What is it? Long-form improv from one of the hottest comedy troupes in the business. A rotating group of players comes down from New York for Piccolo Fringe each year, but no matter who’s on stage, they’ll slay you with their rapier wits.
Why see it? We gave them a glowing A+ last year. But expect R-rated material.
Who should go? Let’s be honest, other shows may say they offer the next big thing in comedy, but UCB Tourco is the next big thing in comedy.
PICCOLO SPOLETO • $15 • 1 hour • May 31 and June 6 at 10 p.m.; June 1 at 8 p.m.; June 2, 3 at 9 p.m.; June 7 at 7: 30 p.m. • Theatre 99, 280 Meeting St. • (888) 374-2656
Can’t Get Enough: The feeling’s mutual from Fringe-favorite UCB TourCo
An act doesn’t come back to Piccolo year after year unless it has an unquenchable following or the cast members just love this town. For the Upright Citizens Brigade, it’s both.
Tickets sell out fast (by the time you read this, it may already be too late), and that’s no small indication of the show’s successful formula — a brief chat with an audience member about his/her life spurs two half-hour acts filled with improv bits on one particular theme.
Being selected affects audience members differently. Some try to be funny or coy while others clam up, but that’s okay, says Eli Newell, director for the UCB Touring Company.
“We can do a show off of one word if need be,” he says.
The audience also tries to stump the improv group during shows.
“You’ll get a suggestion like perverted gynecologist, but that doesn’t mean that you have to do dirty scene after dirty scene,” Newell says of the actors’ ability to turn a phrase on its head. “You could get a suggestion of ‘brick building,’ and that could be the dirtiest bit ever.”
While a bit may not connect with audiences, Newell says the key is to keep going with it.
“If we get a groan or something, we just hit it even harder,” he says. “We know it’s funny.”
The Theatre 99 venue is a favorite not only for the good-humored audiences, but also for its own amenities.
“We try to do anything where we get to use the trap door,” Newell says. “We try to shoehorn that in whenever we can.”
With so many local performances under their belt, Newell suggests that anyone who hasn’t seen the show just ask around.
For those who have seen it, the entire cast this year is made up of past Piccolo performers, but Newell warns audiences to see them while they can.
“They’re already getting so busy,” he says of film and TV work. The TourCo has one hell of a pedigree, with past cast members including Amy Poehler, Horatio Sanz, Rob Corddry, Ed Helms, Rob Riggle, and Paul Scheer. “It’s really a chance for people to see some of the best improv out there.”
Newell had a rough time last year at Piccolo: he broke a toe on a jet ski and then, later that same day, broke his finger during a performance when he hit it on a chair. His toe still hurts, but he’s more excited than ever to come to Charleston — calling the trip “a vacation,” “July 4,” “Disneyland,” and “Christmas.”
“We’ve kind of perfected the formula of coming down and rocking out on the beach during the day and then hitting the stage at night,” he says.
The performances are also a little more adventurous on the stage in Charleston.
“We kind of let loose,” Newell says. “Sometimes this feels like work, but all of the Charleston shows are all play.”
And the Charleston audiences have a role in boosting the mojo, Newell says.
“We get amazing audiences — and they’re all very good looking.”