Whatever happened to predictability, the milkman, the paperboy, evening TV…and the cast and creators of Upright Citizens Brigade?
The list of hilarious and groundbreaking comedians who have trained at Upright Citizens Brigade is staggering. There are actors and actresses from The Office, Parks and Recreation, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Party Down — and that’s just a small portion of the TV shows represented. The film list is just as long and equally as impressive.
And it’s all thanks to Amy Poehler, Matt Besser, Ian Roberts, and Matt Walsh, who together formed the UCB Theatre, first in New York then Los Angeles, after training under Del Close at Chicago’s ImprovOlympic. The foursome worked together on Comedy Central’s aptly-titled Upright Citizens Brigade for three seasons, and it has since become a comedy classic (now if only the entire thing would be released on DVD…). Here’s what they’re doing today.
Colby, played by Amy Poehler
Amy Poehler, the most recognizable name of the original UCB team, began her career as a comedian at Boston College, when she joined the student improv group, My Mother’s Fleabag. (Fleabag has been around since 1980 and according to their website, they’re the “oldest collegiate improv troupe in the nation.” Steve Carell’s wife and fellow comedian, Nancy, was a member, too.) Poehler moved to Chicago soon after graduating, and joined Second City, working alongside future friend and NBC stalwart Tina Fey. She also began collaborating with Matt Besser, Matt Walsh, and Ian Roberts, but we’ll get to them.
After UCB moved from Chicago to New York in 1996, the quartet began writing for Late Night with Conan O’Brien, which led to Escape from It’s a Wonderful Life, which led to the Upright Citizens Brigade show on Comedy Central, which led to Poehler being asked by Lorne Michaels to join the cast of Saturday Night Live. She was a quick fan favorite, eventually joining the Weekend Update team (first with Fey then Seth Meyers) and becoming the first SNL’er to receive a Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy nomination at the Emmys. Poehler was on the show from September 2001 (her first episode was SNL’s first post-9/11 episode) until December 2008, when she began working on Parks and Recreation, which you might have a read a thing or two about on this website.
She’s done plenty of other work, too, for both TV (Arrested Development, Undeclared, Wonder Showzen, as well as voice work for Spongebob Squarepants, The Simpsons, and The Mighty B!, which she co-created with Cynthia True and Erik Wiese) and film (Mean Girls, Wet Hot American Summer, Blades of Glory). Outside of preparing for season three of Parks and Recreation, giving awesome graduation speeches, and raising two young children with her husband Will Arnett, Poehler will reprise her role as Eleanor in Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked, set to be released in December.
Adair, played by Matt Besser
A distant relative of Joe Besser, of Three Stooges fame, Arkansas-born Matt Besser began working with comedy legend Del Close after graduating from Amherst College. Close, who John Belushi called his biggest influence in comedy, founded Chicago’s ImprovOlympic theater, which is where he taught Besser was taught and where Besser met Poehler.
In non-UCB news: Besser created MTV’s prank show Stung, starring Redman and Method Man, and Crossballs: The Debate Show for Comedy Central. He has appeared in a slew of movies, including Martin & Orloff (written by Walsh and Roberts, whom you’ll soon be reading about), Junebug, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Drillbit Taylor, and Year One, and can also often be seen on TV, such as recent appearances on Modern Family (as Jerry in “Halloween”) and Parks and Recreation (as Crazy Ira). He also had a sketch comedy special, This Show Will Get You High, on Comedy Central.
But his bread and butter is all things UCB, including performing on a weekly basis at UCB Theater in Los Angeles; starring in 2003’s full-length film Wild Girls Gone, and, of course, ASSSSCAT!: Renegade Improv Comedy; and writing and co-directing Freak Dance, whose production company is, yup, UCB. He has a hilarious website, and can be seen on June 26 in Los Angeles for free, performing a one-man show.
His biggest influences are Jason Kidd, El Duce, and Bill the Cat, naturally.
Antoine, played by Ian Roberts
Herbie Hancock, Walter Koenig, Gary Cooper, Ian Roberts. What do all they have in common? They all went to Grinnell College in Iowa…really, that’s all I’ve got. I just wanted to mention Star Trek’s Chekov and the guy who wrote “Cantaloupe Island” in the same sentence.
Anyways, after graduating from Grinnell in 1987, Roberts, who shouldn’t be confused with the gay rugby player of the same name, moved to Milwaukee, acted with some local theatre groups, then packed his bags for Chicago, where he studied with Del Close, met Besser, Poehler, and Walsh, and formed UCB, as previously discussed.
In the years since, he’s been a scene-stealer, playing choreographer Sparky Polastri in Bring It On (“Cheerleaders are dancers who have gone retarded”), the stage manager in Anchorman, Kyle in Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby (“That’s actually a pretty good compromise right there”), the overly Literal Doctor on Arrested Development (“He’s going to be all right”), and Sergeant Jack Declan on Reno 911! He’s also been in I Love You, Man, Parks and Recreation, Childrens Hospital, Endings, and Party Down, not to mention all his UCB-related roles, like starring in Players with Matt Walsh.
Roberts is still very involved with UCB, where he teaches and performs. He’s currently writing a film called Bouncers, of which little to no information is available.
Trotter, played by Matt Walsh
Thanks to his unusually specific IMDb, the world now knows that Matt Walsh was the fourth of seven children for his parents, Dick and Audrey, and he attended Hinsdale High School, where he played on the football team as a backup tight end (go Red Devils!).
Like so many before them, he studied under Del Close…well, you know the deal by now. When not working with his UCB brethren on Martin & Orloff (which he co-wrote), Apt. 2F, or, naturally, Upright Citzens Brigade, he’s been a Daily Show correspondent, in Todd Phillips’ movies (he played Dr. Valsh in The Hangover), and had recurring roles on Outsourced, Dog Bites Man, Players, Reno 911! (as Ranger Glen), and Human Giant, most notably as a Sugarplum’s agent.
There’s also: Be Kind Rewind (Officer Julian), Hung, and Community…basically, if it’s funny, there’s a good chance Walsh is in it. He recently co-wrote and directed High Road, a “totally improvised comedy, sorta,” about the mythical Triangle Theory (it involves weed), starring Lizzy Caplan, Kyle Gass, Joe Lo Truglio, and Abby Elliot, and he’s set to appear in Veep, an HBO comedy series about a fictional vice-president, created by Armando Iannucci, of The Thick of It and In the Loop fame.
He currently lives in Los Angeles and kind of looks like Louis C.K.