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Episode UCB1 — BONUS EPISODE – Ask the UCB? – The UCB Philosophy

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Matt Besser is joined by another member of the UCB 4, Ian Roberts for the first ever Ask the UCB! They discuss how and why they started the UCB theatre in New York, the UCB philosophy, and the economics of the theatre.

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If you're not generating significant net revenue and you're putting everything into reinvestment, you could try appling for non-profit status. Then, when performers complain about not being paid, you can tell them to write their shows off as tax-deductible donations.

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Hey guys,

I really, really enjoyed the show. As a wannabe performer who never took the chance, I find it fascinating to hear about the inner workings and history of great comedy.

Plus, I always knew the the UCB organization was not about money, but this episode drove home how much sweat and stomach lining you guys put into making a great place to grow and showcase comedy. I really appreciate all that you've done to become the impossible: an institution that doesn't suck. Thanks guys.

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Matt mentioned in the episode that he'd like to hear a performer's view on the UCB not paying. I think that'd make a great follow-up podcast.

 

This one was fascinating!

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I owe everything to the Upright Citizens Brigade.

 

I do too, and I don't have all that much (other than a hobby that makes me sublimely happy, a job that brings me tears or joy, and a network of friends who I love more than anything else).

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This episode was amazing, and I think it was the perfect rebuttal to anyone who has gripes with the UCB model.

 

I can't really speak on it too much given I've only recently taken a couple classes in LA and only seen a handful of shows, but I really believe the idea that the way the UCB theaters are run not only gives performers a chance to experiment and find their voice, but it also fosters a friendlier and more fun environment. The UCB is such a huge breath of fresh air in that it lacks a lot of the competitiveness and the desperation that so many other comedy places seem to have. I think that friendliness and openness translates so much to the stage, especially in improv performances. And it's what makes anyone that spends enough time at the UCB so damn funny: they are taught in a place that values cooperation and collaboration in every single thing it does.

 

So anyway, please excuse this long post. Great job Matt, Ian, and everyone else that helped make the theater what it is today, your conviction to making great comedy is really inspiring.

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Early on we considered being an official non profit but even though our school is a separate business, we do use the theater for Harold nights and grad shows. Although that is only a small part of what is on the stage, it is still tied to our school. Therefore being a legal non profit is too complicated. It also might mean that we can actively find gigs for our actors like we do.

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I feel like I discovered improv through I4H, so hearing a podcast like this where the inner workings and history of one of the most important names in improv are discussed was incredibly eye-opening.

 

Fogelnest says here he owes everything to UCB. While I certainly couldn't say I owe everything to improv4humans, I owe a lot to it. Last year was one of the hardest years of my life, but having this show to look forward to every week made everything a little bit easier. It's not a stretch to say that this show has pulled me through some really tough times. And it's also opened my eyes to this whole comedy world I never even knew existed (I live in Ohio...comedy shows of any kind are kind of rare here).

 

So basically, thanks, Matt. And keep these Ask the USB bonus eps coming!

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I don't have anything particularly interesting or constructive to add other than to pile on and say that this was really fascinating.

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This episode did a good job of telling us the challenges that faced the theater (and group) early on and at the moment. Believe me, these are the details and conversations I love to listen to, especially when its a conversation between creative minds I admire.

 

While I found most of this episode's content informative, I think it would be great to hear more about the moments and experiences the group had as individuals that led them all to enter into improv, to meet each other, to form their group, and to decide to take their improv characters into the real world. In the past, interviews with the early members (aside from the Adam McKay episode of WTF) have disappointed me because I have yet to hear what a lot of listeners might be waiting for--the moments when the UCB founders knew that improv would be their creative outlet of choice above all others.

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Great podcast. I think that I4H is the perfect venue in podcastland for us to become more connected to UCB and its inner workings.

 

Some questions I have as a listener, maybe helpful for a future episode:

 

1. Del Close. Who is this dude? What's his background? What's his deal? Tell us some stories!

 

2. Talk shop with some folks that are known from improv/sketch but outside the UCB world. The state, Michael McKean/Eugene Levy + co, Whose line.. You guys are all intelligent + self-aware enough to prevent this from veering into 'it might get loud' territory.

 

3. What K_M asked.

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This was so fascinating. I'd love to hear many, many more of these.

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This episode was great, I loved hearing all the behind-the-scenes stuff about the UCBs philosophy. Plus, Ian Roberts getting legitimately angry during a fictional conversation with that anonymous stand-up was hilarious! Can't wait to hear the next one..

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I didn't find the discussion about money as "tacky" in the slightest, but quite fascinating. I've always been interested in how things work "behind the scenes" and could listen to you guys talk about it for hours on end. I was very surprised how quick that borderline hour-long discussion was up, because I was so immersed. I also have a bizarre fascination with funny people NOT "sticking to the funny" and talking about real shit that is important to them. Thank you for letting us get a glimpse behind the curtain, and I shall be looking forward to the next "Ask the UCB"

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That podcast flew by. I'd also like to reiterate the question of either putting on an improv figure from outside the UCB, or just to discuss the relationship between the different camps/groups.

 

I was in the SoCal area over the Christmas break and I was able to talk a few friends into driving to the UCB theatre, and it was such a great experience. I'm tempted to find a co-op job in the area just so I can spend a summer going to UCB shows all of the time.

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I just started getting into the UCB. I'm in Improv 101 in NYC, and our graduation show is coming up - I'm really nervous, but it's always empowering to think of all the people that came through the UCB, and to know that the theaters' objective is to foster new talent. I'll probably switch over to writing/sketch, as I think that suits me a bit more, but after listening to/watching/respecting so many improv-vets, I just had to try it.

 

Mr. jw_seattle (and anyone else this applies to), I doubt it's ever too late to take a class. As someone who deals with bad anxiety every day, I can assure you the school's teaching style make it as easy as possible.

 

Great listen!

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After listening to this I have an even greater respect for the UCB and the people running it than I did before. I've always loved anything with the name upright citizens brigade since the day I saw the premier episode "bucket of truth" on comedy central. Not only have these guys created the single greatest institution for comedy in the US (maybe the world?) but they are also responsible for what is in my humble opinion the funniest and most clever comedy show ever aired on television. I have loved the UCB from afar for a long time, and my love only grows and grows. I hope to some day live close enough to one of the theaters to lay down my 5 or 10 dollars every week for an institution that is the shining light in the shadow of a greedy entertainment industry.

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I know you guys weren't comfortable talking about the money stuff, but I really appreciate it. I've always been a huge admirer of what you four have done. Even if you weren't amazing comedians, I'd still admire that part of it. I always tell my kids that you have to make your own fun, and you certainly did. It's good to know some of the business-ish stuff that went into that. I would never have the guts to do any of it, but I hope this inspires somebody who isn't me.

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Matt Besser (who is a talented man) asked to get opinions from performers.

 

I have not performed at UCB. I do know the original four founders. Also I have done improv comedy at places very similar to philosophy as the Upright Citizens Brigade.

 

R. Kevin Doyle from Hawaii posted one of the articles going at UCB hard in The Improvisational Theatre Worldwide Group on Facebook. In return, Thomas Dotstry posted this link,

 

Matt asked what a performer thought that has performed in UCB. I would like to respond. Honestly and openly not as a stand up..but as *an improviser* and the idea of "Pay to Play": This is cut and pasted from this Group:

 

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I wrote a long opinion on this topic that I decided not to post on the original Salon Article. I'm just going to post it here, R:

 

Improvisers are more inclined to Pay to Play than stand-ups historically. Ergo...Stand-ups just found out what improvisers (and this also includes in Los Angeles "Membership Theatre Ensemble Actors") have been doing to be seen for their art.

 

If you wish to get paid for your performances, my best advise is to NOT do your show at an improv establishment. Especially places like UCB and iO and even Second City in Los Angeles. For you not performing there? There are ten ensembles who would like the free space.

 

At UCB especially they are one of the theatres where you don't even have to be a *student* to come in and if they dig you...they will let you use that space. For free.

 

You are getting a full house that has been marketed for free and a free stage with a built in light guy and in most cases a piano player. They are charging less than a movie ticket to fill the house. If people cannot figure out the basic math of how much that costs and why they are not getting paid in places like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles? My advise is (before they even ask for that free space) is easy: Look at how much it cost to rent a building in that area, how much it cost to keep it open with lights and power, then think about complaining when you just had a jammed packed house of people see your 30 minute show (stand-ups)...when you are getting your free drink only doing ten minutes at an open mic somewhere.

 

For stand-ups who don't get the idea of improvisers not getting paid? Apparently they have forgotten about some of the big standup clubs in Los Angeles. Where in a lot of cases these "Rooms" *will not let you go up unless you bring a house*

 

They will ask you to buy a bulk of tickets to assure that they are going to pay for the space. So...if you don't bring anybody? At least they know the stand-up paid for tickets...and if you don't do that and don't bring anywhere from six to ten people? You go home not doing a show at all.

 

I'm trying to figure out how that is better than getting a free space with a light person and a full house you don't have to worry about trying to pack.

 

As an artist I believe in getting paid something. Whether it is monetary or whether it is building my resume to something else. Those choices are my decision and where I decide to do that is my own.

 

I don't dig pay to play when it comes to the student who is still paying their level classes and performing every Tuesday night and then heading to the bar and buying drinks. Never have been. But that is the decision of the artist to do as such. You cannot force an establishment to change policy.

 

But as an artist and I'm not part of your student body (and I have had the honor of getting a ton of free space from theaters around the country to play) That for me is a boon to put up a 30 minute to an hour show. *There is no out of pocket cost coming to me doing as such* and I'm at the point in my life where I don't need the gas money or the free drink. I have a pretty decent credit card now. I damaged my liver enough at improv festivals, thank you very much.

 

I get paid other places. Why...because I also find (and audition) for the places that do that.

 

Finally. Holy shit. If you don't know about the theater you are performing in before you get there? That is your bad. That is so Kurt Metzger's bad. If UCB promised him money and a drink and stiffed him on it? I would get it. They never did. Know where you are performing.

 

 

Overall: Comedy is awesome and wonderful and I love all the patrons in it in their own specially needed ways.

 

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That is what I wrote. This is coming from an improvisational performer. Bottom Line. If you don't like the space and how it is run? Don't perform at the space. For every five stand-ups that no longer wish to perform at UCB? There are five improv ensembles and six Sketch Comedy Ensembles who don't mind at all in New York or Los Angeles. (and quite a few stand-ups in Los Angeles with their mouth gaping open thinking: Holy shit. They are not making me pay fifty bucks for ten tickets to do a show? *With a PBR drinking crowd???* Where do I sign up?).

 

Create that space for people and do what you wish to do for yourself and others: The same way four amazing improvisers (and pretty amazing people) did once upon a time..

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Now I get why you do this shit! Very informative- thanks and hope to hear more...

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