On Saturday, November 30, iconic comedy troupe The Upright Citizens Brigade performs at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor.
One of the pioneering improv companies, UCB has given rise to such comedy luminaries as Amy Poehler and Ed Helms. Their touring group, UCBTourCo, makes its way around the country with a talented cast of comedians. Brandon Scott, a TourCo member who will be performing at Bay Street, offered some insight into the troupe and what the audience can expect.
“Almost [all of us] start by taking classes here at the UCB,” Scott says. “You sort of work your way up through the levels, and then there’s a certain level in which you’re eligible to audition for the company.”
Students at the Upright Citizens Brigade Improvisational and Sketch Comedy Training Center start with “Improv 101” and work their way up through the carefully planned sequential curriculum. Rather than learning how to perform short form improvisation—the type of improv you’ll find on Whose Line Is It Anyway?—students learn long form improv, which is more complex but also extremely fun for both the audience and the performers. Focusing on a structure called the “Harold,” the comedy often begins with a suggestion or topic and spirals from there, creating a unique evening for the audience.
“More often than not, [audiences have] seen short form improv,” Scott explains. “So what you see is, we’ll take a suggestion or interview an audience member and ask them to be truthful and honest. We use that as inspiration to create full scenes. We’re making it up off the top of our heads. It’s sort of similar to a live play, but there are rules we follow to guide us.” Scott also notes, “100% of the show is unique to the night we’re performing it. You’re going to see something unpredictable. Don’t try to talk about the show to your friends, because it’s never going to be quite the same.”
Scott says that audiences often provide great ideas and topics, sometimes unwittingly. “We used to ask people to come [onstage] and say their worst day, which is usually funny, and sometimes people are very honest,” Scott says. “We’ve also had people who share that they have lost someone or something like that, but we find ways to keep going. We’ve had those people come up to us afterward and say how fun it was.” Of course, not every idea’s a gem. “Sometimes you’ll ask the audience for a suggestion and get ‘poop’ or ‘fart,’” Scott laughs. “We’re trained to turn it into something funny. As comedians we’re supposed to take what we’re getting and give it a unique voice.”
The UCB’s audience often varies. “My Saturday night show [in Manhattan] is a 10:30 p.m. show and is mostly 20-somethings or 30-somethings, so we get the typical ‘good time’ crowd,” Scott says. “And then there’s also people who have to be at least 70. I remember a time I looked into the audience and saw a 12-year-old!”
Scott, originally from Maryland, enjoys performing in the Hamptons. “I was out there a few years ago. I’m excited to come back. When I was out there last, I loved it. I’m originally from just north of Baltimore. I moved [to Manhattan] when I was 18 to study drama, and after doing that I got involved in the UCB.” The TourCo has a large body of performers; Scott didn’t perform with the troupe at Guild Hall over the summer, noting that the changing casts often makes for an interesting show. “When I started, I was a bit younger than a lot of the other people; now I tour with people I’ve studied with and with some people I’ve coached. It’s a nice, healthy grab bag.”
So, what’s the one thing audiences should know about the show at Bay Street Theatre? Scott doesn’t have to think long for an answer. “They’re going to get a show that has never been done before and will never be done again. It’s just for them. That’s the main thing. It’s UCB, so everything goes!”
The Upright Citizens Brigade at Bay Street Theatre, Saturday, November 30 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 in advance or $35 at the door. Call 631-725-9500 or go to baystreet.org.