When asked to elaborate on a previous company quote that members of his comedy troupe "make improv like rock stars," Upright Citizens Brigade Touring Co. director and performer Eli Newell thinks for a moment. "Well... we drive fast cars and love loose women. A lot of sex; a lot of drugs. And our drummer died a couple of weeks ago. Other than that, I don't really know.
"No, a lot of improv out there is either tame or boring," he explains, "and we try to go where people don't go. We'll blow your mind and then we're on to something else."
The show that UCB Tourco brings to Piccolo Fringe will consist of five people initially, with more cast members jumping in as the festival goes on. Performers, who have all been put through the test at UCB stages in LA and NYC, include guest stars from Late Night with Conan O'Brien and writers from MadTV and Creature Comforts. Other UCB alumni have gone on to SNL, The Daily Show, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Best Week Ever.
What you'll see is an hour of long-form improv, in which the cast members ("we only send out our best people") take an audience suggestion and build the show around it. "We start from a place of reality and then go from there," says Newell. "If we explore what's unusual, that's what's gonna be funny. ... A lot of people think you can throw us off with a suggestion."
But that's incredibly difficult to do. Newell admits to being thrown off guard only once, and that was by a woman who exposed her husband's metal prosthetics and yelled out "fake legs" as her suggestion, leaving "150 really uncomfortable people there."
"It's going from A to C," he says of the suggestions, explaining that a train of thought from the performers takes any suggestion and makes it great by carrying it off into different directions. When asked about the pressure placed on an audience by asking for a starting point, Newell says, "I don't know why people think they have to give hilarious or confounding suggestions. Everybody paid to see us be funny anyway, not the audience."
Pay your money now to see Newell and company be funny; tickets will go quickly. —Jennifer Corley
Upright Citizens Brigade Touring Company • Piccolo Spoleto's Piccolo Fringe • $15 • (1 hour) • June 2 at 10:30 p.m.; June 3 and 4 at 8 p.m.; June 5 at 9 p.m.; June 8 at 10 p.m.; June 9 at 7:30 p.m. • Theatre 99, 280 Meeting St. • 554-6060