Georgia Clark's Arts Mixtape

Where Too Much Improv Is Barely Enough

Improv fans unite! The Del Close Marathon brings in the best funny people from around the world to flex their comic muscles in a three day smackdown. Photo care of UCB Theater.

The 11th Annual Del Close Marathon
Upright Citizen's Brigade and four more stages
307 West 26th Street, NYC
August 14 – August 16

Like surreal storytelling, smart people being funny and sitting down for a really long time? You like improv marathons! The artform's finest descend on the Big A for three days August 14 – 16th, in this unique event presented by the Upright Citizens Brigade. Whether you're a comedy junkie or an improv virgin, the Del Close Marathon will get your giggle on. We got the down-low off UCB's Artistic Associate of John Frusciante.


Q. This year marks the 10 year anniversary of Del Close passing – how does the 'godfather of improv' still influence the artform?
A. Del’s influence is seen even more today, not only with the success of so many of his former students—Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Adam McKay, etc—but with the growing number of improv groups in NYC and around the world. Del’s principals of “yes, and” and treating your fellow improvisers like poets and geniuses continue to influence the way improvisation is taught and performed.

Q. Tell me a little about the role of improv in the genre of TV comedy – most people might only be familiar with shows like Whose Line Is It Anyway, when in reality I'd assume many writers and performers use improv to write their material?
A. HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” relies heavily on improvisation. Larry David writes the stories for the episodes, meaning he knows what needs to happen in each scene, but he allows his actors to improvise in order to get there. Also, you’re right in assuming that a lot of the principles of improv apply in writers rooms where it’s important to be able to riff on a bunch of ideas and come up with different ways of approaching things on the spot. It helps to be able to follow basic improv tenets of agreement and supporting each other’s ideas in order to successfully do that.

Q. What do you attribute UCB's ongoing success to, even in the face of a recession?
A. People like to laugh in hard times! Also, we maintain a very low ticket price along with cheap beer and wine, so you can come to UCBT and see a great comedy show and have a few drinks for far less than you’d pay to see a movie.

Q. What specifically appeals to you about improv?
A. Improv is an artform that you must create on the spot with a group of people you trust and enjoy playing with. You have to listen to each other and make big assumptions about what your fellow players are saying or doing in order to be successful at it, and then after you wrestle this beautiful beast with your close friends for about a half an hour, the stage lights go out and your creation disappears forever. That’s a great thing to be a part of. It’s not like sketch or improv where you toil alone for hours trying to come up with exactly the right idea or punchline. You abandon your inhibitions for the good of the group and trust that whatever happens will be supported by your teammates.

Q. A 3 day marathon – is there such a thing as too much improv?
A. The only way to find out is to test your own limits. Take this marathon as a personal challenge that will temper your resilience. During DCM three or four I hung around for maybe eight or nine hours. It all starts to blend together in your head and you begin to question the boundaries between fantasy and reality, but it’s a truly awesome thing. It’s sort of like a zen-like trance you go into. Like you’re in a room full of exhausted improv-watching monks.

Q. Do people try and do the full 3 days?
A. People definitely do. They bring food. I’ve even seen pillows. Most people don’t make it though, I don’t remember if anyone made it through last year. People have lofty intentions in that regard but as the hours go on they start to realize what they’ve gotten themselves into.

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