Anatomy star Kate Walsh steps onto the stage and talks
about the worst break-up she ever had. Throughout the monologue,
itself a true story, a group of actors behind her start
their brains churning, making connections and preparing
to riff off of Walsh's anecdote.
When they step
forward, Amy Poehler plays a woman exchanging Christmas
gifts with her boyfriend. Her gift to him is elaborate,
a ten-part opus that at one point includes both a solid
gold briefcase and a befuddled Julio Iglesias. In exchange,
would be telling, blowing the off-the-cuff punch line to
a magnificently improvised scene from the Upright Citizens
Brigade. The name probably sounds familiar to you, as the
group had a show for three seasons on Comedy Central. What
you may not be aware of is that Poehler, Matt Besser, Matt
Walsh and Ian Roberts haven't just stayed together while
Poehler achieved stardom on Saturday Night Live.
They've remained active and become vital to the alternative
theater scene in both New York City and Los Angeles, with
eponymous theaters on both coasts.
and actors drop in and join the Brigade to keep their skills
sharp and give them something to do on weekends. We know
how dangerous it can be when comedians wander the streets.
They all meld together for a show that UCB calls "Asssscat!",
and thanks to Shout Factory, you can share an evening of
top-notch improvisation without leaving your home.
If you think
of improvisation as Whose Line Is It, Anyway?, well,
consider that elementary school and this as high school.
Based on a format originally called "The Armando Diaz Show"
in Chicago, this show takes a celebrity monologist who reminisces
based on an audience suggestion. Then a series of scenes
blossoms from his or her story. Some connections are obvious;
some are not. However, when the troupe is hot, they're all
to the UCB, a variety of guest performers join in, including
former SNL regular Horatio Sanz. If you saw Semi-Pro,
you might be surprised to see the perfectly tightly wound
Andrew Daly explore the dark side of his persona. And man,
Again, be warned.
This is in no way a family-friendly DVD. While the suggestions
might be only borderline offensive - it depends how you
feel about medical marijuana, for example - the actors do
not censor themselves. Yet they achieve comedic magic. I
laughed harder at this - by myself - than I did at the last
four or five comedies I've gone to see in a movie theater
with an audience recruited by Wild 94.9.
Cochran wisely doesn't get too tricky, merely letting the
actors go. At least three cameras roam the house (it's filmed
at their Los Angeles theater), capturing the action but
never intrusively. This is the only captured improv show
that is believably improvised.
It's clear that
in order to get this perfect moment, they filmed more than
one performance. The night featured here has a first act
monologued by Thomas Lennon, with the second act by Walsh.
In the extras, however, the disc includes snippets of scenes
sprouting from stories by Will Arnett, Ed Helms, Paul F.
Tompkins and stand-up Jen Kirkman. (Note to Kirkman: Power
Rangers are still cool to little kids.)
in the show included in its entirety, not everything goes
right. Actors occasionally give each other puzzled looks
as they try to figure out what the other intended. Occasionally,
a line just doesn't make any sense. That's okay, because
the next line absolutely kills. In all of it, you see actors
thinking, building, creating what Second City historian
Jeffrey Sweet once called "something
wonderful right away."
It might not
matter to you, but you can also see the pleasure they all
take in each other's performances. This marks the difference
between a good improv show and people cracking up in Saturday
Night Live sketches - here, the laughter comes from
an actor being outside the scene admiring another's work.
This doesn't just come from Besser, Poehler, Roberts and
Walsh, though you expect it because of their time together
as an ensemble. Poehler in particular clearly loves the
form, and loves watching others succeed at it. Yet that
never takes away from our enjoyment.
disc also includes an interview with the core group. They
riff, they joke and occasionally, they give the real answer
to the question. But it doesn't matter. It's clear that
they love to entertain and tell truth
- the title of their mentor Del Close's guide to improvisation.
These guys have
managed to be successful in their art, all to varying degrees.
But none of them have lost their love of that art. That's
rare - and rarer still they've made something so accessible.
It's for adults only, but that's okay. Let the kids watch
Upright Citizens Brigade: Asssscat!