During the press conference, Matt Besser said that the shows that happen before midnight demonstrate the ‘art’ and the shows that happen after are wilder.
Of the primetime shows on Friday that followed the press conference, the ones populated with older gentlemen were played slower and steadier. The monoscenes presented in Bassprov and Nailed Down grew richer as the half hour slot wore on, using the time to effuse the characters like steeping tea bags, and the payoffs were in the nuance and detail that a fast moving montage cannot brake for. They also bore information to ponder: did you know that cigarettes are the most abundant form of pollution wafting through the oceans (Bassprov) and that the head can blush because it has many more blood vessels? According to a character in Nailed Down, our arms do not blush for that reason. While Bassprov was a fishing expedition that kept its four men in chairs with fishing poles and beers as props, Nailed down was set up by having two pairs of shoes nailed to the stage for players to stand in. Those slow, ponderous, and absorbing shows provoked physically immobile players to explore psychological spaces.
In contrast, Gausus and Cannon was full of storm and stress. Sincere and swift, that set had some unexpected surprises such as the embodiment of a barren cow’s yearning for children as a means to not be slaughtered unceremoniously while the fertile cow envisioned being eaten by a masseuse in a Whole Foods parking lot.
While that show was more character driven, the Stepfathers show demonstrated how creating patterns and callbacks that tie all strings of a show neatly together can be a cognitive feat for the performers and rewarding exercise for the audience.
On Saturday, Bruckheimer carried a show proficiently with only two of its three members present, and even had one player do double duty as a third character to flesh out the monoscene. While delving into the spiraling neurosis of a violent, compulsive liar, Bruckheimer followed an escalating problem that dragged down of all those involved and was a delight to watch.
In his extended time slot, Scott Adsit went it alone by inviting audience members to improvise with him. A language barrier with one visiting audience member made for a fun scene where he was prompted by the ship captain (Adsit) to seduce an iceberg. In cases like that, a seemingly impossible task makes for great entertainment.
Away from the mainstage, a show titled Facebook employed a laptop and a big screen to display the Facebook page of a volunteer from the audience. The technology was integrated seamlessly into the show and begs the question of what other virtual means will work with improv. Is anyone doing Twitterprov?
Back on the mainstage, the after midnight sets were opened with The Benson Interruption, which switched gears and invited comics on stage to be interviewed by Doug Benson. Relying on energetic impressions for the first half and comedic songs for the second, the show made for a surprising break from what preceded it. If you haven’t seen Garfunkel and Oates, their songs are fun and bawdy while their appearance is innocuous.
In The Straight Men, seasoned improvisors had fun giving a lesson in what happens when everyone on stage acts like a straight man by calling out what is unusual and grounding everything they do. While one straight character can be a great foil, a stage full of them makes the gears grind and watching this show was like being included in an inside joke. And it only used half of a regular 30 minute slot to get this point across.
Each form, when executed well, leaves the viewer with a different impression. In the montage presented by Kannon and Gausus, it was the pathos of a particular moment that wouldn’t go away after their set ended, while the Stepfathers’ show cued the viewer into the map of the show that only presented itself fully at the end when all pieces were integrated into a whole. In both cases, the mind gets to work towards understanding and engage in the way that the form encourages. In yet another style, the Bassprov show and the Nailed Down set treated each character like a well detailed creation that became more absorbing as time went on, giving first the thrill of knowing a character and eventually the payoff of conflict.
As the DCM expands the idea of what improv is while refining what already exists, the revolving palette of shows makes the experience eventful and stimulating.
Ok kids, it’s that time once again. Time to spend 3 days in the sweltering underworlds of long form improvised comedy dungeons; forsaking your family, friends, children, and jobs to find out once and for all if a drug addicted maniac’s vision of art has made the world a better place. In other words…
Del Close Marathon 13!
As I missed last year’s marathon on account of a self enforced –improv sabbatical– I am really looking forward to this years festivities.
Unlike years past when I would give you long lists of things to see and places to go, I’ll deviate and instead say have fun. Experience everything and get sweaty and disgusting.
My one word of advice is treat DCM like a camping trip and get stuck in, forsaking showers and food – your improv will thank you.
So this year, I thought I would give you all a wave and say have a great marathon. I really don’t have much more to say regarding all the insanity that goes on. I’m a little bummed Weirdass and Wicked Fuckin’ Queeyah aren’t around this year. They were always the backbone of the DCM for me, but there are still some amazing shows like:
So what does an improviser write about a weekend full of improvisation after it’s all over and it’s months later? (seriously Ben, months?!) There is so much. (Ben, what the hell has taken you so long to write this up?) A weekend full of beer, fist fights, and an overwhelming amount of hilarity. (You can hear me Ben, I can see you wincing) This was by far the most intense DCM I have attended. (HEY BEN! I KNOW YOU CAN HEAR ME) 3 days of non-stop improv, is a lot of improv, even for the heartiest of improv junkies. (Oh, it’s going to be like that huh?) This year, I’ll have to admit, I stayed largely to shows I knew most and while I did explore some of the other theaters, most of my time was spent at the UCB main stage. (Vagina) What? Come on, kids read this! Okay I’ve been really busy at work and haven’t had any time to write. I’m sorry! Okay? (okay)
3 Years of Del Closses
This was my third year of Del Close Marathons and from the 3 I have attended, this year seemed the most sober. Perhaps it was the deaths of both Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes, or the missing energy of Amy Poehler, or the introspective press conference, or the vastness of the Marathon now filling 4 theaters, but I got a definite sense of a community looking in on itself. Of course being that the marathon is now 4 theaters wide, I may have only seen one impression of a now huge pool of performances.
UCB is in a strange place at the moment. Their success as both a theater where the best and brightest comedians are trained, with Bobby Moynahan moving to SNL, and also the most successful improv training center in New York, if not the country, has left UCB trying to figure out how to deal with it’s unparalleled popularity. This showed itself during the Friday press conference as the UCB3 – Matt Walsh, Ian Roberts, and Matt Besser – took the stage outlining the UCBs revamped improv curriculum:
“Game is fundamentally important and central to comedic improvisation”
“There is nothing intrinsically better about doing a time-dash to the second beat of your game over analogous beats for your game”
Organically derived scenes are no better than premise based scenes initiations
Having your own “signature” opening is not important – “Bring back the organic opening”
Dress Appropriately for the stage – not too sloppy, too sexy/aristocratic
It screws up people to think about raising stakes when entering second beats – Think equally. “I want to find another scenario equally as funny or funnier than the first one. Thinking funnier will naturally raise the stakes. This will naturally create scenes with both heightening and exploration.”
These should be no shock to anyone who has spent time at the UCB training center. Most of these have been on the lips of instructors since I first started training, but the fact that the UCB is now defining it’s perspective publicly, on long form improvisation, is sign of their new found leadership roll in the improv community. Although, Matt Besser did make it quite clear that these may not be true of all schools, but they are what is true for the UCB.
Lessons Learned this Year
As most of you know each year I try to take away a few things which become apparent after watching hours and hours of improv. I trite them down in a notebook in the dark. I try not to edit them and write them down as I wrote them.
Respond to what is happening now
Repeating patterns is not game, just a piece of behavior
Start in the middle – Make assumptions about who, what, and where you are
Remember – not really sure what this meant, but I wrote it down so it’s got to be important
Relax – Try not to let your fear as a performer manifest itself in your character and initiations
Characters are important and should be used in service of the game – not for a cheap laugh
Gay characters don’t have to have campy cliche accents
Gay improvisers don’t always have to be a 1950′s housewife
Breaking your character to laugh, giggle, or remark about your performance is a cheap trick
The most important thing in the scene is your partner – try not to get sidetracked by inanimate objects, because they aren’t going to respond to you in the scene
Work with what you have, it’s brilliant – Let’s not add new information half way through
Fuck the form – do whatever honors the suggestion
Del close doesn’t look like that
Respect your audience – Don’t pimp your audience, because when they turn on you, you have nothing
Saying funny things will eventually fail you
It’s about what’s happening – not the details of what’s happening
There are still 10 minutes and 19 seconds – It’s never too late do do something
Look calm on the back line – the people on stage need you to yield focus
Confidence makes the audience feel like you know what you’re doing – lack of confidence makes the audience panic
Do NOT hang off the pipes – Fucking ever!
Out of all the performances of the marathon, I think the highlight was Code Duello’s saturday night performance off of the suggestion of “rabies.” The performance was based on Aaron Burr killing Hamelton’s cat and having to replace it with a sabertooth tiger. This however was nothing to the incredible playing of both Neil Reynolds and Matt Tucker, whose moves grounded the scenework so much that the idea of entire premise of a dead cat being replaced with a sabertooth tiger seemed totally justified. Out of the 4 times I’ve seen Code Duello, this was by far their most impressive show, so much so that they proved something that I had never seen prior.
We all Know how to get laughs from an audience. It isn’t hard. But I want us to get cheers.
- Del Close
They had cheers, laughs, and a standing ovation at the end of their set.
WeirDass at the FIT auditorium. As usual Stefanie Wier and Bob Dassie produced a show that was incredible to watch. Full of rich characters and incredible scenework their set again reminded me how important listening and responding is to improvisation. They have a bond that one can only imagine can only be made possible by being married to your scene partner. It was so inspiring to see the two of them on stage that the day after the marathon, I formed a 2 person improv group based very roughly on the Weirdass form. If imitation is the greatest form of flattery, WeirDass is reeeeeeeeally good.
The always impeccable Baby Wants Candy, performed an incredible set about a speakeasy that had points of shockingly sublime songwork that really highlighted what committing to every part of performance can do.
And so, that’s the wrap up. If you have any questions, or comments feel free to drop a line. I’ll be sure to respond to you early February.
This year started off to an exciting start as the DCM Press Conference was reserves to talking completely about the UCB concepts about improvisation. It was a unique look into UCBs brand of improvisation and what they feel makes good comedic improvisation.
Roberts, Walsh, and Besser laid out the UCBs “theses” on improvisation. Who h ranged from the expected “Game is fundamental” to more subtle “having your own opening isn’t important.” I will be sure to post my full notes once I’m near an accrual keyboard.
The UCB3 then played a few of Del’s earlier, less known recordings.
MySpace was as usual incredible, with some hilarious scenes about what sounded like the most bizzare workout system spx90, of something in that vain. Bassprov was as wonderful as I remember it and Horatio Sans, who has lost a considerable amount of weight, approached the stage with a poise I have not seen. The Stepfathers was by far the most stressful improv set with Shannon O’Neil and Chris Gethard getting into a slapping brawl on stage. For anyone at the theater, it was like watching your mom and dad start to fight – although very funny once everyone decided not to kill each other.
The highlight of the night, however, was Directors commentary live. The film was Universal Soldier and the commentary was by far the most inventive and hilarious I have seen to date. “I call ziss a Van Damn”, “no sleeves means you don’t have to pay for sleeves” and “That’s me, that’s not me” had people litterally rolling in the isles.
The next few updates about the DCM are going to be coming from my iPhone. Please excuse any bizarre spelling mistakes while I sort out what I’m doing with this thing. I will try to give frequent updates to the site complete with photographs… if that’s possible.
I’ll be updating throughout the DCM10, so that I’m not overwhelming your browsers and RSS readers, I’ll try to keep updates as concise as possible.
I’m headed into the city now after taking off Friday to prep. And by prep I mean sleep. I’ve got a shopping list of trail mix, water, energy bars, and perhaps a few tissues. It gets rough down in the trenches.