Upright Citizens Brigade Improv Classes

I've decided it best, now that I'm not going on any auditions of any kind in this city I have found myself living happily in, to enroll in Hollywood's Upright Citizens Brigade Improv 101. This is a troop originally founded in Chicago by Amy Poehler and Matt Walsh, who then took it to New York, got a sitcom, and then took it all out to LA. I've seen a handful of shows at the UCB and they're hilarious, consistently selling out shows every week.

Improv, if you are unfamils, is acting without a net. It's trying to be funny on the drop of a dime. Someone throws a topic to you while you're on stage, in front of people you don't know, and you are then expected to make something funny out of the topic in a matter of seconds. The old TV show 'Whose Line Is It Anyway?' really brought Improv to the forefront.

I'm terrified by this, honestly. Not improv in general, I love making shit up on the fly, it's the only way to go, but doing all that on someone else's topic and in front of PEOPLE WATCHING AND WAITING.

If I KNOW what I'm going to do in front of people I'm still nervous, let alone if I've got no clue what I'm going to do. It's absolutely frightening. Public speaking is feared more than death, we all know that.

This Improv class would mark the third official 'acting' class I've ever taken. I took one in art college called 'Theater Acting 1', I believe, and I am pretty sure I was drunk or hammered for all of the sessions. Ok, that's not true. I actually tried very hard to be believable as an actor. I found it challenging and ultimately, if done right, very rewarding. Not that I ever did it right, but I lost myself, and that felt 'right' to me, at the time. I also got an 'A' in the class, so shuddup.

The second acting class was a full 9 years later in Dallas when I took a 'Commercial Audition Workshop,' which basically taught you how to slate your name, smile big for Crest, furrow your brow at tough stains, and  lovingly laugh when your spouse wiped your son's ass with moist towelettes.

At any rate, here I am, shaking like a leaf in front of a group of strangers in Los Angeles on Monday in a tiny black room off of Santa Monica Blvd. I looked around at my fellow Improv 101'ers. I was easily the oldest one in the bunch. Maybe not, actually, this one guy looked old as shit, too.

Our teacher is a spunky, pregnant, lightning bolt of a woman who rattles off Improv tidbits like it's her job, which it is. She's well-versed and I can tell immediately that I'm in for a fatass serving of humble pie. I think that after making so many Justins videos, etc. over the 3 years I've been making videos I've gotten a certain way about doing things, and that way was exploited early and often in the first damn class.

See, when I shoot my own stuff, I shoot for the edit. I know exactly where I want to cut. I rarely go on rants, rarely let myself slip into areas that I simply know I won't use in the edit. Oh, and I READ MY LINES seconds before I shoot it. And then re-read them and say them again, with different infliction.

But all that's gone bye bye now. Three at a time we were set in front of the 15 person class and given a topic. Mine was 'Going to the zoo and the animal you want to see isn't out.' We were to talk about this topic in three phases of angriness, a 3, a 7, and a 10. Out of 10 scale, of course.

My head clouded with what I wanted to say. I saw myself writing the PERFECT rant for this topic, fucking' nailing it. Saw myself editing it perfectly, right to my liking. I envisioned a seamless verbal assault that would make Denis Leary proud. And then it was my turn to go. 

And I shat the bed. YOW! I mean, I got a few pity laughs and was ultimately able to power through with some nervous sputterings and overall tomfoolery, but all in all, it hurt. It hurt BAD. I have no clue what I ended up saying.

My confidence shattered. Editor, actor of online shitty videos be damned. I was in trouble. And I was in my head. 

I sat down and immediately wondered what the hell I was doing there. I'm an artist, goddammit. I draw pictures for a living! I don't need this, this ridiculous horseshit eating my pride up and spitting it out like a turkey bone. But I took some deep breaths, realized some of the others were having problems, as well, and I  hoped we could just interact on the stage soon. If I've got someone to go off of, to feed off of, I knew I'd turn this shit stain around real fast.

And we did with the next exercise. Five at a time got up and acted like a group of successful 'fill-in-the-blank-ers' and the rest of the class asked questions. 

HERE WE GO. This is what I'm talking about. This is starting to feel like SNL, this is starting to feel comfortable. I know this set-up, I've seen this set-up. And I had a blast with this one. Our group was a ragtag bunch of famous mountain climbers who only climbed hills for the past 15 years. It was still up and down, but it felt funny, it felt like we had control of our destiny. 

All in all, with two classes down, six to go, and one final performance in front of an audience to go, I feel like this is doable now. The other folks in the class, particularly the ladies, are hilarious. It's not going to take a ton to get this thing off the ground, but once it's off the ground, it also has to land. 

I encourage you to go check out an improv show in the city in which you reside. The best performers make it look seamless, and you'll laugh your ass off. They're quick as hell and you could swear they've done the performance before. The worst ones, however, make it so painfully awkward you'd rather be watching a bum eat roadkill. I mean, it just gets absolutely awful.

Letting go of control is so difficult in life, to release the reigns we hold so damned tight. Everything's got to be just right, doesn't it? No, it doesn't. Let it hang out a bit. Don't judge yourself too harshly. Let your guard down and let an experience take you away. It's tough, but I'm trying my best to heed my own words. 

I'll post the time to our performance show, if anyone is reading this in the LA area, you're welcome to come. 

Come laugh at Flattie, he'll need your laughs more than ever.
Justin Claus HarderComment