The Del Close Marathon – Behind the mask of improv mastery and madness

52 hours of non-stop improv in New York City!

Once again, improv mania took over New York as The Del Close Marathon celebrated its 12th anniversary this weekend. It kicked off at 6pm on Friday July 30th and went full throttle until Sunday evening. Whoa! That’s a lot of side splitting laughter, game playing and ‘Yes- And’ing – and – founders Matt Besser, Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh shared the reason for it all, with NYCastings… 

Along with Amy Poehler, the four members produced their own sketch show Upright Citizens Brigade for three seasons on Comedy Central in 1998-2000. During the success of the TV show, UCB opened a comedy theatre and improv school in New York City. In 2005, UCB expanded to the west coast and opened a theatre and improv school in Los Angeles.

The Del Close Marathon, specifically, began to honor the father of long form improv. Del Close was the driving force behind improvisational comedy in Chicago for over 30 years influencing Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Mike Myers, John Belushi, Chris Farley and the Upright Citizens Brigade to name a few. After Del’s passing in 1999, the UCB started the Del Close Marathon to celebrate their mentor and keep alive his name and teachings for future generations.

“I think Del would love to know he is being recognized,” the founders say. “He helped all of these people be great but missed his own boat to fame.  He would love that people are gathering and that he gets talked about. He did not get much credit while alive. And he never got to see improv blow up.”

Amazingly, some improv addicts, “without a life,” actually stay awake for the 52 hour duration and end up “loopy at the end, not able to tell you what happened or how they got there,” according to the orchestrators of the marathon – UCB founders Matt Besser, Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh.

To choose which teams get to perform, the Artistic Director watched 800 submissions (up from 500 last year), trying to get a spread across country with a focus on large groups as opposed to two person shows. This year, the furthest came from Australia. Improvisors travel from near and far for a chance to play and for recognition.

“I don’t know if anyone has been discovered here,” the founders say, “but the cooler agents and managers come here and realize what a great movement it is, where they should be looking. I don’t think anyone has exploded out of here like at Montreal or Aspen, but it puts all the up-and-coming actors on the radar.”

Shows like “Requiem For Drunken Sonic Assault, The Reckoning, To Catch a Predator,” are what that the owners and artistic director most looked forward to watching.

Some other teams, from a splattering of The States, include… The Happy Hoofers (Hollywood), Derelict Toys (Orlando), Antitrust Ice Cream (Raleigh), The Wilhelm (New York), Mrs. Helicopter (Vancouver) – as well as the notorious: ASSSSCAT 3000 and Baby Wants Candy.

Select performances will remain online at www.ucbcomedy.com– for all to watch – so check them out (after this article ;).

Beyond the show, the UCB theatre gives actors many chances to perform, year round, with over 300 people on their stage each week.

What makes UCB, and this Del Close approach, different from other improv houses?

“Belief that the game’ is the heart of all comedy. Breaking the pattern of expected reality and then continuously breaking it in a consistent matter.”

The founders believe, “that is the base of all comedy” and that they can “teach the methods and rules so you can express what you have to share, what you have to say individually, and take your mind of being funny.”

Above all, the founders avoid “half acting,” the cartoon type.

“When you come in here and talk about something just be yourself. Just act,” they say. “Really commit, emotionally, to the thing you are creating and never draw attention to the fact that you are a performer. If you draw attention away from the fiction, that isn’t good. The high water mark of improv is to be accused afterwards of it being scripted.”

On the actual, scripted side, the founders have been hard at work on a book (available asap or when improvisors fly, whatever comes first).

Prepping for this book, the founders focused on defining the “language of improv, so it’s not confusing with different people teaching different things.”

There are certain terms like… Yes And.  “You don’t ‘Yes And’ through the entire scene,” the founders say. “You ‘Yes And’ up to a certain point, until you find that unusual thing.”

“Explore has also been something we are into,” the founders share. “When we say, ‘work at the top of your intelligence’, we mean explore. What is the logic? The philosophy?”

“Heighten means… if this unusual thing is true, what else is true? Explore means… if this unusual thing is true, why is it true? If all you do is heighten, then you run out of steam. It becomes a laundry list.”

Next up on the ‘To Do’ list for UCB founders – a 2nd theatre in NYC. Opening by the beginning of 2011, the new digs, called UCB East, will be on 3rd and Avenue A. It will include all different types of comedy, but more stand-up than improv; giving stand-ups a chance to do what they can’t do in a main stream club.

FYI – the new theatre will also have a bar called, “Hot Chicks.”  When you see it, it is not a trip club.

For more “Hot” info on the Del Close Marathon and the UCB theatre check out www.ucbtheatre.com.

Yes! And… keep your ears open for more news regarding this 2nd UCB location. Rumor has it – “there may be a record broken.” Ooh. Ahh. Ooo…

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