The Birth of UCB: From Chicago Improv to New York Scene

Original UCB Founders

Before the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) became a renowned comedy institution with a lasting presence in Los Angeles, its roots were firmly planted in the vibrant Chicago improv scene of the 1990s. Founded by Matt Besser, Amy Poehler, Ian Roberts, and Matt Walsh, the UCB Theatre’s journey from Chicago to New York marked the beginning of a comedy revolution that would shape the comedic landscape for years to come.

Chicago: The Improv Crucible

In the early 1990s, Chicago was already a hotbed for improv comedy, thanks in large part to the influence of Del Close, the legendary improv guru. Besser, Poehler, Roberts, and Walsh all trained under Close at ImprovOlympic, absorbing his teachings and honing their comedic skills. As they formed their own group, they quickly gained recognition for their signature show, ASSSSCAT, a mix of improvisation and performance art that captivated audiences.

The Move to the Big Apple

In 1996, the UCB Four made a momentous decision to take their comedy talents to New York City. Armed with their experience and passion for improv, they set out to create a name for themselves in the bustling metropolis. The goal was to land their own TV show, but little did they know that their journey would take them far beyond their initial ambitions.

Spreading the Improv Gospel

Upon arriving in New York, the UCB Four wasted no time in sharing their comedic expertise with the city’s aspiring comedians. They began teaching improv classes and hosting shows that showcased their unique comedic sensibility – a blend of realism and absurdity. “ASSSSCAT 3000” became a popular show that drew in not only comedy enthusiasts but also surprise appearances from established comedy stars, making it a must-see event on the comedy circuit.

The UCB Comedy Revolution

The UCB Four’s collaborative and grounded approach to comedy struck a chord with both performers and audiences. Their emphasis on group dynamics and “game” of the scene, as inspired by Del Close’s teachings, fostered a supportive and creative community of comedians. This unique comedic philosophy soon became known as “the UCB style,” and its influence extended far beyond the walls of the UCB Theatre.

UCB’s Impact on New York Comedy

The UCB Theatre quickly became a comedy haven, attracting a diverse group of students eager to learn from the UCB Four’s teachings. Notable performers such as Rob Corddry, Ed Helms, Aubrey Plaza, and many others honed their craft at the UCB, later becoming comedy stars in their own right. The UCB’s influence extended to the entertainment industry as well, with TV producers like Lorne Michaels casting directly from the UCB talent pool.

The Evolution of UCB New York

As the UCB continued to thrive, it faced various challenges and transitions. Moving from its original location to the larger and more equipped UCB Chelsea in 2003 marked a significant milestone in its growth. However, financial difficulties and changes in the New York comedy scene led to the closure of UCB East in 2019 and UCB Chelsea in 2017. Despite these setbacks, the spirit of the UCB endured, and its legacy as a comedic powerhouse persisted.

A Legacy of Laughter and Growth

The journey of the UCB from Chicago to New York laid the groundwork for its future expansion to Los Angeles and beyond. By championing the art of improv and providing a nurturing environment for aspiring comedians, the UCB Theatre forever changed the landscape of comedy. As a new era begins with the reopening of UCB Theatre in Los Angeles, the UCB’s legacy of laughter and growth continues to inspire the next generation of comedic talent.