Tag Archives: UCB

My First Del Close Marathon

30 Jun

Friday:

“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.

Saturday:

 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.

  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.

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Quitters Anonymous (Or: How I Bombed For The First Time)

23 Apr

Hello frienditos!

Time for my monthly blog update because I don’t understand the concept of a daily blog. Remember when I would write every day? Man, I had some nice free time. i should go back to living in Baltimore with no friends.

Since I have decided to document my journey into the comedy world (which is like the regular world but with a lot more errant banana peels), I feel I need to talk about Monday – in which, firstly, I fucking KILLED IT in Improv 401 with my new best friend teacher Dan Hodapp. I was nervous for my first day at UCB’s highest improv class since my 301 class had been weirdly stressful and not super fun at all. I would leave class crying (crying! like it was some kind of math class!). So I was apprehensive. But I walked in, sat down next to some dude. Looked at him and realized he was wearing the SAME EXACT OUTFIT as me. Seriously. Black shoes, dark jeans, black T-shirt with a white design of an animal, maroon H&M sweatshirt. I was like “Bro, what the heck? Stop stealing my style, son.” He also found it funny. And a friendship was born.  Then we were randomly picked to be in a few scenes together looking like twinsies. So it was easier to perform now that I had a supportive mirror image friend.

(And just so everyone knows in advance, 401 has three graduation shows – and they’re all on Sundays so you can pop on by and see them like a supportive mirror friend you want to be! May 17th, June 7th and 21st – and they’re all at 1:15 pm so you can watch me and then go home early and nap.)

Now, before I talk about my bomb-a-thon, here’s some stuff about me as a preamble (more like pre-ramble amiright? Okay sorry).

I am an impatient person, which my husband sweetly reminds me every so often. Not in sense that I have outbursts when old people take their time at the grocery store checkout but in the sense that I want to be really good friends with people right away without awkward small talk. I want religion to move faster in accepting women in positions of power, I want congress to stop fucking around and solve all our problems right now. I want to be great at something without having to patiently practice for years and years. I want big sweeping changes all the time and not teeny tiny modicums of progress – which, as you’ll note, is how the world fucking works despite how I might feel.

I don’t have a huge concept of working very hard at something for years and years. I am a grade A quitter. Because I don’t see it as quitting really, but as moving on to something else more interesting. Tired of tennis? Good thing there’s ceramics, ice skating and karate. This sewing machine instructions are too hard to figure out? Fine, just leave it in the box and start baking instead! I can’t remember a time where I didn’t just quit when something got too hard, or boring or just annoying. And Monday night seems like something that, in the past, would make me be like “Eh, I don’t need this comedy – maybe I’ll do something else, like go to medical school.” But I’m trying hard to focus on progress, not perfection – to borrow a phrase from everyone’s favorite anonymous group.

So the open mic was at Gotham. Actually, the basement of Gotham. A nice basement though, it had pretty clean curtains and a little stage. And no seats wet with spilled beer like one I recently went to at McSwaggins. Ari had come for moral support and because we were gonna go to Madras Mahal later (which closed/left BTW! What? Don’t worry, we ended up going to Mr. Broadway.)

I had practiced my set a lot more than I usually did, starting to take this whole stand-up thing more seriously. And coming from my awesome improv class, I was so set on being a fan fave. I went 4th in the lineup which is also usually good because the crowd thins out the later you go.

I introduced myself with a joke. Crickets. Every punchline. Dead, not even polite laughter, or nervous laughter. At one point I remember thinking “Oh you don’t like these jokes muthfuxers – well I’m just gonna double down and do them with even more aplomb!” At one point I went off script to make some off-hand joke about how they didn’t like something and they laughed the hardest at that SO WHAT EVEN IS COMEDY?

I ran off the stage when my light came on. The next girl got up and started making jokes about how she handjobs and everyone was rolling on the floor. I don’t wanna say that my jokes were too *smart* for this crowd but really – I feel like it’s usually the case where someone will be like “Grapes give me diarrhea” and these dudes will be like OMG that is the funniest fucking thing I’ve ever heard! (a true story BTW). I’m trying not to be bitter or angry that they didn’t like me because really, I understand that jokes are subjective and open mics aren’t about impressing other comedians but still, this had never happened and it kind of stung. It was the kind of thing that made my little quitter voice go “You’re probably not nor have you ever been funny – everyone was probably lying to you forever and maybe you’re on the Truman Show.”

In a rare moment of self-pity I posted about it on Facebook and a bunch of comedian friends, pro’s and amateurs alike were like “Bro, it’s not a big deal – it’s gonna happen thousands of times, just keep trying and failing.” Which was like ‘Oh good, I can’t wait to keep embarrassing myself!’ But they’re totally right.

So after a few days of reflection, I’m ready to try again. After I asked if I should change my routine, or whether I should try to say stuff I think the audience will like, Ari firmly told me that I should I only tell jokes that I think are funny and not to pander. Be true to yourself I guess is the moral and you will eventually find your niche.

So we’ll see how it goes from here on out, and I will try to keep posting as often as I can. I hope you all are following your dreams and not getting discouraged from failure!

Why Journalists Would Make Great Improv Actors

5 Oct

I haven’t written about my improv class at UCB in a while. Mostly because I haven’t had any insights other than “Geez Louise this is mighty hard,” and “People in this class look like ageless beautiful gazelles who should be playing teenagers on Glee right now.”

Not that I think Glee is the highest shelf an aspiring actor can reach but because I’ve noticed that Glee likes to stock their fictional high school with upper 20-somethings who have the youthful exuberance and skin of a highschooler. Or at least they did when I watched it – and then abruptly stopped at the end of season three when Rachel was like “Yay we’re getting MARRIED!” and the Glee club was like “No you’re not! We’re kidnapping you and sticking you on this train to NY with NO books or magazines to read and we don’t care what you say – BYE BITCH.” Also Mike Chang graduated and life was just not worth living after he left.

 

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The face of America’s Next Doctor/Dancer

 

Back to improv. I would say that I am not a patient person. I don’t have time for my microwave to count all the way down to zero, if something takes longer than 6 seconds to load I’m onto something else, and I refuse to wait for society to hurry up and just be accepting of all different lifestyles and equalities. That being said, I really want to be good at improv and this whole practicing and learning from my mistakes and slowly getting better every day has been a real issue for me. Every gentle (and hilarious) constructive piece of criticism my teacher tosses at me sounds like, YOU’RE AWFUL WHAT ARE YOU EVEN DOING HERE YOU TALENTLESS LOAF OF BREAD? I have to actively tell myself to calm the fuck down because achieving your dreams isn’t going to take 3/4 of a 101 UCB class before you become successful.

Conversely, when I *do* do something mildly right I’m like psh, BYE ya’ll, I’m off to hang out with Amy, Mindy and Tina, my REAL friends. So, the struggle is real.

 

FACE RESERVED FOR FUTURE BEST FRIEND

FACE SPOT RESERVED FOR FUTURE BEST FRIEND AVIVA

 

But as I continue down the rabbit-hole that is learning the art of improvisation – I’ve noticed that a couple skills that I’ve learned from journalism school (PHILIP MERRILL – HEARD OF IT? No? OK) have come into play a bit. And the more I thought about it, the more I realize that journalists should be amazing improvisers and not just because journalists literally have a million things on their back-up job lists just in case this whole newspapers-are-not-a-thing-anymore trend decides to blow over.

Here’s why:

1. Journalists love to procrastinate

According to this scientific BuzzFeed article about journalism, all reporters thrive under the pressure of a deadline – and if you can’t hack making changes to your work up until the very last second it’s due without having a heart attack, you’re golden. In my own experience, one day to complete a 4 source article is basically a lifetime. We love/hate the rush of banging out a story at the last min.

In improv, you have less than that – maybe 5-10 seconds to figure out the 3/5 PRECIOUS Ws: Who What Where. The why and the when can go suck it cuz improv has no time for that. If you like feeling the heat to create not only a cohesive scene but also one that’s true and funny – get on that.

2. Journalists have to play at the top of their intelligence 

Something I’ve noticed during my time as a reporter is that sometimes I am called upon to write about shit I don’t know. Cover the Obama healthcare when I barely know what a copay is? To Google! Writing a story on the newest jobs report by the Labor Dept? Sure, just let me ask my dad first! To be able to report means to either to know a little bit about everything or to at least pretend you know what you’re talking about. Using the knowledge that’s already in your head plus confidence goes a long way to convince people you have one iota of an idea of what you’re talking about. Playing a doctor in a scene – just throw out buzzwords you heard on House (Ugh, I miss House you guys) – “Sarcoma!” “Lupis!” “Hodgkins Lymphoma!” “Turn your head and cough!” See, easy.

3. Journalists know how to prompt people

If your story has an angle, which it obviously does, you’re gonna need the people you interview to say what you want them to. You’re gonna need to finesse an answer out without telling them explicitly what to say. It has to be smooth. Having experience leading subjects on is a good way to also communicate to your scene partner where you want your game to go.

4. Journalists are good listeners

I have learned the hard way that if you’re not paying attention to what the person you’re interviewing is saying because you’re focusing on what you’re gonna ask next or worrying if your skin looks dry – you’re gonna look like a fool LIKE A FOOL. Or if you’re not prepared to deal with what people are saying and just have a nervous breakdown. Just ask these guys, Listening is important in improv because if your scene buddy is like “Well Joseph, we finally made contact with the aliens,” and you were thinking “Did I feed my pit bull today?” You’re gonna have the added bonus of looking foolish WHILST having people look at you disappointingly and/or sneering at you…especially all those bullies from 4th grade who are probably in the audience just to watch you fail.

5. Journalists are basically delusional 

Sure kid, be a journalist. You’ll *definitely* make it. If you don’t, you can always just drop out and try playing make-believe as a living instead.

 

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You can always just play one on TV

 

So good news for the people (me) who are journalists and are dabbling in improv (me) because someone (me) says it’s a good idea.

Always take advice from yourself and always be your own role model. Go team! (me)

 

 

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