March Challenge: Close Encounters of The Improv Kind
This is gonna be about the first improv show I ever saw, but first I’ll bore you with some exposition.
In 2002, I graduated from a small academically competitive all-boys Jesuit prep school in the city (Regis) where everyone went to and finished college. If only six people went to Harvard from a graduating class, it was considered a down year. College equaled your future.
Fast forward to 2003. I was out of college because it was too expensive for my family. I lived at home and didn’t have a job. It was a generally depressing time in my life. The only things I really enjoyed at that point were reading books and watching movies — you could pass a lot of time doing nothing that way.
Anyway, sometime that year, someone I knew mentioned they had been to a place called The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. Apparently, he had his mind blown by an improv group that did an awesome show based on the suggestion “Super Furry Monkeys.” (Later on, I realized he was talking about Harold Night.) I’d always been interested in comedy, so I told myself I’d check it out… eventually. So I kept that information in the back of my head, in case I was looking to do something fun in the future.
A few months later, some Regis friends were in town (back from college) and were looking for something to do. I suggested we go to a UCB Theater show called “Culture Vultures,” which was a mock game show hosted by Paul Scheer. The plans were scuttled, however, and we ended up doing something else. Probably something stupid like the ESPN Zone or something.
Then, August 15th, 2004. My 21st birthday. My friends and I went to the theater to stand in line for something called ASSSSCAT 3000. I had picked it only because I had wanted to go to the theater on my birthday and this was what was playing. My friends and I didn’t know much about it, other than it was improv. But we were expecting it to be “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” improv. We purposely sat a few rows back so we wouldn’t be called on for any ‘audience participation.’
All my expectations were blown out of the water at that very first ASSSSCAT show. First, I thought it would be easy to get in. The line was enormous. In hindsight, it was actually a pretty light night for the show considering we got tickets after getting on line at 7:30 PM.
Second, I expected not to recognize anyone in the cast. Then, Matt Walsh and Amy Poehler came out. Then, they introduced Rob Huebel (Inconsiderate Cell Phone Guy!), Paul Scheer (Best Week Ever guy!), Brian Huskey (BWE again!), Michael Delaney (I’ve seen him on Conan!), Miriam Tollan (Conan too!), Jack MacBrayer (Conan three!), Rob Riggle (He’s been on Comedy Central!), and Seth Morris (Don’t know who he is, but I’m sure he’s funny!). Doug Benson (VH1 again!) did monologues.
Then they did long-form. I couldn’t believe that they were making all of it up. It seemed too hard, but they were making it look easy and fun. I was also amazed that they picked just the right moments to end scenes.
There was also an amazing energy in that room that was clear the moment you stepped inside. And this was before the show even started. People were pumped up and they hadn’t seen a single minute of comedy yet. It was addicting.
Weirdly, the feeling I had during and after that very first improv show is very clear, but I don’t remember any of the actual scenes they did. I remember Amy coming out with a can of Red Bull; seeing Huebel’s white hair backstage through a space in the curtains; noticing a hipster-y dude sitting on the stage on a makeshift lawnchair. But I can’t tell you what the scenes were. It’s the nature of improv, I guess.
Afterwards, I decided to go to ASSSSCAT the following week. And then the week after that. And then the week after that. It became “my show.” I was drawn to it by how simple and fun it was. It was also exciting to watch celebrities perform without a net.
The whole first show experience was a big bang moment for me. I went to every ASSSSCAT show for a long time, months before I took my first class. It’s an important show to me because it introduced me to a whole comedy world I didn’t even know existed. I was even lucky enough to intern for the show for a long time. (But that’s another post.)
Pretty soon, UCB became my version of college.
This is part of my March 2010 Challenge. More information here.
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