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The Jester Interview: Charlie Sanders

Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre star performer Charlie Sanders scored big with his solo show "You're Welcome For What You're About to See" this past summer (see review), earning a mention in Time Out's Top 10 Best in Comedy for 2006. Now, with colleagues Bobby Moynihan and Eugene Cordero he is bringing a second edition of their sketch show "Buffoons" to the theater, with performances scheduled for Wednesdays, February 7 and 21.

Jester: What are some of the scenes in "Buffoons"?
Charlie Sanders: There’s … a scene about Scooter and the Beef, who are two vaudevillian comedians that keep slapping each other in the face; a scene about a rap hype man who has to work in an office, and we have some even weirder shit there too that you have to see to believe.

J: How long have you been performing in shows at UCB?
CS: I started taking classes at UCB in 2001, so since then and started doing sketch shows around the same time.

J: How did you get interested in doing comedy and acting?
CS: Yes. At Central High School in St. Paul, Minn., which was an arts magnet school, I was in their touring theater company and the acting classes. It was different from other acting programs where you would do ‘Our Town’ or whatever. We wrote our own plays and did them. They were always about topics that had to do with the high school at that time. Me and a few other dudes were the funny dudes in the class, so we ended up making a sketch and improv group and would do shows in our black box theater. So ever since I was about 15, I knew that’s what I was going to do.

J: What are the various things you’ve done in improv and sketch, before and after The Shoves?
CS: Originally, after high school I did Comedy Sports Minnesota. Then some of my friends and I did sketch shows during Comedy Sports, until I was 21 and moved to New York and started doing Chicago City Limits. I was writing and performing with their touring company for two and a half years and then switched over to UCB.

There I was on a variety of Harold [improv] teams, including Police Chief Rumble which was the first one I was on. We were also a sketch group. That was … the sketch show I did with PCR, we got to do this really cool thing where we did a midnight show on Friday nights and we got to try out new sketches and then did improv afterward and came up with sketch ideas from the improv. We crafted that into a show that we did at 8 p.m. on Friday nights. That was a really defining experience for me in comedy and I got some really good chops out of that.

After that I was on a couple more Harold teams and did some sketch shows, including “Proceed With Honor,” another called “Charlene Figures It All Out,” and then me and Bobby and Eugene did the Buffoons after PCR. This is Buffoons second sketch show. Some cool stuff came out of that. Then I did my one-man-show, “You’re Welcome For What You’re About To See,” and then we wrote the new Buffoons show. As one show was going on I would start writing the next one, and when one ends I start putting up the next one.

J: Where do you get your ideas both solo and with the groups?
CS: “You’re Welcome For What You’re About To See,” a few of the characters were based on people I actually knew, and then one came from a character I did in improv and some practices sometime -- the fat dude writing letters was from an improv show, and the Papa John’s and stoner characters were both dudes I knew in Minnesota. The Papa John’s character was based on an actual Papa John’s manager I had at that time in St. Paul.

The trucker character -- the movie ideas he pitches were actual movie ideas that I had that I thought sounded so ridiculous that I had to figure out some sort of character so I could somehow say them, so I figured out a character who might come up with those kinds of movies.

Coming with character ideas is just people you know, and then premises for a sketch show like Buffoons come out of weird shit that happens to you or bits you do with your friends at a restaurant or bar, and taking those ideas logically or illogically blowing them out into a full sketch.

J: Some say improv shouldn’t be geared toward trying to develop sketches, and others say the opposite, that it’s a good place to get ideas from. Where do you come down on that?
CS: It’s a great place to get ideas from. Neither one of those things is the only thing that’s true. When we did PCR shows at midnight we would totally gear our improv toward that. Sometimes we would have a character or idea that we wouldn’t have written out yet, and we would improvise with that character or idea and that would help us write it. At a Harold night, where you’re trying to do pure improv, you don’t want to come in with any preconceived notion. You just want to go from a blank slate. You can go off the audience reaction, but if you come up with a good idea it’s totally fine to turn it into a sketch.

J: Does Buffoons rely on the total intelligence of the group or the total stupidity of the group?
CS: That’s funny -- someone just wrote an e-mail to me, ‘I can’t tell if it’s stupidly brilliant or brilliantly stupid.’ I think it’s intelligence. … I don’t know how to answer that question. It’s a combination. You have to be willing to be stupid, but you can take any stupid idea and use your brains to make that stupid idea become this greater concept or cooler idea. So both.

J: How have the different improv teams you’ve been on differed from each other in chemistry or anything?
CS: There’s a whole range of different stuff. I’ve been on improv groups that sucked and improv groups that were great, like … Chemistry is weird. I don’t know what makes it work and what doesn’t, but I can say that the ones that do work really well, the one ingredient I’ve really found in them is that everyone wants to have fun. Everyone really enjoys what they’re doing. I know that sounds like a cheesy thing you put on a poster at a workplace, like ‘Everyone’s gotta have fun to make it work,’ but that’s kinda true.




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