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Tonight’s recommendations for the best in New York City comedy (in chronological order, with top picks noted and shows over $10 marked with $) include:
[SUPER-MEGA-TOP PICK] [$] Right Now-9:30 pm Today ($30): One of the most magical events in NYC, the 14th Annual Del Close Improv Marathon is running continuously from 4:30 pm on Friday June 29th until 9:30ish pm on Sunday July 2nd. Improv troupes from all around the US Canada, and elsewhere—New York, Albany, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Cambridge, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Fairfield, Austin, Miami, Columbus, Cleveland, Detroit, Denver, Phoenix, Raleigh, Carrboro, Toronto, Vancouver, London, Helsinki, and more—are performing over 150 shows, typically in 30 minute blocks, for 55+ hours. Tickets are $30 for the entire weekend—an incredible bargain. Paul Scheer said several years ago the appropriate charge would be around $600, and he mostly wasn’t kidding. Even if you skipped the marathon for its first two days, there’s enough going on to make buying for just today’s shows highly worthwhile.
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DCM is happening at seven different venues this year. I’ll mostly be at UCB Chelsea, but please know there are incredible things happening at every one of these stages. That noted, the following are some of the highlights I personally experienced.
- At the DCM press conference, Ian Roberts started announcing a major UCB project…only to have Matt Besser and Matt Walsh interrupt with, “Um, that’s still a secret.” Ian spent a few minutes in denial with “Gee, are you sure we haven’t said anything publicly about it?” When assured that was the case, Ian rebounded with, “Well, when we do you’ll all be very impressed.” I actually have a reasonable guess what it is…and yes, we all really will be.
- Also at the press conference, Matt Besser swore that an improv manual they’ve been working on for nearly 10 years “will, we guarantee, be done before next year’s marathon.” Ian then added, “Absolutely! And the white buffalo will once again walk the plains…” (As an expert with 20 books under my belt—including five Dummies books—I’ve been offering to help with this for six years running. Ian, Matt, and Matt, at this point I’ll do it for a sentence in the Acknowledgements. Reach out to me…) Among the benefits of the UCB book will be clarifying terms and concepts that often confuse improvisors. For example, as Ian explained, “Beginners think Agreement means going along with whatever someone brings up. But if your partner suggests ‘Let’s jump out the window,’ and you say ‘Sure!’, then that’s the end of the scene…because at that point you’re both dead. What Agreement really means is saying yes to the reality of whatever scenario your partner suggests—but then responding in a genuine way that reflects how you—or your character—would really behave in that situation.” The book is another project from UCB very much worth looking look forward to.
- Also at the press conference, the guys discussed how much work is involved in becoming good at improv. Ian said a lot of people who are funny think, “Improv is walking and talking. I do that every day. I’m ready to go on stage as an improvisor!” Ian continued, “That’s like my looking at a piano and saying, ‘I like music. I have fingers. I’m ready to give a piano concert!'” Ian also defended rules, explaining, “The fact that I can stand here is defying gravity. It’s a learned skill I’ve done so often it’s become instinctual. We all learn from habit and repetition.” Matt Besser added that taking a class is great, but not by itself: “You should have your own practice team. And every session you should rehearse with each other for three hours—not one hour, not two hours, three hours is the standard—and at least three times a week.”
- Stellar NYC trio Doppelganger (Sasheer Zamata, Nicole Byer, and Keisha Zollar) were in top form, with running gags including a man (played by Nicole) who keeps proposing marriage at the most inappropriate moments—such as when his girlfriend is caring from her grandma who’s just moments away from death: “We’ll inherit the old bag’s house, car, and savings. Honey, be mine!” Another shining moment was when Sasheer brings an orphan (played by Keisha) into her house, outlining a space four feet by four feet and saying, “That’s how much room you have. Don’t leave that square, you’re dirty.” Keisha looks around rapturously and says, “At least it’s a home.” It was an apt metaphor for any young performer starting out; but chances are each of these fearless and razor-sharp gals will go on to lustrous careers.
- When comedy geniuses Chris Gethard and Shannon O’Neil of The Stepfathers appeared at 9:00 pm, the crowd cheered wildly. Shannon growled, “We’re on this stage every Friday! And at this exact same time!” Then Shannon relented with, “But thank you for your drunken enthusiasm.” What followed was one of the most brilliant 30 minutes of improv I’ve even seen—from Chris, Shannon, Silvija Ozols, Zach Woods, Will Hines, Michael Delaney, and Connor Ratliff working as a perfectly oiled machine, with all of them understanding each other’s strengths and playing them perfectly. That would’ve been enough; but then Chris said, “And now…let’s rewind.” The troupe responded with pure magic by reenacting every scene it had made up on the spot—backwards! As these stars got to the point of backing out the curtains from where they’d entered, the audience jumped to its feet to provide a rousing standing ovation. The set wasn’t quite over, though, so Shannon returned to growl, “Sit back down! We’re not done yet! Geez, we’re here every Friday!” The troupe proceeded to deconstruct what they’d done, with such comments as, “I thought that tag was a little premature” and “This scene came out of something that happened backstage no one else has any idea about.” When the lights finally came down, the audience jumped up to provide an even louder and more enthusiastic standing ovation.
- There’s more I could write—about such troupes as Sentimental Lady from LA and Telenovela from Washington DC; a fun Bassprov with the form’s creators, improv legends Joe Bill and Mark Sutton, plus guest improv legend Matt Walsh; improv star Fran Gillespie doing an impressive job as a mirror in Paranormal Encounters; and another of the finest improvisors alive, Paul Scheer, in Bruckheimer; but I want to eat something and then get back to the marathon. Please check in here tomorrow for a report on tonight; and please get your ass over to DCM for this not-to-be-missed comedy event.
- Matt Besser, Matt Walsh, and Ian Roberts did something only comedy masters can pull off: They created a gripping and laugh-filled 30 minutes from simply playing with the audience. Starting with the premise that there are both guys and gals at DCM eager to hook up, but with no easy way to find each other, the UCB founders determined to fix things by becoming improv pimps. After a hilarious maze of ideas, they ended up getting five female and five male volunteers on stage. (There was actually a sixth guy, but—in an especially delicious moment—an audience member outed him as having a girlfriend, and in fact wearing her DCM bracelet to get into the theatre that day. The guy was unanimously booed off…) The volunteers were assigned numbers, from 1 to 10, and then told to close their eyes and use their fingers to indicate the number of the person they’d like to be with. Sadly, no digits corresponded across genders. At the last minute, to Matt Besser’s delight, an audience member shouted, “Second choice!” They gave that a try as well; but most of the women raised empty fists… While the wild experiment failed at making a match, it succeeded at becoming one of the best shows of the marathon.
- John Gemberling’s last official Death by Roo Roo show was last month, after which he moved to LA; so one of the special treats of this DCM was having John back one more time. The same goes for another former Roo Roo member now based in LA, Gil Ozeri. Gil’s down-to-earth brilliance was in top form as a guy who kills animals and small children and then explains it all away with, “I’m slow…” Roo Roo turned this unsettling scenario into a surreal ride of talking ravens, mountain spirits, and dreams within dreams within dreams. Still one of the finest troupes in improv history, Roo Roo keeps going via comedy giants Anthony Atamanuik, Neil Casey, Gavin Speiller, John Murray, and Dan Black every Saturday at 9:00 pm.
- An eternal high point of DCM is Match Game ’76, which features a small army of 1970s celebrities doing incredibly stupid and disturbing stuff. Among the most memorable last night were Rob Lathan as a Chevy Chase who kept falling head over heels and knocking everything down, Adam Pally as a John Belushi obsessed with his long-term career plans, Bobby Moynihan as a Jim Henson whose personality was indistinguishable from Kermit the Frog, Michael Delaney as an eerily dead-on and effete 15-year-old Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Shannon O’Neill as “Sharon’s Tate’s dead unborn baby.” As always, Paul Scheer was pitch-perfect as the unflappable host; and this year’s contestant/victim was Chris Gethard, who was continually pelted by the celebrity guests. Chris was good-natured about it at first, but as the abuse continued got his wild “fighter” look in his eyes and began throwing objects back at the stars. This somewhat tense stand-off was resolved just a minute before the show’s end when a celebrity’s random throw managed to get past Chris’ defensive posture and score right into his balls. When Paul asked if he was all right, Chris gracefully replied, “I’m fine aside from the fact I was belted in the testicles with a hard-boiled egg.” Beginning improvisors, please note that these are words to live by.
- There’s more to write about—including the biggest laugh of the marathon, lasting over half a minute, created by Joe Wengert at 3:08 am at Batman-Prov (see photos above); but I’ll get to those on Monday. Meanwhile, I’m off to experience the final day of DCM. Hope to see you there; and especially at the smash finale, ASSSSCAT 3000 at 8:00 pm at the Fashion Institute of Technology Haft Auditorium, Building C, at corner West 27th Street & 7th Avenue, with Amy Poehler, Matt Walsh, Matt Besser, Ian Roberts, Horatio Sanz, and other improv stars.
Also, while I love DCM, please note that if you’re a stand-up fan Ted Alexandro is one of the very, very best, and it’s just bad luck he’s opposite the most incredible improv event of the year. If you didn’t manage to nab tickets to ASSSSCAT 3000, please consider instead attending Ted’s 8:00 pm headlining show at the Gotham Comedy Club (just a few blocks away from UCB Chelsea); he’ll deliver gold as well. The details:
[TOP PICK] [$] 8:00 pm ($25 & 2-drink min.) One of the very finest stand-ups in the country, who’s performed on David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Kimmel; starred in two Comedy Central Presents half-hour specials; and frequently opens for Louis C.K., headlining one last night at the Gotham Comedy Club: Ted Alexandro
Complete daily comedy listings will resume tomorrow (i.e., post-DCM).
For more, please visit HyReviews.com.