Category: Improv

Triumph at Comic-Con: A Peek Into the Sausage Factory of Insult Comedy

Filed Under Improv, Late Night, Pranks

The ubiquity of digital cameras may be a bane for some, but I kind of dig how you can see how thanks to web video you can see Robert Smigel at work as Triumph. Watching this you realize how much of a remote like this can come together in the editing.

First up, the actual piece as it aired on Conan:

Now, here’s some footage taken of Smigel while he looked for lines to lay on these guys. Turns out he wasn’t prepared for the guys dressed as Spartans from 300.

So, no gay jokes on his assorted pages of notes. I’m not sure how common it is that he needs those pages. Smigel may not have all that instantaneous knowledge of the fandom that makes for speedy recall of one liners. But he definitely would always be prepped with some pre-written lines based on whoever he expected to show up at any event Triumph was covering. Do you think he needs those notes on other Triumph shoots?

I’m sure it’s also pretty obvious from other remotes but the great thing about having a puppet character means that Smigel can drop in a better line later or, in the case of this clip, cut in the second time he told the joke. You can do that with coverage and editing with a live person, but so much easier here. No need to sync with Triumph’s lips whatsoever.

Next more of the Bomber-Man character.

And someone who didn’t make the cut of the finished piece (along with a piece at the beginning of a different big guy not in costume).

I love how he repeats the same “goo” punchline - he’s not going with laughs from con-goers. He’s going for laughs from the studio audience. So if it falls like a brick here, who cares? They’re cutting the next second anyway (if, or course, they had used that).

Posted by Todd Jackson at 11:59 PM | Comments (1)

Sasquatch Comedy Tent, Part 1

Filed Under Improv, Live Events, Stand-Up Comedy

My good friend Julie Seabaugh, who I’ve taken more than a couple of cues from as far writing about comedy, attended the music fest Sasquatch. But instead of the music, sheengorged herself on the offerings from the comedy tent, a welcome new addition to the fest. Here’s her report.

Though it’s the seventh go-round for the rural Washington-state music gathering known as Sasquatch!, 2008 was the first year the hairy-palmed hootenanny hosted a Comedy Tent. And while David Cross/Aziz Ansari/Nick Kroll’s first-and-only rendition of “You Might Be a Deadneck If…” at Bonnaroo 2007 set the bar impossibly high for all future festival lineups, the Sasquatch names, considering the Tent’s infancy, were impressive in their own right. Among the high- and lowlights:

UCB at Sasquatch
Saturday, March 24

  • Best Group Effort: UCB Presents ASSSSCAT, featuring Matt Besser, Matt Walsh, Horatio Sanz, Tim Meadows, Sean Conroy, Jerry Minor and Rich Fulcher. The Brigade ushered in the first day with a brain-blowing four afternoon/early evening performances.
  • Healthiest Sign of Life I: Prior to ASSSSCAT, the line stretched from the Comedy Tent gate, up the hill, and past the VIP Zone, the wooden statue of a bear playing the guitar, the Mike Patton-fronted Crudo opening their Wookie Stage set with “Running with the Devil,” and beyond.
  • Best Cross-Promotion: Besser to a female audience member: “Would you have sex with the members of Flight of the Conchords?” Female audience member: “I want to have sex with their manager.”
  • Hairiest Reoccurrence: Reggie Watt’s prodigious ‘fro. At media check-in. Strolling by the Wookie Stage. By the rear sound board before ASSSSCAT. Distributing bottled water to the front row 20 minutes before his own Sunday performance. Hiding beneath a tie-dyed tee near the tent’s picnic tables after.
  • Celebrity Most Desperate for Street Cred: Office-mate Rainn Wilson, at the festival promoting upcoming feature The Rocker, glad-handling drunken fans in the back of the room during ASSSSCAT’s 6:30 p.m. slot.

Sunday, March 25Morgan Murphy at Sasquatch

  • Healthiest Sign of Life II: At noon, a group of four was already first in line for the People’s Republic of Komedy show featuring Andy Haynes, Kevin Hyder, Aziza Diaz, Derek Sheen and Andy Peters…which began at 3 p.m.
  • Oddest Item Spied on Comedy Tent Floor: Post-Reggie Watts’ blistering 45 minutes of music-looping wizardry, sexual innuendo, mobius-like wordplay and spot-on M.I.A. impression: a used condom.
  • Healthiest Sign of Life III: Comedy geeks who didn’t leave the tent all afternoon – and why would they need to, when drinks/porta-potties were right there on the premises? – gradually inching forward with each performance, into the 30 folding chairs at stage front and remaining in their staked territory for upwards of five hours.
  • Best Context-Driven Banter: Two slurring women in the back questioning dark ‘n’ deadpan Morgan Murphy’s complaints about the hour-plus line for campground showers: “Why would you shower?” Murphy: Because yesterday like eight guys came on my face…Did I tell them they could? No, but R.E.M. was that good.” And Murphy, minutes later, referring to the current indie band sound-bleeding into the tent: “Ah Jesus, who’s playin’ now? Somebody sad.”
  • Recipient of the Sarah Silverman Award for Distinguished Achievement in Really, Really Needing to Write New Shit: Cuddling with wife? Mouth baby? Dennis Rodman? Samurai sword? Puppy time? You look like you like to bend sluts over and pound their assholes? That overdone “Hairless Yeti” yelp? We salute you, Brian Posehn.

Morgan Murphy at Sasquatch
Lines to get into the comedy tent. Always an encouraging sign…

Another report (and more photos) to come later from Julie on the rest of the doings at the Sasquatch comedy tent.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 04:18 PM | Comments (0)

Matt Besser’s Strategy for Camera-Wielding Audience Members

Filed Under Improv, Stand-Up Comedy

A while back I talked about the frustrating trend of comedy show attendees filming performances. I did a little research for a followup, writing Matt Besser and asking them how they handle this at UCB LA. He said:

This isn’t something that I’ve really heard a lot of complaints about in the LA theater. In LA the theater is not that big so it would be easy to spot someone doing that so maybe people don’t do it as much. Sometimes people will do it in Asssscat and I guess we don’t care because we’re not doing written material. On the other hand, I had a guy tape me when I was doing my one man show in North Hampton MASS. It’s 30 seconds of part of one of my bits and it’s totally out of context so I’m not sure make any sense, and then it cuts to me doing my outro where I plug my CD and website. So that’s a pretty lame representation of my show.

If comedians told us that it is a regular problem then we would have our theater manager patrol the audience a little more. If we saw someone taping then we’d ask them to stop and cut off a finger (not a thumb). If they did it again we’d cut off a hand. A third violation is when we then cut off the hand of the mother of the perp.

Matt’s punishment strategy is sound I believe. Even douchebags love their mothers.

But Matt’s got an even better attitude about it, perhaps stemming from his improv background. Check out this recent


performance where he actually gets up close and delivers the address about his dog Martin Luther King and his dream for the audience member’s camera, heightening the conviction of the bit.

It’s not necessarily something stand-ups could do, but it’s a brilliant example of a talented player using what’s in the room.

Edited to take out the Australian referrence. It was in the YouTube video but apparently is not accurate. Thanks for the correct, Jouster!

Posted by Todd Jackson at 08:18 PM | Comments (3)

Dirty South Improv: Louis CK Steps in for Ill Horatio Sanz

Filed Under Improv, Stand-Up Comedy

Horatio Sanz had to bow out of his featured performance at the 2007 Dirty South Improv festival for health reasons less than a day before the showtime. It’s unclear what exactly was affecting Horatio’s health, but a post on the comedy message board A Special Thing mentions that he did go to the hospital. Whatever the case, I definitely hope he is well or on the mend. If I find out anything else, I’ll post it here.

Louis CK apparently stepped in on short notice and flew down Friday to Carrboro, North Carolina to fill Sanz’s slot. According to that same post, it was an incredible performance - much of it new and already apparently quite strong despite him recently completing an HBO special at the end of last year, effectively retiring that material. I’ve heard Louis CK describe how he’s been following Chris Rock‘s model of treating the shows between specials like training for prize fights. If Louis C.K. can maintain the high bar he set in his special Shameless, he and Chris are on to something. If there’s a model for how to pursue being a comic right now it’s him.

Reader Jason Curtis sent along the heads up on a very nice gallery by photograher Kevin Thom of DSI which includes photos of Louis CK (including the one seen above). Check them out.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 09:36 PM | Comments (1)

Interview: Matt Besser, Upright Citizens Brigade and “Woo Pig Sooie” one man show.

Filed Under Improv, Interview, Live Events, Stand-Up Comedy

Matt Besser performing Woo Pig SooieAs one of the four members of the Upright Citizens Brigade, Matt Besser has founded a theater, a school and a community that finally made New York a rival to Chicago for improv. He’s since moved to Los Angeles, extending the community and establishing another coast for students and peers to play, where the industry can see much of the best live comedy performed today. However, Matt right now is more concerned with the middle of the country, as he is taking his one-man show about religion, atheism and the fighting Razorbacks “Woo Pig Sooie” across the South for a series of dates in June. We talked about the reaction he hopes his show will spark in the bible belt, as well as some of the politics surrounding it, along with touching on maintaining the integrity of the growing UCB and the sometimes cult of Del Close.

How do you think your Southern performances of “Woo Pig Sooie” will differ from our LA or New York performances? Are you expecting more negative reactions?

If I get negative, that’ll be a lot of fun. (laughs) You saw the show and it’s kind of a dialogue too, I like to talk to the audience a lot. And yeah, in California and New York, kinda preaching to the converted in a way. And I still expect to have liberal audiences, but I also expect because it’s in the bible belt I’ll get more reaction to certain things.

Usually when I do that show, everybody has different lines. Some people will be laughing along, and I’ll start talking about the pope or priests fucking kids up the ass and all of the sudden they’ll be like, “Whoa! Not funny any more!” (laughs) The Jews will be laughing and I’ll make fun of the Sabbath and “Hey, not funny anymore!”

You make that point in the show. Does the dialogue ever get too thick or does that comment defuse things right away?

I encourage it a little bit. If you know my work, I like a little bit of confrontation. I think that’s fun. I’ve only done this in New York, San Francisco and LA, pretty liberal audiences anyway. The only time it really got a reaction was I had a Catholic in the front row who kicked a chair against a chair. I engaged him and said, “What’s your point? There’s a story about priest molestation in the paper every Sunday, how do you feel about that? If there was a story about truck drivers molesting kids in the paper every day, we wouldn’t have trucks anymore. We’d find a different way…”

Read More »

Posted by Todd Jackson at 07:01 PM | Comments (0)

Jim Henson’s Puppet Improv

Filed Under Aspen Comedy Festival, Improv

This show was packed. According to one account, only 300-350 were anticipated and 600 people showed up. It made for a rowdy crowd, perfect for shouting out suggestions to the improvisers. The show was billed “adults only”, but, in some ways, it’s only because what naturally happens whenever you solicit for ideas from an audience. As the show went along, people were following along, chanting for the improvisers to “puppet up” (which is simply picking a puppet to put your hand inside).

Host Partick Bristow was great at working the crowd for suggestions and for tossing off one-liners. When one suggestion resulted in a scene where characters are carpooing to the Church of Scientology to make a human sacrifice, he simply tossed off “enjoy my obituary.”

The show was impressive, since the performers not only have to figure out what to say but how to represent it physically through the puppets. I sometimes appreciate improv because it’s the mental equivalent of the trapezee act, it’s amazing simply to watch these performers catch each other from the leaps they make. By that measure alone the show is a success.

The show is a bit more “Who’s Line” than “UCB” with the focus on games more than creating scenes. Improv fundamentalists might be a little bothered by the occassional lapses of “Yes And”. During one scene, one improviser choosed to make a random noise provided for the game a “mini-helicopter”, but the other improviser denied the choice and made it a “vibrating propeller condom.” Sometimes improvisers actively asked in character for their partner to provide the answer for predicaments they were in. These are perhaps purist’s concerns, but yes-anding a bit more could help some scenes. Still, it’s a dazzingly inventive show, and worth seeing for the high-wire aspects.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 01:28 PM | Comments (0)

Why I Won’t Be Skiing or I Gave My Leg for the Harold

Filed Under Aspen Comedy Festival, Improv

Aspen, besides hosting the annual industry event, is primarily known for it’s slopes. But I won’t be hitting them. And why, if you indulge me, is comedy related.

Late 2001, I took a Level 1 Improv class with the UCB (back when you had to stand in line to sign up for classes). I don’t consider myself a performer, but I thought it would help me a faster writer - more trusting of my first thoughts. Though I was nervous, the group mind encouraged by Armando Diaz was very powerful and you quickly felt safe enough to just play.

To my shock, my play demonstrated to me that my comic persona was Chris Kattan - far from the wit I had imagined myself. In future improv classes, I would settle down. But for the time being I was embracing turning off my ever-chattering brain to let my body initiate and respond to my partners however it felt like.

Leg in brace post ACL surgerySo when I initiated a scene where I ran at my scene partner while pretending to hold a football, I was purely focused on the joy of just flopping around on stage. While attempting to avoid my scene partner’s grasp by hurdling a chair Hertz-style like O.J. Simpson, I landed with a far too straight leg. I went down thinking of nothing but pain - the worst I’d ever felt before or since.

Class was paused. A ice-cold soda can was produced in lieu of actual ice. I think my partner inappropriately felt incredibly guilty, but I don’t know as my screaming knee swallowed up any empathy that was coming my way. The pain dulled after a few minutes, I managed to finish the class and hobbled on it for a couple days.

Late last year I finally had surgery to fix the joint. Turns out I had managed to give myself an Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear - an actual football injury from playing fake football. Though I walk just grand now - no sudden pain or “floating sensations”, Doc says it’s six months ‘til I can do anything like skiing. So in Aspen, I’ll just be focusing on the performances, hoping nobody else has to live a cliché like I did.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 09:27 AM | Comments (1)