Read Ellie Kemper’s UCB Improv Festival Diary

Photo: Konstantin Sergeyev

The Del Close Marathon is an annual New York improv festival put on by the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in honor of legendary Chicago improv teacher/guru Del Close. What started as 24 hours’ worth of shows on a single stage has expanded, in its fifteenth year, to 420 shows on seven stages for 56 hours straight. DCM is part-festival, part-convention, part-reunion, and features an amount of partying appropriate to all three. Each year some of the theatre’s famous alumni come back to do some shows and see old friends. To capture what it’s like, we had The Office’s Ellie Kemper keep a diary of her time getting ready for and performing at DCM. Follow Kemper through her three shows, stress dreams, shopping, sweating, old friend seeing, and Breaking Bad catch-up.

Thursday June 27
5 a.m.
Wake up in my hotel room in Seattle, where I am on location for work. I did not sleep well for two reasons: (1) I had a stress dream that I was improvising with my friend and former teammate Jonathan Gabrus, but for some reason we both needed surgery, and (2) my hotel, as it turns out, is haunted, and I heard someone whistling next to me for the better part of the night.

5:30 a.m.
I find myself telling the front desk clerk about my weird ghost whistler from last night. We share a laugh about how I was literally “sleepless in Seattle,” but my laughter is fake. I’m not exactly sure what is so funny about ghosts haunting me.

7 a.m.
Board my flight for New York City! I love New York and I am so excited to go back. I am, however, also incredibly nervous to improvise because it has been a while. To distract myself, I prepare to dip into my first Breaking Bad episode of the flight. I just started watching a month ago and am already on season three! I think this show is going places. ** SPOILER ALERT TO FOLLOW **

8:16 a.m.
Hank in critical condition!!!

9:03 a.m.
Gus treats everyone in the hospital to Los Pollos Hermanos!!!

9:58 a.m.
Will Jesse never learn??

10:32 a.m.
My laptop dies before they kill the fly! I am left to only imagine what happens next.

3:15 p.m. (EDT)
Arrive in New York City.

3:16 p.m.
Begin to sweat the minute I remember I am here to improvise again.

8 p.m.
My husband, Michael, and I cook spaghetti and finish my Breaking Bad fly episode.

9:02 p.m.
In a way, the fly will never die.

Friday June 28
9 a.m.
Agh! I had planned on getting up at 6 a.m. to go for a jog, but that seems not to have panned out.

9:30 a.m.
It is already 140 degrees in New York City.

9:45 a.m.
Run into Amy Poehler on the street! If this isn’t a good omen, I don’t know what is.

10:30 a.m.
Take a Bar Method class to focus my energy and calm my nervous self down.

Eat a frozen Levain Bakery cookie to treat any injuries I might have sustained during Bar Method.

12:15 p.m.
Shannon O’Neill, my good friend and former teammate from Fwand, texts me to make sure that I am in NYC. Sometimes I flake on things and she knows this. I tell her that I’m not in NYC, as a joke, and then text back to tell her that I was just joking; I actually am in NYC. The joke went over really well and I remind myself to save my best stuff for tonight.

2 p.m.
Consider booking a blow-out, because I want to look beautiful, but then decide against it, because I know I will just end up sweating. The temperature has climbed to 172 degrees Farenheit.

2:30 p.m.
Go shopping for an outfit for tonight. It is embarrassing to admit the amount of time that I put into planning my improv show outfits. The finished product would suggest that it took no time at all, but I assure you, I spent a lot of time getting nowhere fast. I find dressing for improv shows to be a very tricky thing. I want to wear pants so that I can do anything (put that on my tombstone). I want to wear shirts that won’t show sweat. I want to look polished and pulled-together, but also sort of carefree, fun-loving, and incredibly ready for a good time. I usually accomplish this via some sort of loose tee, skinny jeans, and flats. I am never happy with the result and invariably look like I just arrived from a junior high mixer.

4:45 p.m.
Am beginning to panic because I have not found a shirt yet. Only items purchased on my excursion are a City Bakery iced coffee and some two-for-one Nivea lip balm. None of these shirts are meeting my improv wardrobe requirements!!!

5 p.m.
Woohoo! Find a great summer tank at Madewell. Sprint back to apartment to shower and change.

5:45 p.m.
Blowing out my hair and sweating in my hair at the same time.

6:05 p.m.
Leave for kickoff party. Decide it will be more pleasant and quintessentially New York to walk from 14th Street to 31st Street. It is neither of those things. By 17th Street, my brow is dripping and my underpants are soaked with sweat.

6:10 p.m.
It’s just, like, why did I even bother taking a shower?

6:12 p.m.
What the hell with these pants!!

6:14 p.m.
I love/hate/love New York.

Photo: Konstantin Sergeyev

6:25 p.m.
See Owen Burke outside the party!

6:26 p.m.
See Michael Delaney outside the party!

6:29 p.m.
See Shannon O’Neill inside the party!

6:45 p.m.
Finish some light-hearted questions from the press about whom I would gay marry and would I rather actually have sex with a goat or have people think that I have had sex with a goat, and then I reunite with part of my fabulous improv team, Fwand. All of my nerves immediately go out the window and I am just excited to improvise with my friends! Only five of us could make it to the marathon, and we are Sean Hart, Kevin Hines, Chelsea Clarke, Shannon, and me. We toast to ourselves and have a plastic flute of Champagne. I accidentally break mine in my excitement.

7:10 p.m.
Fwand leaves the party for the S.V.A. Building on 23rd Street!

7:25 p.m.
Arrive at the theater space! This feels like camp, but awesome camp where I am not homesick. Everyone is in a fantastic mood and Fwand quickly discusses our show format in the green room.

7:30 p.m.
Fwand runs onto the stage!

7:40 p.m.
We talk with the audience for a bit, then begin a 40-minute set of improv. As no improv show is interesting to hear about unless you were there, I will not go into details about what happened during the show. It was so lovely and special to perform as a team again.

Photo: Konstantin Sergeyev
Photo: Konstantin Sergeyev
Photo: Konstantin Sergeyev
Photo: Konstantin Sergeyev

8:20 p.m.
Show is over! It was a complete blast. I love Fwand. I see Christina Gausas in the green room, and I whoop out loud. Christina is the most wonderful improviser you will ever meet, and the warmest person to boot. Our two-person show, “KempSas,” is up next!

8:55 p.m.
Christina and I must cut our catch-up conversation short to decide what we are going to do for our nine o’clock show. We decide to do 50 minutes of improvised scenes.

Photo: Konstantin Sergeyev
Photo: Konstantin Sergeyev

9:50 p.m.
KempSas is over! I am on cloud nine. Improvising with Christina is one of the greatest things in the world.

9:55 p.m.
Christina and I talk to Mike Birbiglia and Jen Stein in the lobby. I want to all go out to dinner together! But we are all going off to other shows!

10 p.m.
Christina and I leave S.V.A. for F.I.T. I will only do improv shows in buildings known by their acronyms.

10:15 p.m.
The cast of “Let’s Have a Ball” gathers backstage. Joe Bill, Anthony King, Brandon Gardner, Zach Woods, Christina, and I divide into pairs for our first three scenes.

10:28 p.m.
I check the mirror to make sure that my hair is still wispy and crackly with dried sweat, and that my cover-up is still emphasizing my zits rather than concealing them. I am all set.

Photo: Konstantin Sergeyev
Photo: Konstantin Sergeyev
Photo: Konstantin Sergeyev

11:20 p.m.
“Let’s Have a Ball” is over. I am done with my improv shows for the night! I am starving. Michael is waiting for us in the lobby and we all head for the party space on 31st Street. I eat a melted Chewy granola bar from my purse.

11:45 p.m.
We are waiting outside the party space for wristbands. This is even better, because we see a hundred people we know and it has somehow turned into a magically cool and breezy New York night.

12:05 a.m.
We enter the party space. Shannon, Christina, and I dance furiously to “Mmmbop.”

12:45 a.m.
We take a break from dancing. I sit on the inflatable couches talking with Michael and Andy Secunda. I look around the room and hardly recognize anyone! I feel old, and very wise.

1:40 a.m.
Shannon leaves for the Zoo Crew show, and Michael and I leave for home.

2 a.m.
I sit on the couch enjoying a large bowl of Slow-Churned butter pecan ice cream. I just hate it when they churn it too quickly. Michael has gone to sleep, but I have lots of scenes to run over and over again in my head, figuring out what I should have said instead of what I did say.

2:30 a.m.
I crawl into bed. I have to get up early in the morning to fly back to my haunted hotel in Seattle. I am tired and very happy. In the words of my old improv team, Mailer Daemon, “[my] nuts are full.”

Read Ellie Kemper’s UCB Improv Festival Diary