Last night, the Upright Citizens Brigade threw the doors open to its second, sleek theater at 5419 W. Sunset Blvd., furthering solidifying itself as one of Hollywood’s preeminent comedy venues and institutions for burgeoning comedians, as well as continuing to be the hip haunt for established talent. The comedy troupe comprised of Amy Poehler, Matt Besser, Matt Walsh and Ian Roberts, which began in Chicago, before laying roots in New York (where Comedy Central discovered them and launched them as one of the hippest, pre-millennial comedy troupes), set foot in Hollywood in 2005 at a 92-seat black box theater at 5919 Franklin Avenue across from the Scientology Celebrity Center. Immediately, Los Angeles embraced them with sold out shows, while the industry looked to the venue for the next wave of laughs; New York’s theatre school having already fostered talent for Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show, etc.
In recent years, such acts as sketch group The Birthday Boys and Garfunkel & Oates, cut their teeth at the UCB Franklin theater before landing half hour comedies on IFC. Even in the off primtime hours of 7pm-11pm, the UCB Franklin Theater was used by talent as a testing ground, read Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant showed off their NBC comedy pilot The Strip to a select audience in 2010, while Aziz Ansari would take over a midnight spot the weekend prior to his MTV Movie Awards hosting gig to try out material. Robin Williams even made a point one summer to regularly crash the improv shenanigans onstage. One of the regular, great celebrity spots at UCB Franklin: Watching Mad Men‘s Jon Hamm duck back to the wings, so that he could quietly savor the latest in stage absurdity.
However, with sold out shows becoming more frequent and the student body in Hollywood exploding, UCB LA decided it was time to emulate a similar set-up to their Gotham digs by expanding into a second venue. In the works for approximately two years, the two-floor 5419 W. Sunset Blvd. locale features two state-of-the-art stages, at 85 and roughly 60 seats, a podcast studio, two green screen studios (upcoming), offices, conference rooms, two wide open bar areas, and a center community/workspace area for party/screening/dance party use. However, one of the big perks of the new UCB building, which took over a former auto dealership, is that it features 14 classrooms. Prior, UCB’s LA school was spread around various rooms in the city on Melrose Ave. and in the Santa Monica Blvd. theater row. The entire gist of the new building is to foster a greater sense of community among up-and- coming comedy talent and students; a crossroads where they can tap each other’s production and talent resources. On top of this, there’s a new cafe, The Inner Sanctum, which has a highly-trained team of baristas, hand-made sandwiches and snacks. Accenting the space is artwork from the parents of UCB co-founder Matt Besser, Diane and Sandy Besser. Above all, there will be valet roof parking.
Arguably none of the other comedy theater institutions in L.A. — Groundlings, Second City training center and IO West — have bragging rights to the features that UCB’s new-constructed mecca boasts. Groundlings still operates from its 99-seat theater at 7307 Melrose Ave. and Second City has classrooms and a large stage on the second floor of 6560 Hollywood Blvd. IO West (its Chicago theater, the alma mater of the four UCBers Poehler, Besser, Walsh and Roberts) does have a lively three stage-venue and a bar at 6366 Hollywood Blvd., but it is rather cramped in comparison to UCB Sunset’s Renaissance comedy artist hang. What stands out at the new UCB venue is its 85-seat stage; large enough to shoot a televised comedy special. None are planned at this time, but UCB managing director Alexander Sidtis is open to the idea. With the new UCB Sunset Theatre opening, the obvious question is whether it will now override Frankin Ave. as the main stage. Sidtis told me that “both will compete” for mainstage acts. UCB Franklin will continue to book such standard improv shows as Shitty Jobs, Facebook and ASSSSCAT, the long-running weekend improv show with UCB co-founders Besser, Walsh and Roberts. On tap for UCB Sunset’s November sked is Playhouse Masterpieces with Neil Campbell and Paul Rust (Inglourious Basterds), Casey & Woods improv show with Neil Casey and Zach Woods (The Office, Silicon Valley) and the UCB monthly sketch show Maude Night showcasing its best in scripted talent.
Highlighting the ribbon cutting of UCB Sunset last night were several Asssscat improv performances featuring Poehler, Besser, Walsh and Roberts as well as Horatio Sanz (who many do not know was an original member of the Chicago UCB troupe) as well as Andy Richter, who was one of original UCB monologists. The UCB style of improv is based on game theory, whereby, scenes are constructed around a peculiar, interesting tidbit in the characters’ dialogue, and scenes are heightened around that. Richter got the group going last night with stories about his relatives, which led to discussions around Poehler’s character having ovarian treatments, which morphed into a Marvel movie writers’ meeting around the topics of a super baby and sawdust boy. Take a look at the rough video below.
In terms of those turning out to celebrate the opening of UCB Theatre LA Sunset, the question was more like who wasn’t there from the comedy community. In attendance was Kent Alterman, Comedy Central president of content development and original programming; Peter Principato and Tucker Voorhees from Principato Young Entertainment; Mike Rosenstein, head of production TV/digital at Red Hours Films; Better Call Saul‘s Bob Odenkirk and Naomi Odenkirk, Veep‘s Timothy Simons and Gary Cole, Emmy-winning Between Two Ferns producer and Comedy Bang! Bang! host Scott Auckerman, Rob Riggle, Chelsea Peretti, Adam Scott, Nick Kroll, Paul Scheer, Andrew Daly, Natasha Leggero, Kate Micucci and Riki Lindhome (Garfunkel and Oates), Jessica Chaffin and Jamie Denbo (Ronna & Beverly), Rob Huebel (Childrens Hospital), The Birthday Boys, Armen Weitzman, Morgan Walsh (A Better You, Burning Love), Moshe Kasher, Lance Bangs, Kulap Vilaysack (Comedy Bang! Bang!), Lauren Lapkus (Orange Is The New Black), Emily Maya Mills (Childrens Hospital, The Birthday Boys), Codi Fischer (E!’s Web Soup), Sean Conroy (Monsters University), Zach Woods (Silicon Valley), Key & Peele co-producer Rebecca Drysdale, Paul F. Tompkins and Brett Gelman (Married) among many others.