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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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Gavin’s Sketch Writing Emporium

February 23rd, 2013 Posted by Gavok

I’ve talked at length about my exploits in taking improv classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade Training Center for the past year. Currently, I’m in the opening couple weeks of Improv 401 and that’s fun. Recently, I’ve completed another class at the school in the form of Sketch Writing 101. Taught by Zack Poitras, the eight-week course was loads of fun while giving me plenty of challenges in terms of creativity.

Every week, I’d have to complete some kind of sketch-writing assignment. We’d do a table reading and I’d receive some notes from both Zack and my fellow students. Since I now have a pile of these things lying around, I figured I’d post them up here.

Sketch 1: FAMILIAR DATE

During the first week, we discussed recent incidents that happened to us that were kind of funny. Then we were told to evolve that into a comedy sketch. My story was about how I met a girl through an online dating site and later found out that not only was she employed in the same company as me, but she was also on the cover of that company’s community magazine, which was sitting on the break room table. That inspired this skit.

Sketch 2: BRING YOUR DAUGHTER

In the second week, we had to bring in a pitch for a sketch. Mine was about the idea of an undercover cop doing Bring Your Daughter to Work Day. The idea got a lukewarm reaction, but I decided to stick with it and try to make it work. Unfortunately, I was never able to turn it in. I had jury duty during the third week. Still, I’m proud of how this one turned out.

Sketch 3: NEWS POPS

I was at least able to get the next assignment, which was to do a commercial parody. I didn’t realize that it was supposed to be based on a specific commercial, so I did a more genre-based one. This one got the most criticism, mainly because it’s too long and goes in too many directions. It is funny to see how many people sympathize with the childhood hell that was being stuck staring at the same cereal box for six months at a time, reading the same crap over and over again.

Sketch 4: CASABLANCA ENDING

For the fifth week, the assignment was to do a non-commercial parody. This one took a lot of thinking, but I decided to play on the iconic ending of Casablanca and how Ilsa was so reluctant to be with Victor, who was essentially the world’s most perfect and virtuous man. The main criticism for this one is that it took too long for it to reach the “game” (premise/main gag of a comedy sketch) because I felt the need to use the actual dialogue from the movie.

Sketch 5: CHIP BRAXTON: TIME TRAVELER

Next up, we had to write a character sketch. In other words, a sketch where it’s all based on one character and how people react to him. Nearly every 90′s SNL skit, basically. It was brought up in class that the Casablanca Ending sketch was itself a character sketch, but that didn’t make this assignment any easier. I struggled with a lot of half-baked ideas for a premise, like “retired professional wrestler who becomes a professional golfer” or “mall Santa Claus who tells the children on his lap way too much personal information”. The idea of Chip Braxton randomly popped into my head during a drive to work and it’s probably my favorite of the batch. The stinger at the end got one of the strongest reactions during the table reading.

Sketch 6: GRAMMYS MEMO

This one was also a pain in the ass. The idea was that we had to do a topical sketch. The week wasn’t giving us much to work with other than the big snow storm and the post office “no more Saturdays” announcement. The Pope stepping down was announced, but that was really last minute. I was thinking of writing a sketch about the History Channel celebrating Rebecca Black History Month, but that idea wasn’t going anywhere. I remembered that ridiculous CBS memo about the Grammys that got leaked and used that for inspiration. A lot of the earlier terms in there are word-for-word from the memo, including the hilarious term, “female breast nipple”.

Sketch 7: NEWS POPS 2.0

For the final week, we had to do a rewrite of a previous sketch. I wanted to do that Bring Your Daughter one, but it had to be something that everyone in the class was familiar with. I went with the News Pops one, since it needed the most improvement. I cut out about a page’s worth of stuff, streamlined some of it together and added an intentionally boring cartoon mascot in the form of Woody Bernstein.

Sketch 8: LANTERN TRAILER

Also for the final week, we had to write the first page of a sketch that shows us what the game is. This was originally one page when I handed it in, but that’s because I used MS Word and the formatting is different. This is also a dropped idea from the topical assignment.

There was also a ton of great skits from my fellow students. While I don’t have them to show, some of the highlights include:

- A college RA going over rules and regulations, repeatedly explaining that it’s NOT COOL to post pictures of muscular children on the bulletin board, no matter how much he wishes that wasn’t against the rules.
- A DJ on an oldies radio station who has completely gone insane from having to hear the same songs again and again for years, hiding his crippling depression with his obnoxious DJ optimism.
- “The Good Girls Club”, a reality show where nice women constantly screech at each other, “You’re motherfucking talented, you beautiful bitch!”
- A movie trailer for Goldilocks as an action flick.
- James Bond discovering that not only are there a bunch of movies about his exploits, but he’s the last person to know about this and it’s REALLY hurting his chances with getting laid.
- A homeless man on a subway, interviewing people for a talkshow that exists in his mind. Unfortunately, other homeless people get in on this and start the subway version of a late night war.
- The National Rifle Association change their name to the NWEA, deciding that instead of rifles, they’ll support the use of weaponized ebola.

I hope to start taking Sketch Writing 201 soon, as the whole experience was a blast.

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