Like a daft fish to an obvious hook, the Upright Citizens Brigade keeps returning to Charleston for Piccolo Fringe. This will be the fifth year the seasoned band of improv comedians hits the Holy City.
"This is what we look forward to all year round," says Eli Newell, director for the UCB Touring Company. "It's like a vacation. We have more fun at these shows than any other, so it's not really work for us."
Newell's group spends a great deal of time on the road, performing at schools, rock venues, and comedy clubs. So his heartfelt yen for our little burg is all the more touching. And the mutual agreement works out pretty well — we give the UCBers hospitality, a little bit of cash, and a sunny beach to unwind on; they give us the funny.
On stage the team provides astute, quick-fire, extremely irreverent humor, forged in the hot comedy furnace that is New York. Previous years have brought us such memorable scenes as gang members dividing territory via a PowerPoint presentation, a possessed cop, and a gossiping stretch of seawater.
"Anything that comes up, I'm sure we'll dive headfirst into it," Newell says. "No subject is taboo for us. But we don't get dirty just for the sake of it."
Oh no. UCB is far too sophisticated for that.
Here's how the show works: An audience member is invited up on stage and interviewed. The comedians proceed to rifle through the stooge's wallet or purse. Then they use that info to start improvising.
"We start in on scenes, bits and pieces you recognize from the interview, and those will all come up throughout piece," Newell says. "We exploit different ideas and come back to them in different forms."
Apart from a cozy beach house, another draw is Theatre 99's audience.
"Charleston crowds are amazing," Newell says. "They're some of the best, and they're the drunkest. A couple of people participate a little too much, but as long as they're there to have fun we're happy."
Happy enough for some of the cast to drag themselves away from prime time TV (that's appearing in it, not watching it). The lineup has yet to be confirmed, but Newell's expecting Bobby Moynihan (SNL), Lennon Parham (Parks & Recreation) and Neil Casey (Fat Guy Stuck in Internet). Also look out for Eugene Cordero, Shannon O'Neill, ex-MADtv writer Katie Dippold, and UCB Artistic Director/Human Giant star Anthony King, who all hope to make an appearance.
This year is Newell's last at Theatre 99.
"It's been an exceptionally crazy year," he says, "and I've been touring for five years. It's time to move on and focus on me."
Until then, Newell is confident he'll look good. His friends will make sure of that.
"Everybody's been on the road for a long time, so we can pretty much read each other's minds," he says. "Good improv's all about supporting and listening rather than getting your own idea out.
"If I get a quick laugh, everything else dies and I look like an asshole. The beauty of this group is, you can say or do anything and everyone else will be right on board making you look great. I rely on that way too much."