The last time New York City-based Upright Citizens Brigade’s Touring Company (UCB TourCo) came to town, director/performer Eli Newell got himself in trouble for dissing Chicago-style improv.
Apparently a few drinks with a coquettish City Paper reporter were enough to loosen Newell’s tongue a little too much. So this time, when asked about the difference between the two cities’ improv styles, Newell deferred to Anthony King, artistic director at UCB for the past year.
“UCB has a more punk-rock take on improv,” says King. “Someone once said we’re the CBGB of improv. Chicago improv is a little more theatrical, not to say that we aren’t, just that we’re a little more hard-edged.”
Translation: Second City are a bunch of pantywaists who’d better be glad they didn’t bring their lame asses to this year’s festival.
“I don’t know if I would use those words,” says King, adding that the original UCBers — Matt Besser, Amy Poehler, Ian Roberts, and Adam Walsh — left Chi-town for the Big Apple to do their own thing.
“They wanted a place to do their own shit, and the theatre’s attitude grew out of that sentiment and those people and into a tradition we try to follow: to make improv like rock stars.”
King, who has been performing at UCB’s mothership theatre in NYC for a couple of years, says the UCB-style is to attack the stage a little bit more than Chicago-style.
Newell, who may be familiar to fans of Late Night with Conan O’Brien as the “Hunky Newcomer” who always stares longingly into the eyes of the carrot-topped host during sweeps, does promise one thing that is definitely anti-rock star: Eli Newell will not fake like he’s pooping all over the audience to end this year’s first show, like he did at last year’s Fringe, a choice he still regrets.
“On the other hand, we’ll see what happens and do what we’re feeling — hey, it’s improv,” jokes Newell, happy that this year’s later shows mean the troupe won’t have to worry as much about insulting the “blue hairs.”
Newell also promises that this year’s show will not include any short-form improv, instead relying on the tougher and rock-starrier long-form, where lengthy scenes and montages will flow out of a single suggestion from the audience.
Unfortunately, a totally long-form show means we won’t get to see any sketches, like the funniest scene from last year, “Ball-Tickle-Chicken.”
Several TourCo performers are returning, including Bobby Moynihan, which is a good thing, considering City Paper comedy fan Gardner Guess wrote of them: “I almost wet my pants, they were so funny.”
Poop and piss? Now that’s rock ‘n’ roll. That’s UCB.
UPRIGHT CITIZENS BRIGADE TOURING COMPANY • Piccolo Spoleto’s Piccolo Fringe at Theatre 99 • $15 • May 27, 28, June 2 at 10 p.m.; May 29 at 8 p.m.; May 30 at 9 p.m.; June 3 at 10:30 p.m. • 1 hour • Theatre 99, 280 Meeting St. • 554-6060