution encompassing three theaters and a national touring company. In addition, it has developed an extensive educational program that has become a crucial training ground for new comic talent, with many alumni graduating to mainstream TV and fi lm. Th e Upright Citizens Brigade began life as an improvisational sketch comedy troupe in Chicago in the early 1990s. Th e group relocated to New York a few years later, and graduated to television with a cult- classic Comedy Central series that ran from 1998 to 2000. Although the team's members—Matt Besser, Amy Poehler, Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh—now pursue individual projects, the theaters that they maintain in New York and Los Angeles have continued to fl ourish as hubs for the alt-comedy community. While its stages showcase new and established stand-up, improv and sketch performers, the UCB Training Center has won widespread renown for its innovative (and accredited) classes in improv, sketch writing and other comedic skills. Th is year, UCB Comedy is making its SXSW debut. T he Upright Citizens Brigade, in its various incarnations, occupies a unique position in the comedy world. In the two decades since its formation, the UCB has mutated from pioneered by Chicago improv legend and early UCB mentor Del Close. "Th e classes give you practical, applicable ways to approach cent of the people that perform on our stages came up through our improv or sketch classes. It's grown a lot over the years, but it's still a very organic, collaborative atmosphere, and the core philosophy hasn't changed." "It's about teaching you to channel your own unique voice, rather than telling you what that voice should be," Neil Campbell, UCB L.A.'s artistic director, says. "We have people with all kinds of diff erent styles and approaches. Th e common thread is that it's people that all have a strong comedic view that they're passionate about." Th e UCB's training methods have their origins in the system Chris Gethard states. "As a kid, I always had kind of a manic creative voice, and I never quite knew where to place it. But when I got to UCB, I felt like I'd found a home. It was like, 'OK, I'm not the weird one.' I feel like my training there has been the defi ning aspect of my comic voice. Without it, I think I'd be a much diff erent comedian and a much diff erent person." According to Carter Edwards, director and coordinating producer of the UCB's national touring company, original principals Besser, Poehler, Roberts and Walsh are still actively involved. "Th e mission of the theater is still a refl ection of the people who started it," he says, adding, "Th ey still teach classes in Los Angeles, and they come to meetings and sit in on classes when they're in New York. What we do here is defi nitely a refl ection of their dream, and they still see the teaching of improv as the base of what UCB's about. "We have 400 to 600 people who are taking classes at any given time, about 30 or 40 people teaching classes, and between 150 and 250 performers who are actively performing on our stages in New York or Los Angeles," Edwards explains. "I'd say that 90 or 95 per 52 SXSW ORLD / M ARCH F ILM- I A 2012 improv and comedy in general," says Gethard. "It defi nitely feels like a eureka moment when you're learning these things amongst a community of people who are learning to speak the same language and challenging each other creatively. UCB lets you try stuff , and they let you fail—and there's very few places where you can do that." Gethard, who has developed a reputation for staging unexpected events on the UCB stage (most famously his successful year-long quest to get Sean "P. Diddy" Combs to appear on his TV show) promises some surprises for the UCB's SXSW shows. "It's going to be highly interactive," he says. "Th ere's gonna be no fourth wall, and our fate will be in the audience's hands. Th ere will be emotionally grim moments, and physical punishments involving real violence and degradation. On top of that, it will be really funny." ■ Upright Citizen's Brigade will present shows at Esther's Follies (525 E. 6th St) on Tuesday, March 13 beginning at 8:30pm, and on the Next Stage in the SXSW Trade Show on Wednesday, March 14 at 4pm. See for more details. ZAC WOLF PHOTOGRAPHY

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