The traditionally cheeky publication The Onion called the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) “witty, irreverent, and conceptually ambitious.” For once, readers should know that The Onion was serious.
UCB is a renowned New York City- and Los Angeles-based sketch comedy and improvisational theater group. It is known for its frequent, affordable and high quality comedic performances and its comedy classes.
This Saturday, Dec. 7 at 7:30 p.m. in Taylor Hall 203, the Upright Citizens Brigade Touring Company (UCB TourCo) will perform a show. The comedy troupe will perform following a short opening set by another comedy troupe, Vassar’s very own The Limit.
The show will be a little over an hour long, with the The Limit’s set lasting fifteen minutes before the UCB TourCo begins performing their style of long-form improv. In their opening sketch, The Limit plans to use material that they have featured in previous shows.
“The Limit is a sketch comedy troupe that really stretches the definition of what is traditionally considered humor,” wrote member Roman Mohr ’14 in an emailed statement. “As a new member this year and a Limit fangirl for three years prior, I can say that I love how absurd and innovative the Limit can be with their humor, it’s great.”
UCB was founded in the late 1990s by Amy Poehler—widely known for playing Leslie Knope on NBC’s Parks and Recreation and for her work with Saturday Night Live from 2001 to 2008—Matt Besser, Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh. The group is also chock-full of notable alumnae/i, including 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer, The Office’s Ellie Kemper, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart’s Rob Riggle, and Saturday Night Live’s Bobby Moynihan.
Upon moving to New York City, the troupe quickly rose to prominence when they were worked as regular sketch comedians on Late Night with Conan O’Brien. In the late 1990s, the UCB also worked for three seasons with Comedy Central on a weekly, half-hour sketch comedy television show. The troupe also established a theater.
James Dwyer, one of the UCB comedians coming to perform this weekend, reflected positively upon the experience of being a part of the troupe. Dwyer explained, “It’s amazing…it’s fun and has been a very positive experience being at a place like UCB where I can work in a collaborative atmosphere.”
Dwyer described his comedy as grounded in reality. He said, “I love to have grounded characters with big emotional reactions. I think that there’s a lot of comedy to be had in real reactions, not dark material. Comedy doesn’t always have to be based on some crazy, out there idea.”
President of The Limit Lucia Rieur ’14 helped organize the event. She wrote in an emailed statement, “The Limit has worked with UCB in the past, bringing TourCo and a stand-up comedian, and were really interested in setting up something again this year.”
Rieur went on to explain, “I took classes at UCB this past summer and expressed interest to my teacher who then passed along my contact info to the TourCo coordinator. The coordinator reached out with me in the beginning of the semester and we’ve been working on it ever since.”
Despite its national fame, members still hope to garner a large audience. Dwyer noted, “We’re just excited to do the show at Vassar and hope lots of people come.”
“Long-form improv is more scene-based than short-form improv (like Whose Line is it Anyway?). One of the great things about the structure (or almost lack thereof) is that anything can happen within the scenes and the only way to really know is by seeing the show,” Rieur also noted.
Dwyer elaborated on the spontaneity of the form. He explained, “When it comes to improv, deciding what we will perform is a little bit of a game time decision.”
Dwyer went on to explain, “Sometimes we’ll do an interview with an audience member and other stuff based on that…That’s what I love about improv; we just do whatever we feel like as we’re inspired during the show and go from there.”
Rieur emphasized that, despite the impulsiveness of improv, UCB’s work is relevant for a sharp humor of Vassar audiences. She said, “UCB will appeal to a Vassar audience because they are not only funny, but incredibly bright and quick.”
“They pride themselves on playing at the top of their intelligence and not resorting to an easy laugh. This dedication leads to incredibly rich shows, with unexpected twists and constant laughter. Students at Vassar appreciate hard work done well, and that is exactly what UCB delivers,” Rieur added.
The show may prove especially pertinent for Vassar students who are aspiring comedians. Dwyer reflected on the struggles of being a comedian in New York. He said, “More than anything, if you want to do comedy in New York, you just have to hustle and be critical of yourself without being self defeating.”
Dwyer continued, “And find other people who are interested in what you’re doing. Improv is very community based and everyone is very supportive of each other. As long as you’re trying to constantly build on what you have, I think anyone who works hard enough can succeed in this arena.”
Mohr expressed his excitement about the upcoming performance. “UCB was founded by Amy Poehler, one of the comedic greats. Over the years they’ve had a lot of other funny people come from there as well,” Mohr wrote. “It will be exciting to see some of the up and coming people in comedy, and it’s unique for Vassar to get such high caliber performers. It should be hilarious.”