“Happy DCM!” Ben Ramaeka says as he hugs me. I’m standing in line at the Upright Citizens Brigade Training Center waiting for my intern badge. I do what I always do when my former improv class teacher sees and immediately hugs me: “Oh! hi!” And think “I was awful in your 301 class!”
He says “Happy DCM” like its a normal thing people say casually all the time that’s lost some meaning, like “Happy Birthday” or “The bathroom smelled like that before I went in.” But to me it’s a new greeting. DCM, or #DCM17 if you only understand Twitter speak, is the Del Close Marathon, an annual 72 hour improv celebration hosted by the founders of UCB to honor Del Close, a premiere influence on modern improvisational theater and former teacher to the likes of Amy Poehler, Adam McKay, Gilda Radnor and Bill Murray. Basically, the comedy cult leader that started it all. Teams from all over the world, UCB alums and popular show writers all come to NYC to perform on nine stages.
It’s improv Christmas and Hanukkah (considering how many pale Jews grace their stages) rolled into one.
It was my first one and as an intern, I was required to work a shift.
“Now take care of this wristband,” says the volunteer automatically as he snaps a red band around my wrist. “It will get you into shows and the party space. It is IRREPLACEABLE. Don’t lose it.”
“Lose it? It’s attached to my arm how could I misplace it?” I wonder out loud.
“I know how much you love fisting, Aviva!” Yells my co-intern Spencer from a few people behind me in line. “Don’t lose it up someone’s ass!” People chuckle.
“Thanks Spencer!” I shout back.
Everyone’s a comedian.
Since I am an orthodox Jewish person, I suffer from FOMOBOS (Fear of missing out because of Shabbat). I would be missing all the shows that started Friday night and Saturday day so as soon as we said Havdallah, Ari and I rushed out the door to see the show “Let’s Have a Ball,” featuring Kimmy Shmidt. I would also be participating in a show at 1:40 a.m., called Everybody’s Got a Gun, the premise of which would be that everyone on stage would also be holding a toy gun. In a moment of misguided brilliance, I decided that bringing my brother’s old Davy Crockett rifle would be hilarious, not quite planning on how I would carry this 2 foot semi-realistic looking gun from Washington Heights to the East Village. In the end I stuffed it into a long box taken from my father-in-law and hoped that no security guard would ask me what was in my box.
The show we saw was all right. Ellie Kemper was disappointingly underwhelming, but Improv Nerd‘s Brandon Gardner is a gem and actually one of my favorite improvisors at UCB so in the end it was a pretty solid. It ended at 11:15, I said goodbye to Ari, grabbed my fake gun in a box and headed down to the party space while it poured outside and my Bob’s squished with rain.
The party space is pretty self explanatory. An area for performers, crew and VIP to hang out between shows with free alcohol and plenty of outlets to charge iPhones. The line to get in was looooooong. After waiting easily 35 minutes in the rain with other improvisors who were in various states of inebriation, I was close. The security guard at the front started yelling BACK, BACK everyone MOVE BACK. I turned around to see Nick Kroll and Rafi from The League walk right past us and into the elevator. This is an important detail for later. I also saw a high as anything dude get off the elevator and start shaking people’s hands down the line like he was the mayor.
Finally, I made it upstairs and was greeted by a prom where I didn’t recognize anyone. It was so loud and dark, it was like a club filled with people in flannel, wearing backpacks. I stashed my gun to the side, got a beer and walked around. Eventually I ran into another intern and started chatting.
“Look, there’s Nick Kroll.” He said, pointing to a small group of people gathered outside the VIP area.
“Haha, Fuck Nick Kroll. He cut me in line before! The nerve of some people!” I said jokingly.
“You should go over there and tell him that.”
“Haha, yeah I don’t think so.”
“C’mon, go yell at him. I’ll hold him down if you want to get in any punches.”
I laughed and then kind of went, yeah OK. Let’s go yell at Nick Kroll, what else am I doing right now? Surprisingly, I had only drank 1/3 of my beer. My friend followed behind me.
“Excuse me, Nick Kroll?”
“Yes?” He said.
“I’m Aviva, I wanted to say hi.”
“Hi, are you comedian?” He asked while politely shaking my hand (his were very soft if you were wondering).
“Yeah…it’s going all right. I also wanted to tell you that you fucking cut in me in line earlier.”
He laughed, “Yeah, I don’t feel bad about that. Not even a little bit. Like, out of all the things I’ve done in my life, I feel the least bad about that.” He kind of gestured around himself like “Do you see who I am?” I nodded and felt that I had accomplished what I wanted to, but I was still in this conversation.
“Uh, well I have to go…um, get my gun now.” I said. “It was nice meeting you!” And walked away hoping that I said “TOY gun” or maybe that I had said nothing at all. My show was in ten minutes and I needed to get to the Magnet Theater.
DCM shows ranged from hour long productions featuring Amy Poehler at 7 p.m. to 15 min bit shows starring students at 2 a.m. I was still jazzed to participate though. “Everybody’s Got a Gun,” starred around 17 people (most of whom worked with me at the East theater), which you’ll notice is a lot of people for a short show on a small stage. It wasn’t great. Before we walked on, I turned around to Spencer and said I said I was nervous. “Just remember this,” he said softly. “None of this matters at all.”
After our show, it was too late to wait on any lines since they only kick people out of the theater every six hours and I didn’t feel like waiting four hours in the rain with my gun. I packed it in at 3 a.m. and went home to sleep for my shift on Sunday.
I woke in the morning at nine. I had meant to wake up early to wait in line to see more shows but I decided to sleep instead. My shift was at The Theater for the New City, which I remembered from my days as a theater reviewer. Most of the shows for DCM there would be short ones put on by teams. My job was to stand at the front and answer questions. Most questions were “Where are they playing Pride and Prejudice?” One old lady asked me if I was an actress because I was so pretty. That doesn’t really have anything to do with DCM but it’s my blog and I’ll tell you about random compliments if I want to!
The shift was uneventful and kind of an anti-climactic end to the IMPROV EXTRAVAGANZA. But I don’t think I prepared for this year. I didn’t make time to see shows, I didn’t research what would be where. I didn’t give myself enough time to hang out at the party space and yell at more famous people. I think next year I’ll be readier. Hopefully it won’t rain and hopefully I won’t be lugging around a cardboard box with a heavy rifle inside.
But ultimately, it was a great experience. Not just the marathon itself but the feeling of community surrounding it. The building excitement weeks beforehand, the fact that I could meet a visiting Australian performer at a workshop and just talk about improv and connect over beats and characters and game. It’s cool to bond with people who value big choices and mistakes and learning. It’s actually a pretty good cult and I’m glad I joined.