In 1996, four Chicago-based improv comics—Matt Besser, Amy Poehler, Matt Walsh, and Ian Roberts—got together to form the group that would become the Upright Citizens Brigade. Fifteen years later, UCB has expanded to the point where its New York and L.A. theaters, as well as its website, are among the top places to recruit future comedy stars. Dozens of today’s comedy stars cut their comedic teeth at UCB, including Paul Scheer, Jack McBrayer, Aubrey Plaza, Nick Kroll, Aziz Ansari, Rob Riggle, and Rob Corrdry. As for the founders, they’ve also done well: Poehler has parlayed a long stint on Saturday Night Live into a starring role on the critically acclaimed NBC sitcom Parks And Recreation, and Besser, Walsh, and Roberts have done memorable guest roles on a number of shows. Last month, the UCB machine expanded further, this time into radio, with Live From UCB airing Saturday nights on Sirius XM’s Raw Dog Comedy channel. Poehler, Besser, and Walsh talked to The A.V. Club about what shows from the theaters will work on radio and what they think they did right (and wrong) in the building of the theater and brand.
The A.V. Club: What made you think that having these UCB shows broadcast live on the radio was a good way to promote the theater and some of its shows?
Amy Poehler: Well, maybe you guys can speak more to how it came about, but I will say that what the UCB Theatre has, that we always want to take full advantage of, is that every night of the week, we have great stuff happening onstage. And because of that, because of our theaters, there’s a lot of material being created, and a lot of shows coming through all the time. So for the people that can’t come to New York and Los Angeles, we wanted people to get a sense of what was happening onstage.
Matt Besser: Yeah, I grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, and before the Internet and before everything, just to get anything interesting, you had to go on vacation to San Francisco or something. But I think when you’re in the middle of America, you feel very jealous of not just comedy, but music that you don’t have access to. So it’s cool for the middle of America to get a taste of the UCB.
AVC: Have people heard about UCB via the fact that the four of you are out there and doing so well, as well as all the comedians who come from UCB since the theaters have started? Have you heard a groundswell of people curious about it?
MB: Yeah. I think it more comes from just comedy nerds, though. I mean, through podcasting and message boards, they hear about a lot of stuff that they hear about, but they don’t hear [it]. So yeah, I think there’s an awareness of us outside of L.A. and New York.
AP: Yeah, that’s a good way to put it. It’s like we’re interested in people hearing us, not just hearing about us. And the station’s a really good way to do that.
AVC: Did SiriusXM approach you guys or did you go pitch to them?
AP: Walsh met a guy in a bar. What was his name? It was like Jack Sirius? Was that his first name?
Matt Walsh: It was Yahoo Sirius.
AP: Sorry. It was Yahoo Sirius. [Laughs.] Of course. And you guys started drinking and he was like, “Hey, I’m Sirius of Sirius radio.” And you were like, “No way!” And then somehow, something happened.
MW: I did my one-man show. I do a one-man show in Vegas and he loved it, and said, “What else do you got?”
AP: And he loved it. And you were like, “Hey, let’s throw the rope down to a couple of guys I know.”
MW: I think he actually experimented with recording some of the [Del Close] marathon last year. Our first relationship with Sirius began then. They’re aware of the theaters both in New York and L.A., and I think they know that there’s a nice rotating cast of great comedians in certain shows, and ASSSSCAT’s one of them. And I think ASSSSCAT was a good beginning to, like, well let’s see how this recording will sound with a live audience. So I think that was our first actual deal with them. I think they liked the theater, and they liked the ability to record things, and they liked that it played well on the radio.
MB: And they also did the It Sucked Awards. We do a show at the end of every year at both theaters, celebrating everything that sucked in the year. And they recorded a couple of those.
AVC: This is live-to-tape and then broadcast at the 11:00 p.m. slot, right?
AP: Right. It’s not like live stream. Although there may be instances where that will happen.
MW: Yeah, they did do that during the marathon, actually. They did both. But for this particular deal, it will all be recorded and played later. The decision will be done by both of our artistic directors. But a lot of it’s based on shows that will play audio-wise more so than other shows.
AVC: A lot of the shows at UCB involve a lot of physicality. How does that translate to audio-only type of broadcast?
AP: It translates like this: [Breathes heavily, as if she’s running.] Hey! Uh! [Grunting.] [Panting.] AAAAAAHHHH! Yahhhh! [Loud straining noises.] UUUUUHHH!
MW: Yeah, I could tell exactly what Amy was doing there. I was like a double flip.
AVC You were running in place, and then jumping, right? Two or three times.
AP: Yeah! See? You knew what I was doing. Don’t underestimate the intelligence of your audience. They’ll know what you’re doing.
MW: We do have currently an ASSSSCAT podcast for free on iTunes, and I think you understand, you know, 75 percent of what’s going on at least. But the [station is] really looking for shows. Like for instance, we do these fake roasts of Justin Bieber or Oprah or Abraham Lincoln. And a roast is just basically people telling jokes. So you’re missing some costuming I guess, but you pretty much get it.
AVC: What are other good examples of stuff that would play well on the radio?
MW: A lot of our shows are scripted, obviously. Like, I don’t know, 20 or 30 percent of the stuff on our stage is improvised. So hopefully the comedy could play just as good as anything on the radio.
AP: Yeah, every night of the week has one-person shows, has stand-up, has improv, has sketch, has all different kinds of things. So a lot of the stuff, you know, it’s in a small, black-box theater and a lot of it’s presentational and therefore we think will translate really well.
AVC: Are you guys looking to showcase certain people? Like, say this were a few years ago when Aziz Ansari was coming up through UCB. Are you looking to showcase an up-and-coming star like that on the show?
MB: Well, I think we assume that there’s a bunch of up-and-coming stars in every show. But I don’t know if we’re going to go, “We gotta get focused on this one guy.” We do have this, for instance, one show called the Standup Spotlight where we do exactly what you’re talking about. But like we have a lot of panel shows, which are basically just a talk show. Or game shows, or a show like Rona And Beverly, which is fictional best-selling authors of You’ll Do A Little Better Next Time: A Guide to Marriage And Re-marriage For Jewish Singles. You know, they’re very funny to look at, but also you get it on audio. It’s funny that way.
MW: And they get guests for panel stuff, too. They get celebrity guests. So that’s a good thing, too. They’re getting the guests every show.
AP: We’re interested in showcasing Aziz, but now as a celebrity guest. [Laughs.] It would be actually really great to just showcase all these celebrities as just up-and-comers, and talk about like, “You guys, check this out, there’s this amazing new comedian…”
MB: Who were your guests on your show last week, Walsh, on Celebrity?
MW: We had Liz Banks and Horatio Sanz.
MB: Could that show be audio-only?
MW: Uh, yeah. It’d be interesting. Yeah, it could. The game part of it would play as well as like, some of those NPR shows like Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me! And then the comedy stuff, which is just banter like on a talk show, would play perfectly fine.
AVC: What kind of stuff do you think you do that really would be tough to translate to the satellite channel?
MW: Willy the Mime.
MB: Did you say Willy the Mime? [Chuckles.]
MW: I think student shows, obviously, for people learning, those don’t really apply. Because they’re still figuring out how to improvise.
AP: I do a show where I turn the lights out and I make everyone quiet, and then I try to read their minds. And then I write down what I think they’re thinking on a piece of paper, and I only let them read it. And then everybody quietly exits.
MW: A show called Plenty Of Pictures. I just draw plenty of pictures. That’s a bad one to translate.
AP: That’s actually a really funny idea for a show, a fake show, is Funniest Pictures. Someone just holds up a picture, and everyone just laughs and talks about it. But never explains what it is.
AVC: You formed the UCB in 1996 and opened your first New York theater in 1998, so you’ve been at this for a long time now. At what point did you guys think that the theater’s shows were something that could be broadcast out on TV or on radio or podcast to a larger number of people?
MW: Well, we’ve always wanted to have our own television network. So this is a good stepping stone toward that. So yes, we’ve always felt we deserved our own cable channel.
AP: Yeah, and when we started 15 years ago, at the time, we were looking to take over a space to perform, and then that grew into we wanted to program other shows and people that we liked in the space. Then that space got too small, and then we got our own space. And then that space became another space in L.A. So it always started from just providing a home for ourselves and for the people that we like to do hopefully good comedy. But we always had a bigger goal in mind, which is that we wanted people to know the UCB, even if they couldn’t come and sit in our seats, you know? And that has manifested itself, and hopefully we’ll in the future do all different kinds of types of production: movies and films, television, and now radio.
MB: Like the second theater. I don’t know if you know this, but we’re opening a second theater in New York, in Alphabet City. It’s on Third [Street] and [Avenue] A. One of the points of that theater is, the current theater’s always been kind of the improv and sketch hub, and we’ve always wanted to get more involved with stand-up, too. So that hopefully will be more of a stand-up theater in a way. Stand-up and sketch. And we’ll keep the improv at the old theater. I think we’ll have a lot of stuff that will play on the radio coming from there, since stand-up is primarily a verbal medium.
AVC: The original New York Theater was on 22nd in Chelsea, right?
AP: Yeah, that was the old Harmony Theater. It was an old burlesque house before we changed it into the theater.
AVC: Didn’t it close because there were fire violations or something? You couldn’t get out if there was a fire?
MB: Yeah, it’s just like every other building in New York.
AP: I think the reason why it closed was there was a show there that was so fucking funny we blew the doors off. And the building collapsed in on itself. No, it was fire. Fire-hazard regulations. [Laughs.]
AVC: About a decade ago, the only UCB performers that people knew about were the four of you, because you did your show on Comedy Central. And now it seems half of the comedy world has come out of the UCB. Looking back, what things did you guys do that turned out to be right? What did you guys do that was wrong?
MW: Well I think one of the keys to our success is our school, obviously. I think we’ve done a good job of codifying what we do well and giving it in a class form so when people do a class, they can walk away with some tools. Whereas some classes, especially in L.A., you take an acting class and they tell you how wonderful you are, and then you leave and you’re like, “I don’t think I really learned anything.” So I think that’s one thing that has been the key to our success, that we teach good classes, and we have a good eye for talent. Because we always talk to the teachers after the class is done, and say, you know, “Anybody good, anybody ready to get involved?” that kind of thing.
MB: Amy was speaking to earlier: A lot of our things just come. It’s not a plan as much as something that presents itself. Like, we didn’t plan to have a second theater in New York. It just got to the point where we have to have it. We have so many people that need stage time that we need it. We weren’t planning to have a theater in Los Angeles. People start moving out there and we wanted one. And as far as regrets go, or mistakes, I can’t think of any right away. I can think of things that are just more difficult than we thought we would be. Like our website, UCBComedy. It took a long time to build it, and a long time to get a really good guy to direct it, which we have now. But some things have been harder. Or like, we’re accredited now, and that took a lot longer than we thought it was going to be to have that happen, to make that happen.
MW: I wish we would have had a show for them so they could have stuck around longer.
AP: What’s that?
MW: I’m just saying in the way that Sirius is going to provide people with exposure, that’s something that we didn’t have when we started. There’s a lot of great people who come out of the theater and want to do stuff, but they have to leave UCB to do it. And hopefully, having shows like the Sirius [show], it’ll keep them around longer.
AP: Well that’s the thing: There are people that want to try stuff and experiment in the theater. Besser used to talk about the Fugazi method of cheap tickets and good shows. But it was like, you always wanted more people in the seats. You always wanted an audience rather than making money. So in the beginning, and still today, people don’t have to pay to do shows at our theater. I know that for people that don’t rent out small theater space, they don’t understand what that means. But when you’re first starting out and you’re doing a show, you usually have to pay the theater up front a price to rent the night, and then you have to make that money back. So the show becomes about making money back that you’ve already lost. We always were able to attract people to come and do stuff because they didn’t have to put up any money up front. They didn’t lose any money before the show even started. I think because of that, a lot of people came to try new stuff, and we found, as we’ve started all these physical spaces in New York and L.A. and another one in New York, the physical space is second to the people that inhabit it. It used to be theater itself was actually like a roving organism of different people that come and go and try stuff. So we’d like to think that when you see that brand, or you see that name, you have a sense of what that comedy is, what kind of style it is, or maybe who’s come before and after, and that’s maybe why people would listen to the show.
MB: Speaking to radio in particular and when we started, there wasn’t satellite radio, and no one would ever imagine something like what happens in our theater being on radio, because radio is just so fucking censored, you know? We’re all fans of Howard Stern, for example, and he was so frustrated with [terrestrial] radio in those years when we were starting out as a theater that he wanted to retire and get out of it. And that is one of the coolest things, I think, about Sirius and satellite radio is it’s uncensored. You can just say whatever you want, and from what Howard was talking about yesterday when I was listening to him, the three most popular channels are his two channels and the third-most-popular one is the Raw Dog Comedy Channel, which we’re going to be on. So I think that’s appealing to people. I think that’s appealing to listeners, hearing comedy cannot be censored.
AVC: What did you take away from the experience of doing the ASSSSCAT TV show a few years ago?
MB: Yeah, that’s a good example. Because we did feel very constrained by the censorship of that, if that’s what you’re getting at. We actually did two different ones. We did one for Bravo and we did one where we just recorded ourselves in our theater and then released it on DVD. And I think we had a lot better time on the second one. Because the one for Bravo, we recorded in a studio, and it just felt really uptight and not what ASSSSCAT is all about. As far as the second one, I think we more owned and felt good about it.
AVC: There’s been a lot of short-form improv on TV, like Whose Line Is It Anyway, but not a lot of long-form. Is there something inherent about long-form that makes it tougher to broadcast on TV?
AP: Well, the one thing is that you always have to prove you’re improvising. Because if you’re a good improviser, you improvise well enough that people think that you’re doing a sketch, you know? So sometimes you have to kind of keep proving that you’re improvising. That’s the game, or the goal, of long-form TV improv, is that you have to kind of keep reminding and showing people that you’re improvising, because they won’t believe you really. But I mean, just like in the same way we talked about can’ts and won’ts, and “they’re back,” and “this is dead,” people always love to talk about how improv doesn’t work on TV, and long-form doesn’t work on TV, but I think it’s just a matter of time. And it’d be great if it was us that did it, or proved it.
MB: Yeah. I think we believe it does work on TV. When we were able to be the producers of what it was, I think we liked what we put out.
AVC: Amy, when you said you have to prove to people that you’re improvising when you’re doing long-form on TV, what did you mean by that?
AP: You just have to show the audience, you know? Editing can be tricky because you have to edit your show together. It’s simply done, but the audience is—it’s like a sign of faith, you know? Even the audiences that come to our theater, they have to believe that you’re getting a suggestion and you’re working it out onstage and you’re creating the stuff in the moment. And when you’re in a theater live, you can see that experience. You can sense a person thinking about what they’re going to talk about, and you can sense these moments and pauses and mistakes. When we did our show and when we did our DVD of ASSSSCAT, we tried to keep those moments in, those moments that maybe perhaps you would edit out so that you can see things like the process, the peek behind the curtain kind of thing. And so you just have to make sure that it doesn’t come across too slick. But frankly, I think that that’s highly achievable, and we think it’s just a matter of time before there’s some improvised show that people Twitter or email their ideas to. I don’t know. I’m very behind with the social media.
MB: You sound very uncomfortable with the word “Twittering.”
AP: [Laughs.] I think nowadays kids can just like—I think if they just blink, then they can send a word from the back of their eyeballs in space and it… gets onto somebody’s… palm top…
MB: [Chuckles.] Twitter pod.
AP: Yeah, their Twitter peet. Their hand phone. So it’s only a matter of time.
AVC: Speaking of ASSSSCAT, the show has always had that “You never know what can happen” vibe. You could pay your seven bucks and end up seeing a monologue by Brian Williams, for instance. What is the best way to translate that feeling out, whether it’s TV or radio or DVD?
MW: I guess I would hope it’d be self-evident. Like in improv, or like in a show like ASSSSCAT, there are no bad ideas. You support them and heighten them and explore them as best you can. So there are a lot of dark paths that inevitably happen in every show. If those shows end up in the final edit, you have to catch a few episodes, it would show itself. You know what I mean? The fact that “Wow, these shows, every week it’s crazy. They go really weird places.”
AP: And I think we never like wanted to be a theater where we had to—I think the reason why “famous” people want to come by the theater is that we never wanted to make it a big deal. We never put out press releases like, “This week, so and so’s talking at ASSSSCAT.” We always wanted it to be the kind of feeling that, like you said, you never know who’s going to show up at the theater. You never know who’ll come by, you’ll never know who’ll perform. And frankly, the other reason why we do it is because we never know. We always get last-minute people stopping by and doing stuff. But I think what you do is you create, hopefully, a station and a brand where people feel like there’s a like-mindedness, somewhat of a shared vocabulary. There’s a certain comedic sense. Then you just care about the people. You know, when Besser talked about Howard Stern, I love Howard Stern’s celebrity interviews, but I’m much more interested in Howard Stern talking to his staff. So you hope that UCB is not just about the famous people that stop by, or who’s the next famous person that’s coming up from that class or whatever. But it’s just a place where you always can feel like there’s going to be good, funny stuff happening and you’re going to understand the voice of it.
AVC: Can you give an instance where somebody really famous, or just somebody that was a pleasant surprise to you guys, showed up on anASSSSCAT night and you guys weren’t anticipating it?
MB: You mean as the monologist?
AP: Well that’s just kind of doing what we just said we don’t do, you know what I mean? I guess we can name drop here, but…
AVC: It could just be a friend that you guys haven’t seen in a long time or something like that. It doesn’t have to be a big celebrity or anything.
MW: When the pope was in town, he did a monologue.
AP: Oh, the pope came by?
MW: Yeah, he did monologues in L.A.
AP: Oh my God, he loves L.A.!
MB: He was very dry.
MW: He flung a condom around.
AP: [Laughs.] Yeah, I’m trying to think…
MW: There is a certain—I guess when we came to New York, I can speak to that. It’s like we had a lot of guys who were writing for Conan or SNL, so we had connections. I think Will Ferrell came in one time and Adam McKay used to jump in, and Horatio [Sanz] when he was on the show back in the late ’90s. People like that, you never know. They were busy. Or Andy Richter. These were guys who were working on television. We were just from Chicago at the time. So that was kind of a thrill for us, because we were friends, and they were like, “Well I’ll come by if I can.” And sure enough, they’d show up.
MB: I think of like, someone who’s not necessarily a celebrity. There’s this guy Omar Rodriguez, he’s from that band The Mars Volta, and he did monologues. I don’t think anyone was expecting, because he’s, you know, he’s a musician, we weren’t expecting him to be—
MB: —as great a monologist maybe as people who do monologues all the time. But he’s probably one of the best monologists we’ve ever had. He had just really amazing stories and experiences. And it’s also a guy you admire his music, too. So it’s cool to have him there for that. Since I’m around the comedians and the actors all the time, I’m maybe more excited when Jello Biafra did it, or when the Mentors did a set and did monologues. To me, that’s when it’s cool, when we get other worlds coming into our theater.
AVC: How do you feel about all the people who have come out of UCB and led successful careers?
AP: Well, I feel like we certainly don’t take ownership in anyone’s successful careers, but I think we do feel a great sense of pride that they passed through our theater. We’re always rooting for their success. Also, we always hope that they think of the theater as a place where they can always return, like a high school they can come back and return to.
MB: I feel predominantly horny, I guess. To narrow it down to one word.
MB: It gets me really worked up.
MW: I usually go back and see if they owe us money when I see them on TV.
MB: You go look at the ledgers?
MW: Yeah. I just want to make sure they paid up for classes. Then I’m happy for them.
AP: Yeah, do you guys know that Ed Helms still owes us for like, three classes for level 2?
MW: Oh, I don’t like him anymore.
MB: The motherfucker.
AP: And that motherfucker’s got The Hangover money now.
AVC: Do you guys have collection agents?
MW: Interns, yeah.
AP: Yep. Really beefy interns who, every once in a while, just knock on—
MW: Lisa Bonet’s husband was an intern.
MW: The guy from Game Of Thrones.
AP: Game Of Thrones? Someone on Game Of Thrones used to be a UCB intern?
MW: Well, particularly the big guy that was married to Lisa Bonet.
AP: Oh! [Laughs.] Jason Momoa! From Game Of Thrones. A lot of people don’t know that.
MW: Yeah. I feel responsible for his career.
AP: Yeah, he used to be in my Level 3 class, and I used to be like, “Jason, Jason, just relax. Try not to play so high-status.”
MB: He would only do object work and not talk much.
AP: Yeah. And he’d be like, “But I’m 6’5” and I’m a giant.” And I’d be like, “I want to see your sweeter side, I guess.”
You know, Ben Schwartz, who plays Jean-Ralphio on Parks And Recreation, used to be in ASSSSCAT, used to be an intern and used to be handing out tickets on Sunday night at ASSSSCAT. And even back then, I just remember him being a really funny guy, worked really hard. He submitted jokes to SNL Weekend Update, and was always doing stuff, doing a website, and doing podcasts, doing his shows. So there’s a certain sense, hopefully, that if you are talented and you want to work hard, the UCB Theatre can be a place where you can get a lot of people to see you, and now hopefully a lot of people to hear you.
AVC: Are there other examples of that out there?
MW: Well, Donald Glover. Donald Glover and his Hammer Pants, they were very much like Ben. Just super-nice kids, hardworking, cleaning toilets, and doing whatever they needed to do to get their internship. And several of them have gone on to form Derrick Comedy and be on TV shows. And they’re really super-nice guys. Like, really good dudes.
AVC: Do you think you sparked the beginning of a new improv movement when the theater got popular in the early 2000s, or do you think it was simply good timing?
MW: Well we had the good fortune, I always say, when we came to New York, nobody was doing long-form. So we came into a void, and were able to show something that was going on in Chicago, but hadn’t really taken over New York. So I think timing helped us, and audiences, because the shows were free or five bucks. I think we were also friendly to young, poor people. And they obviously were very loyal to us as a result.
MB: If we are Marco Polo, Del Close’s lessons are silk. I think we are very lucky to be—
AP: Wait, Del is what?
MB: [Chuckles.] Del Close’s lessons were silk. Does that work? Does the analogy work?
MW: I don’t get it.
AP: No, I don’t get it. Wait. Say it again.
MB: Marco Polo brought silk from China, right?
MB: So that’s what we were bringing.
AP: Oh. So Del Close’s lessons are silk. Copy that. I get it now. I get it.
MB: Okay. Just forget that analogy.
AP: No, no, I like it. I get it. I’m sorry. I just didn’t understand it.
MB: I’m just saying we’re lucky that we had what Del Close taught. We didn’t come up with that stuff. But it really wasn’t outside of Chicago. It really wasn’t in L.A., either. I mean, kind of, but not really.
AVC: Has it gone beyond what Del Close taught now? Or is it still the same basic lessons that he wrote in Truth In Comedy and what he taught all those years ago in Chicago?
MB: I mean, it’s expanded in numbers and amount of people doing it in theaters, but I would say in terms of what it is—I think what the UCB might be proud of is that we’ve refined it. He was kind of the crazy philosopher, and maybe he’s Socrates and we’re Plato. We kind of wrote it down, and we tried to make a lot of his philosophy more—put a curriculum to it, and an order of the lessons. Do you agree with this, Amy?
AP: Well, I guess I kind of think that if we are Marco Polo…. [Besser laughs.] I don’t know. Honestly, Joel, and I’m sure Matt will agree with me, it’s kind of hard to talk about yourself in that way. Meaning, it’s like asking somebody to sum up your career. Like you’re just kind of too close to the painting a little bit. So the reality is, I think the school has taken what Del taught us, and put our own kind of version on things. But, uh, what was your question? I can’t remember.
MB: Going through classes, you know what the game means. We held up the game and made it probably a lot more important than what Del thought it was. Like, we’ve made it all about the game. We really applied how improv comedy can lead to writing it down and it becoming sketch comedy. I think that’s become more of a focus, whereas Del was always looking to expand and come up with new forms. We’ve definitely come up with new forms, as far as the school goes. It’s more about making it more teachable.
AVC: Meaning breaking it down and having people grasp it in a way that they can reproduce easily?
MB: Understand it easier.
AP: I guess. I don’t know. I mean, I feel like this kind of discussion is only interesting to people who are taking improv classes. So at the end of the day, you want to remind everybody that funny stuff happens at the theater. So the super-thin slicing of how people’s philosophies are different can sometimes distract you from the real thing of like, do you think that people at the theater are funny, do you like the show that they do, are they funny? And I think we always wanted to get funny people to go then teach and influence more funny people.
AVC: How do you see the theater expanding and changing in the next five to 10 years?
MB: Well, in L.A., I think we’ll have a second theater eventually. I could also see us having a theater somewhere in the middle of the country, like in Austin or someplace like that, Atlanta. But we weren’t being sarcastic about the television network either. Back in ’98 when we started, there wasn’t any such thing as podcasting. Or if there was, I wasn’t aware of it. I don’t even think it was something people imagined. When we started doing sketch comedy actually in ’91 in Chicago, making your own videos, which we did, took forever. It would take like, a year to make one video. It was just so difficult to edit and just do everything you had to do. So technology that leads to the Internet, and YouTube, and podcasts, makes things easier and easier to do and makes me believe we could have a television network sooner than we believe.
AVC: You already kind of have one with the UCBComedy website.
MB: Right. I guess it would just be more and more accessible, you know? It seems like the real television networks, the amount of people that watch each network is going down and down, and the amount of people that watch each website is going up and up. So TV’s becoming the Internet and the Internet’s becoming TV, and they’re all starting to hook into the same monitor, and it really won’t matter where it comes from eventually.
AVC: When you say “the middle of the country,” improv is in the middle of the country. There’s a lot of ComedySportz-type of short-form stuff. Do you think there is still a lack of knowledge about long-form across the country, even after all this time?
MB: Well there’s definitely a lot of long-form throughout the country. I think people naturally, when you’re talented and funny, and you do well in the middle of the country, you eventually are going to move to Chicago or New York or L.A. And even if you’re in Chicago, to New York or L.A. eventually, just because that’s where the work where you can make a living doing exists. Or at least that’s the way it is now. Maybe that’ll change someday. So I do—no offense to the middle of the country—but I do think there’s more talent on each of the coasts, just because it’s logically where you have to move to. I don’t know if that answers your question. I don’t think the middle of the country is ignorant of long-form, but I do think possibly there could be some teachers that might know more moving to those places. I do believe if we opened up a comedy theater in a city, that we’re going to be able to teach improv better than whoever’s there already. In general I think I could say that.
AVC: Because of the teacher’s training?
MB: Because they’re trained at the UCB, yeah. I hope you don’t end the interview with my cocky statement about us being the only ones who can teach improv in the middle of the country. [Laughs.]