Friday, October 29, 2010

Interview: Charlie Sanders on "Death Valley"

Charlie Sanders has been a UCB performer and writer at UCB since 2002. His sketch group Police Chief Rumble won Best Sketch Group at the Emerging Comics of New York awards in 2004. His other sketch group, Buffoons, went to perform at the Montreal Just For Laughs Comedy Festival in 2007. Charlie's hit one-man show Minnesota Muslim garnered high praise from Time Out NY and New York Magazine. During his time in New York, he appeared in several national commercials and was a regular sketch actor on Late Night with Conan O’Brien.

In 2009, Charlie moved to L.A. and bought the first car of his life – "a Ford Focus, not to brag." He performs regularly at UCBLA in Shitty Jobs and ASSSSCAT. He has landed roles in the feature films A NY Things, When in Rome, Freak Dance, and Cedar Rapids and has appeared on The Office.

Just in time for Halloween, UCB Comedy talked to Charlie Sanders about fighting monsters in his upcoming MTV show, Death Valley.

Can you tell me more about Death Valley and your character on the show?

CS: I can give you a real general description because they don’t want me to say more until the show airs. But in the Valley, in L.A., all of a sudden people start turning into werewolves, zombies and vampires. The city of L.A. has to make the undead task force -- the cops that go fight the undead in the valley. And I’m one of the cops that fights the monsters.

Are you a good cop or bad cop?

CS: I consider myself a good cop.

Do you have any crazy action scenes?

CS: Yeah. It’s awesome. The show is a really cool combination of action and monster stuff. All the monster stuff looks really freaky, really real and really cool, and the comedy is well-written, in terms of the dialogue. I don’t think I’ve ever seen another show like it before -- which is what I’m so excited about this show. The way it balances truly scary stuff and really funny stuff is cool.

We had a fight choreographer come in and he’d teach us how to get hit and punch people and all that shit.

Have you been in any fights in your personal life that helped that process?

CS: I was in one... no, two fights in high school, but those were with humans.

When you were a kid did you prefer zombies, werewolves or vampires? Did you have a favorite?

CS: Zombies I got into later, like with the whole zombie craze we’ve been seeing in the past decade in Hollywood. But as a kid, my brother and I were completely obsessed with monsters, like Frankenstein, The Wolfman, Dracula -- all those classic black-and-white horror movies. We owned every single one and watched them countless times over.

My brother and I wrote this comic book -- it was like a 300-page comic book, written in our notebooks, about a guy that would fight Frankenstein and Dracula. So this is really a childhood fantasy come real for me.

Did you and your brother watch MTV together?

CS: No, we didn’t have cable but my friends did, so I liked MTV. I think Beavis and Butthead was on when I first got into MTV. I remember I would go to a friend’s house and watch eight straight hours of Beavis and Butthead.

What the process for getting the role on Death Valley?

CS: I auditioned for the pilot back in late February or early March. I found out about it because my friend Eric Appel was directing the pilot. He and I had just collaborated on making that Funny Or Die video “Big Dog." We've known each other for years but “Big Dog” was one of our first times working together.

I think I did two callbacks, if I remember correctly, and then they had two or three of us come in and work on the cop roles. It was really fun because they let us do improv.

And then we shot it. We shot 12 minutes for a pilot presentation/proof of concept sort of thing over two days in March. A lot of time passed, like three months. And I figured it was over, you know, “These things come and go.” Then they called us up and said, “MTV likes it and wants us to shoot it, but they’re not giving the green light for a whole series." They wanted to shoot the remaining 10 minutes to make a full pilot. So we had shot these two different sequences and they had to figure out how to write around them to make a full pilot.

And then this guy Eric Weinberg, who was an executive producer for both Scrubs and Californication -- a very hilarious, cool dude -- came in and became the showrunner guy. He worked on that whole process of expanding the script for the pilot and we shot the rest of it in July. It turned out great! I was definitely wondering how they’d write around [the segments] to make a linear pilot, but they did a great job. Finally, I think around Sept. 15, my manager called me and said that MTV had ordered 12 episodes. That was really exciting.

When do you start shooting?

CS: I think late December/early January we’ll start shooting.

Any advice for up-and-coming writer/performers?

CS: The best thing to do is write and perform as much as possible. Create a show with your friends and put it up. I think an important thing to note is that performing a lot should not just mean being in a million improv groups. Improv is important and fun, and definitely do it, love it, and embrace it. But, from my experience, real career progress comes from writing and putting up scripted shows -- polished material you can showcase.

Check out a picture from "Death Valley" on director Eric Appel's Tumblr.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Amy Rhodes at Universal Studios Haunted Maze

The Ellen Degeneres Show sent Amy Rhodes, their Emmy-winning staff writer (and UCBLA teacher/performer) to check out the haunted maze at Universal Studios.

Amy clearly LOVES haunted houses. So funny.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"Neighborhood Watch" Created By and Starring UCB Comedians

Neighborhood Watch -- Official Promo Video from Noam Bleiweiss on Vimeo.

UCB comedians Mike Mitchell, Ron Babcock and Jake Regal star in Neighborhood Watch, a new web series written and directed by Noam Bleiweiss, who also directs the Beta team Pantsuit. The series features Dennis Haskins -- yes, Mr. Belding from Saved by the Bell -- in what Noam calls Haskins' "first-ever return to onscreen 'principal-ing.'"

"When I think of comedy in L.A. I think of UCB," says Noam. "It's where the funniest actors are. So when the time came to cast for Neighborhood Watch, I knew that's where I wanted to look. We kind of got to treat the performer page on the UCB site as our casting site for the show. We went through all the performers and picked the ones who we'd seen on stage and knew were funny. Then we could take it a step further and go watch their videos on UCB Comedy. It's so much more enjoyable than auditions. And the great thing about UCB is that if someone you wanted to cast is already booked during your shoot dates, there's so many other super-talented performers to pick from."

Noam notes that Lindsay Hendrickson, UCBLA's General Manager, was extremely helpful -- "she always seemed to email me people's contact information within minutes, which is so convenient when you're facing the time crunch before a shoot."

Neighborhood Watch, which debuts Mon., Nov. 1,
is about fool-hardy middle age men living in Sunnyvale, the safest town in America, who start a Neighborhood Watch as an excuse to spend time away from their wives. But, when actual crimes begin to pop up, the men attempt to solve the mystery... very poorly.

Visit the Neighborhood Watch website and check back Monday for the first episode.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Interview: Matt Besser on "This Show Will Get You High"

Matt Besser is co-founder of the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. The Upright Citizens Brigade television series ran for three seasons on Comedy Central, and in the fall of 2005, the UCB premiered their improv show ASSSSCAT: Improv on Bravo. Besser teamed up with Method Man and Redman to create and perform in the hidden camera show Stung on MTV. He was also a co-creator and star of Crossballs which ran 23 episodes on Comedy Central; and created and starred in The Very Funny Show for

Besser has guest-starred on The Sarah Silverman Show, Reno 911, Mighty B, Word Girl, Pilot Season, The Bernie Mac Show, Frasier, Late Friday; and featured in the movies Freak Dance, Year One, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Drill Bit Taylor, The TV Set, Junebug, and the zombie western Wanted: Undead or Alive.

His new sketch pilot/special, "This Show Will Get You High," hits Comedy Central Wed., Oct. 27 at 3am; Thurs., Oct. 28 at 4:30am; and Mon., Nov. 1 at 4am.

UCB Comedy talked to Besser about This Show Will Get You High, what's exciting him about the UCB scene, and Save the Last Dance.

What is the premise of This Show Will Get You High?

MB: The show is a sketch show but we do a performance live on the road -- we did one at a theater in Santa Cruz -- but we also go to a big event and hang out at it. So we went to 4/20 at Santa Cruz, the Long Beach Grand Prix and the Anaheim Comicon.

Costume Contest 2 - James
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So each episode has the live show element and a big event?

MB: That was the idea but we ended up shooting too much material. A lot of that material will end up on UCB Comedy.

One of the goals of the show was to get the best sketch writers and performers from UCB Theatre. So, the first step was to ask both artistic directors, Anthony King and Neil Campbell, who are the best writers out there? Who is putting out the best stuff? We got a bunch of good submissions. I must have looked at 40-60 submissions and then we ended up whittling it down to around 20 people we really liked and a couple people we brought on to be there just about the whole time, including Chris Kelly, who was kind of our senior writer, and Craig Rowin, who also came out from New York. And there were 15 other writers from the theater, mostly from L.A.

The original idea for my show was to use the entire UCB Theatre and not have a set cast. I thought it was an unique idea -- calling it a 300-person ensemble -- just whoever is best-suited for the scene is cast. But the network wanted to go with a cast where you’d become familiar with their faces, so we went in that direction.

What were you looking for when selecting writers and performers for the show?

MB: For writers, I look for someone who knows the game, which is what we focus on at the UCB. I look for people who know how to find game, know how to find the focus of the scene really quickly and then are really good at heightening that without being too verbose, too, because these days, sketches need to be on the short side. You know, you’d like to have a five- or six-minute scene, but we have to aim for three or less, which is a kind of a whole skill in itself.

I think there’s less attention span now, that people would like you to get to the joke a little quicker. I do think that’s a trend. And that’s okay. It has a lot to do with YouTube and being able to see so much sketch all the time -- so viewers demand a lot more from their sketch, too.

From a performer perspective, I just looked for who is working the hardest on their sketch. There are so many funny people at the UCB, but as anyone who has auditioned for a sketch show, specifically SNL, you know you can’t just show up for the audition. You really got to have characters that you’ve worked on for while and that you know are good. You need characters that you work on all the time, put them up onstage all the time. I’d say there are very few people that are doing that each year. You got to focus like you are focusing for the Olympics, you have to really decide, “This is going to be the year I do characters all the time, I’m getting on stage and I’m working them out.” And I’d say it really showed in the audition. It came down to like 20 people who I think really have it going on in the sketch character category. It wasn’t just up to me, it was also up to Comedy Central, but there were about 20 people I would have been happy with. And then we used five or six.

Did any characters from the auditions get written into the show?

MB: Without question. John Gemberling in particular has this character called “Winnie the Whiney Baby” and it did really well in the audition and ended up getting a full scene in the show and we took Whiney Baby to just about every event. People were loving him.

Winnie and the Jesus
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A lot of the sketches featured on UCB Comedy involves the cast interacting with real people.

MB: I’ve done a lot of prank shows and I didn’t want to do another prank show but I’ve always liked putting characters out in the real world. We’re not really tricking them or fooling them that John Gemberling is a baby, but it’s funny to see a character interact with a real person. And people react in all kinds of ways. We had rednecks threatening to kick our ass at the Grand Beach Grand Prix, and we had hippies completely tripping out on us.

We went to this 4/20 smokeout in Santa Cruz and Gelman’s character was a Republican and we turned him into a bong and asked stoners if they wanted to smoke out of a Republican. And while they would smoke out of “the Republican,” he would insult their liberal ways. And some people thought it was hilarious, because they’re cool people, and some people got very aggressively mad at us. Like, “Get this guy outta here!” And then some people, he had one guy flip his lid like he was having an acid flashback, screaming.

Wait. The cameras were fully visible, right?

MB: Yes.

But no one got punched or anything?

MB: No. A guy threatened to elbow me in the face. I was playing a character called Nick the Nicknamer. “I’m the guy who gave everyone on the Jersey Shore their nickname, including The Situation, Snooki, Jwwow.” And I nicknamed this guy -- his name was Ludlow -- and he looked really stoned, so I was like, “More like Lud-high!” And he was very insulted by this nickname and threatened to elbow me in the face.

A guy was offended for being called high at a 4/20 event?

MB: No. That was at the Grand Prix.

We also went to the LA marathon and pretended we were one of those “Jesus Hates Gays” groups. We were “Jesus Hates Runners” and we were telling them to stop running. Yelling, “Listen to Kanye’s ‘Jesus Walks’!” There were cameras, but people were buying that we were for real. It was really funny, because they were screaming at us. They thought we were backwards, narrow-minded people.

Watch more comedy videos from the twisted minds of the UCB Theatre at

Our original pitch for the sketch show was that it would be in the Middle of America and an old medicine show, in the old days, when you’d just show up and put on a show for people. The original idea was that we’d have a mobile stage but it proved a little more expensive than we counted on.

You’ve worked in many different comedy formats: improv, sitcoms, film, “cable news” parody shows. What keeps bringing you back to sketch?

MB: When I think of comedy, I don’t think of stories. 99% of writers, when they talk about what they write, they always talk about story. Stories don’t really occur to me. That’s not how comedy comes into my brain. If I were to work on a sitcom, I could probably come up with a lot of good ideas -- elements of stories -- but I don’t think my strength is writing stories. So I like sketch. A sketch is not a short story. That’s not a smart way to think about it. A sketch is a sketch -- it is its own entity. It’s about finding a focused game and heightening and exploring it. That’s why I like doing improv, and that’s what I like doing in sketch. I like characters but I also like conceptual ideas. I like parodies. I like the wide variety of opportunities that sketch provides.

This Show Will Get You High has a lot of warning labels: "Please don't watch this show if pregnant, recovering addict, or while driving." Have you ever endangered yourself watching comedy or doing comedy?

MB: I always make sure to wear something over my ears, some sound-dampening device, if I know I’m going to watch something or listen to something that is funny. I’ll put on dark-colored glasses that are hard to see through and try not to hear it, so I’m not affected by the comedy. I’m careful about my comedy, even though I do it all the time. I’m careful so it doesn’t become a problem.

What about the UCB scene excites you right now?

MB: I’m excited that we’re opening a second theater in New York. I think we’ve reached a point where talent is literally brimming over and we need another place to put it. We have such demand from our performers for stage time -- and they deserve it. I think the theater is almost finished and I look forward to coming back and performing there. It’s going to have a more stand-up/solo performance, non-improv focus to it, which is good, because it creates balance. Our theater is kind of known as an improv theater in New York. In L.A., it is known for more of a balance, which I’m proud of. It’s really worked out well for us in L.A.

We’re doing a lot of shows now that we record for podcasts. That’s kind of a new thing. We started doing that for ASSSSCAT, and we’re going to start to do that for other shows in LA., so people in the middle of the country can enjoy our shows.

I like our Beta teams a lot. That’s really great. Hiring someone like Todd Bieber to really get that into gear -- people have been really focused. New York, in particular, has put up some really impressive videos on almost a daily basis. And the quality is so much better than it used to be, it’s really impressive.

How involved is the UCB4 in day-to-day operations at the theaters?

MB: We’re always weighing in via email on something or other. Like the new bar at the new theater is called the “Hot Chicks Room,” and about every day we get a new draft of what the logo is going to look like. It could be something as fun as that, or something as boring as dealing with our accreditation, which is a strenuous process of getting our curriculum in order -- which has taken us years to do it. We get together to work on our improv book almost every morning. Sometimes it’s fun, and sometimes it’s stressful, because you’re putting together a textbook.

When is the book coming out?

MB: I can’t say. It’s been at least a three-year process. We can see the end in sight.

What projects are you working on right now?

MB: There used to be a musical onstage at UCBLA called Freakdance, a parody of dance movies. And we shot it last fall and it has taken us a year to edit. It’s pretty much done. Right now we’re waiting to see if it gets into Sundance. I’m pretty excited about that.

Is it in the vein of Save the Last Dance?

MB: You can’t name a dance movie I haven’t seen.

You’re a big fan of dance movies?

MB: Yes. I hate dancing but I love dance movies. I think they’re funny. There’s movies like Beat Street, Electric Boogaloo, You’ve Got Served, Step Up, where dancing is almost treated like gang warfare. I think that’s funny, all the way back to West Side Story. And then there’s Dirty Dancing and Flashdance and Center Stage, Save the Last Dance -- the more romantic ones. Even within dance movies, there’s all different kinds of dance movies. We tried to pile in all the archetypes into one movie.

Are you dancing in it?

MB: I’m involved in choreography but I’m not breakdancing in it. But we do have real B-boys. We got many of the groups from America’s Next Dance Crew appearing in it, even some of the winners, so we have really good dancers for the movie. One of our regulars was Joshua Allen, who won So You Think You Can Dance.

So, you’re a big fan of dance TV shows, too?

MB: I’ve seen every episode of America’s Next Dance Crew.

Any advice for up and coming writer/performers?

MB: Follow me on my Twitter account and you can see how great comedy is written.

I actually do think Twitter makes people better writers. In the same way, making a sketch writer get their scene down to three minutes, is what Twitter does to get your joke down to 140 characters. I think there’s a discipline there that helps.

Watch more comedy videos from the twisted minds of the UCB Theatre at

Don't miss "This Show Will Get You High" on Comedy Central Wed., Oct. 27 at 3am; Thurs., Oct. 28 at 4:30am; and Mon., Nov. 1 at 4am; watch other videos from the show online.

UCBNY Volunteers For "New York Cares Day"

This Saturday, a group of UCBNY writers and performers volunteered at a public Brooklyn middle school for New York Cares Day. In addition to painting doors, murals, and doing some cleaning/organizing, UCB raised over $1000 for the organization.

"UCB has such a wonderful community of people, it's only natural that we'd come together to help out for something like New York Cares Day," said Justin Purnell, organizer of the event.

More community service projects are in the works -- stay tuned!

Photos by Ari Scott. See more photos of New York Cares Day in this Flickr set.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Elect the Willfully Ignorant!

UCB Comedy's video for Babelgum, "Elect the Willfully Ignorant," has been making the rounds online -- including a "thumbs up" from Roger Ebert, who posted it on his Twitter.

Starring Rob Cuthill; directed by Todd Bieber; written by Dan Mirk, Will Hines, Erik Tanouye, and Todd Bieber ; graphics by Ed Mundy.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Dyna Moe on UCB Theatre Podcast

Have you been listening to the UCB Theatre podcast? The latest features an interview with Dyna Moe, longtime UCBNY performer and illustrator who recently published "Mad Men: The Illustrated World." Check it out!