In partnership with Seeso. You Get It.
It’s been nearly 18 years since the Upright Citizens Brigade TV show first aired on Comedy Central, the offbeat sketch show and cult favorite from the minds of UCB Theater co-founders Matt Besser, Amy Poehler, Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh. Now, the UCB4 are returning to host a weekly variety showcase on NBCU’s new streaming service, Seeso, but it isn’t all about them.
In addition to the UCB4’s individual successes (especially Poehler’s), UCB’s legacy lies in the successful students and performers cultivated at each of its four theaters and improv training centers in New York City and Los Angeles. It’s hard to discuss modern American comedy without recognizing the huge impact that UCB has had on the industry. Ever since the Chelsea theater opened in the, UCB has served as an incubator and home base for some of today’s top comedic performers, with many alums heading to Saturday Night Live, Broad City, Silicon Valley, Inside Amy Schumer, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and various late night talk shows, movies and other sitcoms.
Splitsider spoke with one of The UCB Show’s Executive Producers, Bart Coleman, for a preview of what to expect from the return of the UCB4 as hosts. Spoiler alert: there won’t be any improv on the show, but instead it will focus on the originators showcasing the current array of talent performing at UCB Sunset in Hollywood. And it’s filmed in front of a live audience, which is something that people who can’t afford to live in New York or LA can appreciate.
Check out our Q&A with Coleman below, and be sure to check out episode one of The UCB Show, available now exclusively on Seeso (with more episodes rolling out when Seeso officially launches in January 2016).
*Pro tip: You can sign up for Seeso now at SEESO.COM using Splitsider’s exclusive promo code - COMEDYLOVER. No credit card required — and you won’t be billed when the trial ends. Just go to SEESO.COM and enter COMEDYLOVER into the promo code box.
How did this new show come about?
The idea came from The Black DVD, produced in-house by UCB Comedy at the Chelsea theatre to showcase talent for entertainment industry execs. We pitched The Black DVD as a show format and NBC was interested. Seeso evolved earlier this year and we were luckily paired with Evan Shapiro and his team to get the series green lit for 8 half-hour episodes.
How will this show differ from the original show on Comedy Central?
The UCB Show is a different format from Comedy Central’s Upright Citizens Brigade, which primarily featured the UCB4 in sketches. Our series is a variety showcase for the best emerging and established talent at UCB’s bi-coastal theatres today, comprised of Maude teams, solo characters and stand-up comics.
So will there be any improvising on the show?
There’s no improv on The UCB Show. We used only well-proven material curated over the past year by Besser, Poehler, Roberts, Walsh & UCBTLA Artistic Director Mike Still. Most of the acts you’ll see are veterans from UCB Franklin or Sunset’s monthly best-of sketch nights. Some of our performers are recent UCB NY transplants who moved to LA.
What made them want to get the band back together, so to speak?
The UCB4 are the DNA that keeps the theatres’ live shows and classes thriving, so they’re super involved no matter how busy their individual careers get. Syncing their schedules was a challenge but all four were committed to the project and love supporting this amazing community of performers. While the focus of The UCB Show is on the new wave of talent, the UCB4 is there to present their favorite artists and interact with the fans pre-show. For example, they also set up various challenges for audience members to get into the sold-out show.
You’re calling the show a variety show, does this mean it will have musical or other performances in addition to comedic ones?
There are some musical elements, but it’s mostly sketch, characters and stand-up on stage. The goal is to create a live UCB experience for viewers to feel like they’re in the audience. Our director, Michael Blieden, did a stellar job of shooting documentary style in a black box theatre - something unique to sketch comedy, which is usually shot on brightly lit, elaborate sets. I’d call the look “cinematic sketch.”
One of the best parts of watching UCB, both the old TV show and live performances, are the callbacks and references to previous characters and sketches. Will we be seeing more of that?
We have recurring interstitials with the UCB4 doing every job in the theatre — serving coffee in the Inner Sanctum Café, selling tickets in the box office, folding shirts at the merch table, and running lights and mixing sound in the control booth.
What’s the process been like working with Seeso? Why Seeso and not traditional TV?
Seeso have been the best partners we could ask for. UCB fits right into their mandate for curated smart comedy for comedy nerds. They gave us more creative freedom to experiment than most traditional networks would be comfortable allowing. It helps that our executives are true comedy fans and appreciate the UCB aesthetic.
Is there anything else we should look forward to when the show premieres?
We have James Adomian doing Bernie Sanders in episode one, which at the time I was concerned would not be topical by January. But James was right, and America is still feelin’ the Bern. The same episode also features SNL alum Noël Wells, who’s been blowing up thanks to her role on Aziz Ansari’s Master of None. You can also look out for Splitsider fan favorites: Scott Aukerman, Andy Daly, Horatio Sanz, Lauren Lapkus, The Birthday Boys, Rich Fulcher, Betsy Sodaro and more.