Upright Citizens Brigade delivers unscripted hilarity to campus

Matthew Rubano, Matthew Starr, Tanner Dahlin and Andy Bustillos of the Upright Citizens Brigade Touring Company perform an improvised skit based on text messages read from the audience’s phones on Friday, Dec. 2, 2016 in Kent State’s KIVA.

Benjamin VanHoose

An unlikely combination of ponytails, partying and pigeons became running gags at the Upright Citizens Brigade improv performance Friday night—those topics in addition to several R-rated unmentionables.

Held in the KIVA, the show served as the Black Squirrel Improv Troupe’s final of the semester. The student-run group opened for New York City’s UCB Touring Company, consisting of four rising comedic writers and actors.

The event drew a sizable crowd despite having to compete against karaoke night in the Rathskeller and a home men’s basketball game.

“It was a great house, warm, everyone was really nice and laughed a ton,” said Andy Bustillos, one of the UCB performers. “You could feel the energy.”

Respected in the comedy world, UCB is responsible for such celebrity alums like “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” star Ellie Kemper, “Broad City” duo Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, and just about all of the “Parks and Recreation” cast, including Amy Poehler, who co-founded UCB in 1996.

BSIT members opened the show with three brief improv games that relied on audience suggestions to construct scenes. One scenario found the participants acting out a bizarrely humorous horror film.

“You never know what call-outs you’re going to get, but it’s our job to make it work and really put ourselves out there to make it fun and interesting,” said Daniel Vasu, a senior digital media production major and BSIT president. “It was a lot of fun for us and hopefully it was for (the audience) too.”

The rest of the evening was left to the UCB ensemble, who sustained an hour of improvisations based on quirky text messages from crowd members and an interview with freshman pre-nursing major Skylar Tucker.

Tucker was plucked from the audience and brought on stage to share details about her life for the performers to reenact. She offered up anecdotes about friends, family and parties — including one story about a nursing class assignment she had involving prop testicles.

“When you play with people like this and a crowd like this, it’s a breeze,” said Matthew Starr, one of the UCB performers.

Over the course of the evening, the actors mimed a number of wild, random situations using nothing but the four chairs on stage and their imaginations. One moment they were lounging in a dorm room, the next they were arguing aboard an exaggeratedly large truck.

If that doesn’t illustrate how random the show was, maybe the fact that UCB member Matthew Rubano became Batman during several of the scenes will. Not to mention an invisible piano fell on Bustillos at one point.

The UCB performers agreed that traveling to new venues can be intimidating — and that they would be acclimating to Kent by going to Ray’s Place after the show, thanks to an audience recommendation.

“There’s always a moment right before we go up that’s my favorite part of this whole thing,” said Tanner Dahlin, a UCB performer. “It’s this anticipation to go in front of a new crowd in a new town.”

BSIT also hosted the UCB Touring Company last fall with a different cast of performers.

Prior to Friday’s show, BSIT members had a workshop with the UCB members to discuss techniques and tips.
“It was so fun to work with them and see how they have fun,” Starr said. “That makes our experience here so much better when we get to meet people who love improv as much as we do.”

Benjamin VanHoose is an assigning editor for the Kent Stater, contact him at [email protected]