Let’s take a moment to talk about a strange and ubiquitous inhabitant of today’s internet landscape: the social media influencer. You know the type. Millennial. Self-described “lifestyle blogger.” Multiple Instagram posts per day. Perfect lighting. Radiant skin. Expensive clothes. Exotic locales. Thirsty for followers. #Grateful to be #blessed with such a strong #brand.
Last time we caught up with Catherine Cohen, a regular at the Upright Citizens Brigade, she was gearing up for an “Evening of You” comedy night in a Greenpoint church. Dreamed up with her frequent collaborator Lucy Cottrell, the variety show/spiritual ceremony/self-help expert caricature had her dressing up in a robe with a headset, making super deep pronouncements like, “If you think about it…you…are your only you.”
Birbiglia, Micucci, Tami, Gethard, Jacobs. (Photo: Daniel Maurer)
It’s a case of #improveverywhere this year at South by Southwest. Not only is Thank You, Del Closescreening, but UCB is doing live shows: last night, Anthony Atamanuik dropped into one of them and just destroyed with his scarily spot-on impression of Donald Trump going after America’s new foe, Italian ISIS (say it out loud and you’ll get it). In addition to all that, Mike Birbiglia world-premiered his new dramedy about a UCB-esque New York City improv troupe on Sunday.
“Watching people struggle to create something on the spot is as much the joy as the joke.”—Todd Bieber
Chances are you’ve never heard of Del Close—and if you have, it’s probably a fair indication that you spend a lot of time watching, practicing, or thinking about improvisation. Not the kind where you have to quickly make up an excuse for your boss about why you’re late for work, or invent the name of a non-existent dive bar to throw your bestie off the scent of what you really did last night—no, we’re talking “improv,” the word bandied around to apply to a collection of theatrical training games that has become an entertainment form in its own right and made millionaires out of many of your comedy favorites. Some of them, including Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Mike Myers, John Belushi, and Chris Farley, studied, at one time or another, under a man named Del Close.
It’s going to be pretty hard to beat Taran Killam’s impression of Donald Trump (above) during the season opener of Saturday Night Live, but the intrepid improvisers at UCB are giving it a shot tonight at 8 p.m. “Trump is President and he’s giving a luxurious speech from the East Room of the White House,” goes the blurb for Trump Dump: President Luxury. “Join him and his paid audience as he updates America on the Hunt for Rosie O’Donnell, the construction of the first ever transcontinental hair oil pipeline and his plan for bronzing illegal immigrant’s babies and using them for actual ships anchors.”
UCB 4 From left: Matt Besser, Ian Roberts, Amy Poehler & Mass Walsh. (photo: Rob Scher)
A scattering of camera-wielding press members sat in a darkened Upright Citizens Brigade theater last Friday, awaiting the arrival of the UCB 4 (founders Amy Poehler, Matt Besser, Ian Roberts, and Matt Walsh) and the start of the 17th Del Close Marathon “press conference.” This was, of course, a rather loose term for what unfolded, as minutes prior to the start, an improv-enthused audience flooded the theater, swallowing the “press” whole.
I hate to say it, but I can sort of imagine Natasha Vaynblat, when she was Ms. Vaynblat, coming off at first as the teacher who could be walked all over. She’s nice, cute, and says things like “oh my gosh” with complete sincerity, but her unassuming nature belies her comic demeanor. During her four years as a teacher (she left the job in 2013, for comedy), Natasha loved to prank her students. In “United Federation of Teachers,” her first one-woman show at UCB Chelsea, the audience gets to see both her victories over troublemakers and her hilarious miscalculations, all of which remind me of the myriad reasons why I’ll never willingly put myself in charge of children. B+B spoke with her over the phone about her experiences and her new show.
Broad City fans, you might want to earmark this one. Split Personality is a weekly storytelling and comedy show hosted by husband-and-wife team Patrick Clair and Jiji Lee. Their basic formula is part slam-style open mic (during which anyone can put their name in a bag for a chance to perform a five minute true story or sketch character), and part curated show, featuring special guest performers from New York’s comedy and storytelling elite. August’s first offering will showcase the comedic genius of Chris Kelly, writer for SNL, Emmy nominee (for the above sketch), and one of the driving forces behind Comedy Central’s runaway success, Broad City(which began in 2009 as a “cult hit” web-series). Kelly will be joined by Joanna Bradley of Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, and laughs, no doubt, will be in plentiful supply.
Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson (Courtesy of Comedy Central)
Only one episode of Comedy Central’s Broad City has aired so far (the second airs 10:30 p.m. tonight), but the ratings must have been stupendous — stars Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson are going on a 15-state tour. Keep Reading »