Scenes From A Marathon
from the 10th Del Close Improv Marathon, 2008.
this year’s “Scenes From A Marathon” recap, I am going to try a
blow-by-blow approach. One can’t possibly get to everything, but I hope
this is a representative account of the 10th Del Close Marathon.
5 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Friday:
Walsh-Besser-Roberts “Press Conference”
The marathon began with what was billed as a “Press Conference” by UCB
co-founders Matt Besser, Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh, who of late have
mostly been L.A.-based. (Amy Poehler, who is usually New York-based,
seems to be absent this year, maybe shooting a movie perhaps). This
event was more of a master class, part seminar, part Q&A session on
improv and the ethos the founders want to ingrain in their classes.
Besser lamented that openings to Harold long-form improvisations seem to
be taking precedence -- to the point that groups are actually rehearsing
what sort of openings they want to do, when openings really are just
there to generate material to feed into the scenes of the improv.
Besser also did clarify that the UCB doesn’t strictly see improv as an
art only for its own sake -- that the best improv could certainly be a
good basis for sketches. Roberts said the highest compliment is when an
audience thinks an improvised performance really has been written in
advance because it is so sharp. Besser elaborated that premises and
stories support improv rather than detract from it, because an improv
group’s aim should be to tell a story, albeit by doing so through
The latter part of the “Press Conference” focused on Besser, Roberts and
Walsh’s memories of Del Close himself, as they brought out a couple
obscure albums Close had appeared on while with Second City and in one
Broadway musical in the 1960s and played a couple audio clips. One
album, a joke record of a “do-it-yourself psychoanalysis kit,” featured
Close intoning “yes,” “uh-huh,” and the like, leaving it to you to fill
in your own story -- the clip played was a rap song from the late 1980s
that had sampled this record and used it as the basis to construct some
music around, although you could no longer really hear Close’s voice
very much in the result. The clip from the musical cast album was more
interesting, with Close having one number that hinted at his anarchic
sense of humor that turned up later in his improv teaching.
The first several performances of the Marathon at the UCB Theatre itself
featured some of the theater’s brightest stars or associated performers.
Namely, the very first show, MySpace (previously
reviewed here October 13, 2006 in a regular
performance), included the well-known UCB veterans Paul Scheer, Rob
Riggle, Jackie Clarke, Rob Heubel, Chad Carter and Owen Burke, along
with “30 Rock” star Jack McBrayer, who is more closely tied with the
ImprovOlympic in Chicago but is a frequent guest at the Marathon each
Scheer in particular stood out this time, as he served as de facto host
of the show, conducting the interviews on stage with two different
audience members who shared their MySpace pages with the performers and
the audience as a basis for the improvisations.
This cast is so good that they make their performance look easy. Riggle
in particular has gotten more precise about modulating back and forth
between a normal voice and full-on Sam Kinison-like raging at the drop
of a hat.
A different set of UCB improv stars gave the next performance -- the
remnants of the Swarm, Michael Delaney, Billy Merritt, Andrew Secunda
and Sean Conroy. Together they presented an imaginative set of scenes
that roamed through setting as diverse as the Blarney Stone, Disneyworld
and a lecture on the mortgage crisis.
Horatio Sanz guested with improv duo Mark Sutton and Joe Bill, who are
known as Bassprov. Their conceit is that they perform their entire
improvisation while dressed in fishermen’s gear and periodically mock
casting with fishing rods. Bassprov, which is due back to the other
Marathon venue of the Hudson Guild Theater tonight (Saturday), presented
a tour de force of conversation in which Bill gets hung up on the loss
of their small town’s Starbucks and Sutton repeatedly attacks his
elitism … all as they meander through some other topics, like Sanz’s
eight-limbed mutated niece, for one. This truly was a show that was so
good it seemed as if it had been written beforehand.
Lastly, several of the performers from the first two aforementioned
shows, presented a show that took the David Matthews Band as a jumping
off point, starting with most of the cast in line for memorabilia at a
concert as “Satellite” played. Notable, again, was Riggle (sorry for
that Yoda-like construction) as the fan taking offense if anyone says
anything the least bit non-complementary of Dave Matthews, and Heubel as
a bad parent who lets his son wander off and go missing because he
doesn’t want to lose his spot on line.
The bulk of the marathon is actually not dominated by the UCB’s stars
like this. There are many other New York groups that get time, as well
as numerous out-of-town groups who come in just for this event, and the
next reviews here will touch on some of these.
Coming next, an account of Friday night’s later
shows. (See Part 2)