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We Stand Corrected

The UCB Tells How They Upended the Status Quo in Retrospective

Reviewers should stand corrected, says Matt Besser of the Upright Citizens Brigade. “A lot of times reviews will call us absurdist,” he says. “We definitely get absurd but we don’t really like comedy that’s just absurd for absurd’s sake.”

Joined by Amy Poehler and Ian Roberts at The Paley Center for Media in New York for a retrospective and interview November 8, the group’s members explained their philosophy of comedy as handed down by Del Close while still being funny -- a tough task when trying to dissect comedy out of a love for it.

“The way we like to improvise,” says Poehler, “is we try to treat everything as realistically as possible.”

In a clip screened at the event from their second-season episode, “Master Dialectitian,” Roberts played a boxer forced to go 10 rounds with a horse. “We do two things -- exploring and heightening,” says Roberts. “Exploring is giving the logic or philosophy that gets the scene down -- it’s ‘if-then.’ If you fought a horse, then what? You have to think like a horse -- eat sugar cubes, put on a horse’s head. If you did it, then the reason you did it might be, because the queen requested it. The if-then statement is how we explain the game. The two ways you answer that are what make a scene good -- to always keep it getting bigger and bigger, which is heightening.

“Heightening the scene means exploring what else is happening beyond just the funny joke,” adds Roberts. “No one would agree to do that, but when it’s explained to him that it was a compromise between the king wanting to see boxing and the queen wanting to go to horse racing, then it makes sense.”

To put a finer point on it, Besser added, “If we saw a scene that started ‘o.k. you’re fighting a horse today,’ and the guy didn’t pause to ask ‘Why am I fighting a horse?’ that’s a stupid scene. Any normal person would say I don’t fight horses, why am I fighting a horse?”

The evening’s host, Todd Hanson, pointed to the other sides the UCB had to their “absurd ist” humor in their series (the second season recently arrived on DVD -- see review) -- namely how “Mogomra vs. the Fart Monster” actually parodied ignorance of other cultures; and “The Little Donny Foundation” (first season) parodied charities -- but all in the guise of extended fart jokes and dick jokes.

Besser sums it up. “The funny part often comes before all the smart reasons for it are added in.”




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