College Humor Goes Pro: Upright Citizens Brigade Brings Laughs Downtown

It may be argued that the art of improvisation cannot be taught, but the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) disagrees, and its argument is convincing. Since its founding in 1996 with original members Matt Besser, Amy Poehler, Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh, the UCB has been both performing improv and training aspiring comics. The UCB, which had an eponymous television show on Comedy Central and now has theaters in both New York City and Hollywood, has sent many of its stu­dents to write and star in television series such as Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock. On February 12, four members of the UCB visited Colgate to perform at the Palace Theater with Charred Goosebeak as their opening act.

Charred Goosebeak warmed up the crowd by requesting a word – they received the response of “soap” – and then two of their members built a sketch around that word. Whenever another comic wished to enter the scene, they simply froze the performers and tagged someone out so that they could replace them. Some­how the image of soap sent Charred Goosebeak consistently back to the topic of either massive appendages that required severing, or the Food Network. After several appearances of Paula Dean and Rachel Ray, the Colgate improvisation concluded and the comedy group welcomed to the stage the Upright Citizens Brigade.

The UCB divided their program into two parts. In the first act, they interviewed an audience member and examined the contents of his wallet to subsequently use as inspiration for their skits. Colgate junior David Ko volunteered to be the sub­ject of this improvisation, and the UCB learned about his fam­ily, the blank checks he carries with him at all times, his Psy­chology major and his dance moves, which they described as resembling “an ice-skating robot.” The common themes of the following sketches involved a victim of a robbery who writes his assailants a check, a psychologist who vents to his patients more than he listens to them and a comic book that excites its readers so much it leads them to violence. One of the most inspired moments of this portion of the show was when a UCB member, imi­tating Ko’s dance moves while repeating, “Oh, sir” and moving all around the stage, was forced by his friends to attempt to jump over an ever-increasing amount of chairs, which eventually covered a pit of fire.

For their second half, the UCB followed the example of Charred Goosebeak, using an audi­ence-suggested word for the basis of their improv; this time, the crowd offered the word “iPod.” From the initial party scenes, the Upright Citizens Brigade gradually delved into skits that centered on birth defects, a fatally wounded disc jockey and a girl plagued by the rare affliction of having excrement on her face. The UCB played well to the audience, even recalling the David Ko dancing in one skit.

The UCB members demonstrated how comedy can emerge out of a simple word or or­dinary item; as long as you use improvisation, you can create humor out of almost anything. However, they also reminded us that improvisation has no predictable path and can often result in unexpected circumstances – and if you’re not care­ful, you may end up falling into a pit of fire or with a rather unpleasant substance on your face.