The Top of Your Intelligence: My First Two Years at Upright Citizens Brigade

November 6th, 2013 Posted by Gavok

This week was kind of a landmark for me. I got a notification that I’ve completed my Sketch Writing 301 class at UCB. This is big for me, as it means I’ve hit all the core curriculum classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. There’s far more for me to do and I intend to do it, but for now, I’m pretty glad to have reached this goal.

Outside of their Comedy Central show from years back, I knew of UCB via a friend inviting me to a couple shows back when I was in college. At the time, I was going through some major depression and seeing ASSSSCAT (the main UCB show) took a lot off my mind. The show itself featured Amy Poehler, Jack McBrayer and Rob Riggle and was seriously hilarious. Someone brought up that they had their own improv comedy school, but that wasn’t happening for me. I didn’t have my shit figured out at the time. I was jobless and no way was I going to be able to be making regular journeys into New York City, let alone paying however much the classes were.

Time passed and while my financial situations got better, I totally forgot about my desire to do an improv class. Then my brother enrolled me into Improv 101 as a Christmas present back in 2011. My class would begin in February of 2012.

My teacher was Tim Martin, known these days as the voice of the dog from the Optimum Hotspot commercials. That took me aback when I first realized it because that’s his regular speaking voice and I didn’t pick up on it for a while. Kind of like how it took me forever to realize that Colin Ferguson was Roddy from Freakazoid. Anyway, Tim was a really cool guy and the class was completely laid back. There were 16 of us with 12 of them being ladies. I turned out to be the most eligible bachelor as the other three were either married, dating or gay. Not that it did me any good.

It was a lot of basics, mainly focusing on the idea of “yes and.” That’s the term for taking what somebody says and agreeing with it while building on it with another piece of information, like a verbal game of ping-pong. Agreement is the key here and it was rather funny how one woman in the class, Cintrella, just didn’t give a damn and did whatever she wanted, even if Tim had to interrupt. Like someone told her that her ankle was broken and she immediately said, “No it’s not. It’s totally fine.” She did whatever the hell she wanted, but she did it with such gusto that we kind of let it slide at times.

We’d get eight classes for three hours each, followed by a graduation show. At 30-years-old, this was my very first time performing on stage and I was nervous as hell. In the footage of the show itself, it’s blatantly obvious because I’m completely overwhelmed with desperation for the first few minutes. The way the show would work is that we’d get a word from the audience and someone would walk forward and do a monologue about that word. Some kind of story that it reminded them of. Then we’d do a series of improv scenes based loosely on that, someone else would step forward and we’d get another monologue. Rinse, repeat.

During that first monologue, I’m in the background, looking like I’m trying way too hard to come up with a concept. My scene turned out to be a fun opener, where I played a babysitter who was enraged with the mother after I found a taped football game in her closet, without the expressed written consent of the National Football League. It turned out well, but it also showed off my biggest weakness as a performer, which I’ll get to later. The whole show came out pretty good for a first show by a bunch of people who learned the basics.

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Skits, Stand-Up and Closets

May 1st, 2013 Posted by Gavok

Recently, I finished up taking Improv 401 at the Upright Citizens Brigade Training Center. Before I try it again (I passed, but I need more polish before I can move on), I’m going to switch into Sketch Writing 201. Anyway, during my year-plus of improv study, I’ve met a lot of interesting people. My 401 class was definitely one of the more interesting collections of personalities I’ve crossed swords with. I thought I might as well showcase some of their stuff.

To start off, there’s the ever-so-loveable Jeremy Pinsly, a guy I worked with in both Improv 301 and 401. A man whose optimism is outright contagious, Jeremy currently hosts a biweekly show in New York City called Tuesday Night Comedy at Slightly Oliver. One of these days I swear I will go see it! In the meantime, here’s a snippet of Jeremy’s own stand-up.

Next up is the wonderful Amy Kersten, who writes/produces/stars in a web series called Hot Mess, which is about… actually, the fact that the site is currently under maintenance on the day I link to it is pretty much what the series is about. But really, it’s about humorously disastrous personal stories sent in by viewers being turned into skits. In the meantime, Amy has been releasing an inspired weekly series called Coat Tales. Months back, she worked as a coat-check girl at an unnamed bar. To keep from stabbing herself with rusty scissors, she coped with the job by sneaking off into the closet to film herself trying on various coats while telling stories of the kind of bullshit she’s had to go through. Here’s the latest episode.

Episodes 1 and 2 can be found here and here.

Then there’s the valedictorian of Improv 401, Ted White. When not carrying the rest of our sorry asses, he was hanging out with his own indy improv team Tokyo Boom Boom. And he still does! When not performing shows, they’ve been releasing some skits online, including this new one where Ted promotes a party bus… under unfortunate consequences.

Finally, there’s Greg Stees. I THOUGHT he was my friend, but then he had the audacity to go move to LA. The cad. Anyway, I might as well show off some of his funny (and I say that begrudgingly) material, such as this clip where he appears to be playing me in ten years.

Oh yeah, we also had Kaitlin Monte, a former Miss New York who hosts trivia shows for NBC and spends much of her time and effort promoting anti-bullying, but there’s nothing especially unique or notable about that, now is there?

All good folks, except Greg. Now when NYC does its annual 72-hour non-stop improv marathon in two months, these guys will have to let me crash on their couches. Except Greg.

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The UCB Improv 201 Graduation Show: Improv Harder!

June 26th, 2012 Posted by Gavok

With Sunday came my second improv show and my second time performing on stage. This was the graduation show for Improv 201 at the Upright Citizens Brigade Training Center. Another eight weeks of fun-as-hell learning went by and here’s what I have to show for it.

201 is a lot different from 101 in the sense that it’s a lot more challenging. 101 is about building you up, almost making you believe that you can do no wrong. 201 breaks you down with its rules and at times it becomes taxing on your confidence. It pays off in the end, but there are times when you get interrupted by the instructor mid-scene more times than you’d wish and it gets in your head.

The format of this show is different from the 101 show from two months back. 101 was suggestion, monologue, three scenes, monologue, three scenes, monologue, three scenes. 201 is suggestion, three monologues, three scenes (four in my team’s case due to having eight people, so everyone could get a scene in), second beats and third beats. Plus, unlike the random end-of-scene blackouts in 101, we’d “edit” ourselves, as the people on the back line would choose when to cut off a scene. This is a guessing game in itself that’s awkward at times in that you can edit too fast so that the performers don’t even get to the point or wait so long that the performers run out of gas and get a little desperate. Both of these happen during the show.

As for the whole “second beat” concept, the main focus of 201 is “game”. “Game” is the term for what’s funny about the scene. What’s the unusual thing being explored? Sometimes it needs to be said out loud to fully establish it and for both performers to agree on what they’re working towards, so they’re in full agreement. The “second beat” is when you return to that game later on and give it a different spin, whether you’re playing the same characters or not. For instance, during a practice run of the show, me and Matt were doing a skit where I made his favorite dish – spaghetti with meatballs – and it was a ruse, as I was trying to get him to enjoy my pot roast, which he hates. Later on, we did another scene where I acted like we were going to a baseball game, only to reveal it was an intervention as me and the others in the class aggressively got on his back about how he doesn’t enjoy the Sopranos. Then later on, he’s sitting in a chair, relaxing and we talk up how great this Jacuzzi is… until asking a priest to come into the room and give Matt a baptism against his will. First beat, second beat, third beat. Same theme.

So here’s the show. Up first is the Beetles with Two Es (Steve, Ray, me, Geoffrey, Sam, Megan, John and Dan) followed by Six Pack Abs (Kelsey, Jaimee, Norma, Nancy, Matt and Sean).

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31 Things That Make Me Happy: Part 1

May 29th, 2012 Posted by Gavok

Kind of a scattershot article this time around, so bear with me.

Things are overall pretty swell for me these days and I thought I’d take a couple days to sit back and talk about positivity. More specifically, as you can see in the big letters above, 31 things that make me happy. The kind of stuff that I can look at, think about or just plain talk about and I’ll turn my frown into a smile. This isn’t really a countdown, as there’s no actual order. In fact, it’s just a bunch of random crap meant to reach that number. The neat stuff I don’t talk about, I’ll save for next year when I discuss 32 things that make me happy.

Why 31? Because I’m becoming increasingly grizzled in the next couple days. I suggest other bloggers give this a try when their time comes. It’s fun.

1) That What If Story Where Galactus Turns into Elvis

I wrote about this last year, so you can read my lengthier review here. The short of it is that Galactus is magically transformed into Elvis Presley and shot to Earth, where he finds family and a new meaning to his life. More importantly, he redeems the names of Galactus and Elvis Presley by assuming the throne of King of Rock and Roll.

Yeah, comic books are sweet.

2) “Learn to Fly” by the Foo Fighters

I can’t say that I have a favorite song, but I’m sure “Learn to Fly” is in my top five. It’s a beautiful tune that gets me pepped up to do whatever it is I’m preparing myself to do. For me, this is one of those songs that you listen to a million times, only listen to half of the words and get this image in your mind of what the song is really about, which is completely off-base. I can’t be the only one who does that.

For me, I always imagined the song as being about a World War I pilot in a nasty dogfight whose side is getting cut down by the enemy. He’s trying to get out of there with a handful of enemy fighters on his tail. He prays that his luck and worth as a pilot will let him live one more day to the point that he even considers selling his soul to the Devil. In the end, he maneuvers his way to safety to the point that he thinks his survival was caused purely by divine intervention.

Apparently the real meaning of the song is that it’s Grohl explaining the mental desperation of trying to write a good song under pressure. That’s pretty cool too, I guess.

3) Whenever Somebody Awesome Beats Up Superman When They Really Shouldn’t

When you ask the average man on the street who the strongest superhero character is, they’ll say Superman. Sure, a comic geek could say that Superman is nothing compared to the might of the Spectre and you’re always going to have that one guy desperately jumping through hoops to come up with a scenario where Batman makes a fool out of the guy. At the end of the day, Superman is considered one of the most unbeatable dudes in comics.

So it’s always a blast when he loses a fight to someone who isn’t even in his weight class. Sure, there’s always an explanation, but it doesn’t change the fact that Superman got his ass kicked by someone like Evil Spider-Man.

Yep. Back in All-Access #1, Venom showed up in the DC Universe and was quick to getting in a couple fights with Superman. He absolutely thrashed him again and again. And this was written by Ron Marz, a DC guy! Even when Spider-Man showed up, Venom kicked both their asses until the lame-oid Access showed up with a giant sonic cannon to save the day.

Some fans will explain it away that this was after Final Night, meaning that Superman wasn’t fully cooked up by the sun’s rays and was at a disadvantage. Too bad. My guy beat up your guy, so ha!

There are other examples. In one of my all-time favorite comics, Superman boxes against Muhammad Ali on a planet with a red sun, so naturally, Ali beats him down. Even though Superman has no chance in his vulnerable form, he still proves himself a badass by taking a beating and not falling down until the bell rings.

There was a crossover from when DC had the rights to Masters of the Universe and Superman ends up in Eternia. Despite having been thwarted by He-Man at every turn for years, Skeletor is able to pretty easily take down Superman without breaking a sweat. He just slices him in the chest with his magic sword and then zaps him with it until he stops moving. The dude beat up Superman, saved Christmas one time AND has a skull for a head. He’s the best.

Slightly related, but that JLA/Avengers crossover had a scene where Superman and Captain America are at each other’s throats to the point that the other heroes are pulling them apart. I’ve always thought this scene was great in its own flawed way because, really, what is Captain America going to do? His powers are that he’s good at doing crunches and talking. Superman can turn a mountain into glass by looking at it. It’s one of those cool little moments where Captain America is so in over his head but doesn’t care because he’s so determined that you believe he has a chance.

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The UCB Improv 101 Graduation Spectacular!

April 24th, 2012 Posted by Gavok

Sunday was my first time ever performing on stage as I ended my Improv 101 class at the Upright Citizens Brigade Training Center. Ultimately, I think I did decent for a first-timer in an entry class and luckily it was filmed. After hours upon hours of figuring out editing software and almost getting it right, I’ve uploaded the 45 minutes of show into four segments.

The class was of 16 students. One dropped out and one sadly had a family emergency, so we were split into two groups of seven. The plan is to get a suggestion from the audience, do a monologue, do a handful of skits based on the ideas of that monologue, do another monologue and so on. Of the nine skits my group did, I’m in five, plus I did a monologue at one point. I’ll do some commentary on my stuff after the fold.

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