Monday, July 2, 2012

Del Close Marathon 14 Weekend: Friday - "Spread the Love of Improv"

The 14th Annual Del Close Marathon happened this weekend in hot, sticky NYC at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. What would a 72 hour, non-stop cavalcade of improv groups from around the country and beyond, locked underground in a dark, leaky theater be without the temperature rising to 90 degrees and humidity clinging to your lungs? It might be uncomfortable waiting in the sun for hours just to watch Del Close's technique of The Harold unfold in that dank space, but it's worth the wait when you get into the theater and funny magic occurs.

As much as I admire the UCB, lack of time and the worry of heat stroke meant that I could only attend some shows - mostly the performances that were off site at the School of Visual Arts Theater a few blocks away. Here's an overview of some of the hilarity I encountered during the weekend starting with...

 Friday, June 29th: Press Conference: "Andy Dick is a Force of Nature"

The marathon kicked off at the Friday press conference with co-founders Matt Besser,  Matt Walsh and Ian Roberts greeting bloggers and journalists with an interactive audience discussion regarding how many people have been hit on by Andy Dick. Now, I've been in a few ASSSSCAT audiences where the guys kick off this survey - both in New York and L.A. - and in one given group of people, no matter on what side of America I've been, there are always at least 10 random attendees who've been sexually harassed by Mr. Dick.  Second in line in the pantheon of shag predator is funnily enough - Jeff Goldblum, a virtual dark horse in this race - who has come up from behind, as another celebrity whose strange encounters with regular humans are so prevelent, that in one given space, at least three people have a "Jeff Goldblum Hit on Me" story.

The DCM already started off on a different foot when the event itself was held earlier in the year than usual. Always a late July - August perennial, there was speculation among the bloggers and media present that June was an amiable time for the L.A. UCBers who are unable to attend due to late summer production schedules. Not so, as per Besser, Roberts and Walsh. It turns out that various venues, such as FIT, where other improv shows are held, were simply not available later this summer, hence the early dates. Even co-founder Amy Poehler, who hasn't attended the DCM press conference since I've been going, was unable to attend most of the weekend despite the early dates, since she is currently filming a movie. She did, however, participate in the ASSSSCAT show at FIT on Sunday, and also joined the other founders to record commentary for the upcoming season three DVD of their cult TV show Upright Citizens Brigade due to be released this Fall.

The conference continued and ladies in comedy was discussed. The usual questions were asked, spurned by the many controversial commentaries of late, on how men out number women in comedy.  Besser mentioned that women are always welcome in comedy, it's just that more men then women pursue it. (However, cries of "Sausage Fest!" hit the Instagram and Twitter feeds during Ben Schwartz's all boys show Snowpants.)
Also mentioned were how podcasts are killing it on the internet now, with members and friends of the UCB creating off the cuff, Improv shows that are going from streaming to television such as Comedy Bang Bang. Yet, as Besser, Walsh and Roberts mentioned, the beauty of the podcast is its outreach. Comedy fans who don't live in L.A. or New York are able to share the experience.

The nitty gritty of Improv was dissected as they discussed what "Working on the top of your intelligence means", what truly is "the game" and how a new wave of ironic detachment has swept the internet where impassive viewing of people doing dumb things for laughs is seeping into the comedy culture. Del would shed tears in his grave if he knew.

When Del was on his last few days on earth, Poehler, Besser, Walsh and Roberts were in the midst of filming Upright Citizens Brigade for Comedy Central. As he lay dieing in hospital room, Close decided to invite all his friends and students in one big goodbye party. They UCB Four asked their film crew to come along and document the event. It was here where he told them to "spread the love of improvisation".

Del Close is the Hare Krishna of comedy. He's the Guru of modern day, unhacky, intelligent and even super dumb laughs. For every SNL sketch, every funny movie, every single camera sitcom that has succeeded and made you snort- from John Belushi to Mike Meyers, from Gilda Radner to Tina Fey, from Will Farrell to Andy Sandberg - Del Close's technique of "Yes And...", "Follow the Fear" and every technique that unleashes organic, unforced comedy seen in humor today is linked to him. That is why his life is celebrated. If you love today's comedy, you have Del Close to thank.

Post Press Conference: And the Fun Begins: 

The weekend officially opened with Bangarang, one of the greatest super groups of Improv at UCB Los Angeles.  Now, there are no stars in Improv. It's an equal opportunity comedy show. Everyone helps to create a scene, heighten it, and then support each other so nothing falls through the cracks. But two words...BETSY SODARO!  This lady is a hilarious, odd, lovely funny lady who is a show stopper.

Doppleganger. Now, here's something you don't see very often in comedy. Three African American woman in an Improv group. This is pure bliss. These ladies are refreshing, hilarious, talented, brilliant women who are just as tight, foul mouthed and amazing as any dude out there. They should be given their own comedy show on Adult Swim or IFC. NOW!

I missed the hilarious team Stepfathers. Everyone was buzzing
on how their set was mind blowing. Their Improv was based on the suggestion "Rewind". They proceeded to create scenes that in turn went backwards to the beginning.  Ugh! That sounds amazing! Drats! However, I did see 30 Rock stars Scott Adsit and John Lutz perform their Improv act at SVA which was a mix of hilarity and heart. (Leave it to Adsit to provide those lovely emotional pauses, and Lutz to provide a zinger.)

The Chris Gethard Show is a public Manhattan access cable show originally performed at the UCB.  Gethard's weird gathering of odd people boarding on circus freaks is always interesting. I've enjoyed the program as it streams on the web Wednesday nights, but Friday night's show felt like a mixture of surreal wonder and a line up of camp activities at a Chuck e Cheese for Improv hipsters.  I've seen playgrounds more mellow than this show. But, there were balloons for all, and I didn't get hit by one of the exercise balls contestants threw at Gethard's crotch while he stood atop two garbage bins. WIN!

And as the glow-in-the-dark neck hoops, thrown from Gethard's nutty parade of weirdos,  faded out,  so did my Friday night.

Phew!  I need a breather. Next up, my Saturday!

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