Editor’s Note: This article contains mild profanity.
As I understand it, laughter is an involuntary reaction. We laugh when we hear or see something so outrageous it makes us blast air out of our diaphragms like a damn bellows. We might say laughter is an explosion of emotion, which—for reasons that I at least don’t fully understand—makes us feel good.
Those who make us laugh carry out a noble service. They rail against boredom and tedium with this magical weapon called humor, and even if only for an evening, they help us forget about all the bullshit that tends to plague our lives.
Friday night at The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center’s Kay Theater, the Upright Citizens Brigade Touring Company staged a 90-minute improv battle against boredom, tedium and bullshit in general. I bellowed quite a few times.
Before they took the stage to wrap up the first night of NextNOW Fest at The Clarice, I got a chance to speak with the company’s Matt Starr about UCB and the type of comedy the group performs. Some of the more remarkable tidbits will be reproduced below.
M: So that’s half true. As far as I know, Tina Fey got her start with The Second City in Chicago. Our company was founded by Amy Poehler, Matt Besser, Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh. We do improvisational comedy and have main theater locations in New York City and Los Angeles.
As a member of the touring company, I perform at college campuses, community theaters; basically anywhere with a good venue we can use. We get most excited about performing at college campuses and community theaters.
H: Why are you so excited to perform there?
M: I love performing at colleges because, for the most part, everybody is young and wants to have a good time. We get to discover what makes each school unique in the process.
H: Before you get there, do you do research as to what makes each crowd different?
M: Research is a little strong. But before we perform, we interview an audience member for the first segment of the show.
H: So at the beginning of your performance, you sort of grab somebody from the audience and interview them?
M: That sounds a bit violent. We don’t make fun of anybody or anything like that. We request for someone to come onstage so we can ask them honest questions and learn a bit about them. We just ask that our participant be willing to share their story and give us a feel for the crowd.
This last method is what gives the Upright Citizens Brigade an added layer of relevance and immediacy for their crowds.
At the beginning of their show, performers Andy Bustillos, Tanner Dahlin, Jessica Morgan and Starr introduced themselves to the crowd inside Kay Theater and requested that an audience member join them onstage for an interview.
A freshman materials engineering major named Eli acquiesced and told a story about finding a naked graduate student in McKeldin Library after having been given the intel by a German exchange student.
When asked by Starr about his friends, Eli described one, Miles, as “an intellectual badass” and briefly described his home life with two overachieving younger sisters.
The interview segment launched a series of uproarious improv skits by UCB.
In the first of these, Starr played the role of a student heading to the library to study, only to be stopped by Bustillos as a gossipy German exchange student requesting certain body parts of his be twisted in exchange for information. After Starr twisted Bustillos’ arm and then foot, he was asked to—
“Twist something else.”
“What do you want me to twist?”
“My nose … I’ll bet you thought I was about to say ‘my dick,’ didn’t you?”
And then we blasted breath out of our diaphragms.
Featured Photo Credit: Upright Citizens Brigade brings the crowd to roaring laughter with their improv skills. (Joe Duffy/Bloc Photographer)
Horus Alas is senior philosophy major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.