Just got back from my 4th ever DCM, but California’s first! Unlike my first three DCMs, this one did not take place in my hometown of NYC, but in LA. That’s 4 Del Close Marathons out of 21. I’ve been going to every Del Close Marathon since the first once I went to in 2016. Apparently I am a deadhead for Del Close Marathon. Each DCM has been a unique experience in itself, but this DCM is definitely my most ambitious one and the craziest one I’ve been to yet.
I think I saw blood on the stage. Shit was wild. I actually felt unsafe at UCB for the first time ever, but during a workshop with Matt Besser, where he revealed a very harmful comedy bit the UCB4 did early on in their careers, I learned that there are a lot of dark things about my comedy heroes that I didn’t know. UCB has always been this safe haven to me, at least UCB in NY. This is my first experience of UCB LA and at first I was very scared, it was scary. Scary in real, violent, dark ways. But then I realized that it lived up to my expectations of Hollywood. It made me realize that UCB in NY and LA are very different beasts and that ultimately it’s not about the theater, it’s about the location.
In NYC there are 3 big improv comedy theaters – UCB, Magnet and The People’s Improv Theater. They’re all really different in that their vibes and aesthetics are pretty different, but you can see the same people at all 3 theaters and at previous DCMS, UCB and Magnet worked together. The big 3 improv theaters felt very different to me until I saw UCB LA and realized what different really meant. I saw things I loved at UCB LA and a I saw things that made me physically sick. A felt a true dichotomy of feelings. A black and white. A literally black and white.
There are a few groups of people really thriving at UCB LA- White people, young people, LGBTQIA people, black people and celebrities. This is fine but despite the wide range of people represented, I’m still not represented, someway. Somehow.
Pre-DCM Day 1
I got to LA two days before DCM. Traveling is hard and it’s a good idea to give yourself a buffer day to recover from traveling and some time to explore. I usually travel with a purpose but it’s fun to embrace your inner tourist. The first two days I spend exploring Hollywood Blvd. I went to two Second City Shows.
The first Second City show I went to was Passing Class. It was $5 and a sketch writing level 3 revue.
I thought this show was phenomenal. I learned that it was a peak into the rehearsal and rewriting process and the final performance was happening a couple of weeks later. I really love the second city approach of polishing your work and putting it up in front of people for feedback at all stages. This show was great. I love the Second City revue style because I love music. The opening number was about how amazing writers are. The actors “bowed down” to the writers and thanked them for writing everything from SNL to Breaking Bad to Bones. It felt appropriate and great. Then they did a bunch of sketches and they were all really great but the only one I can remember at this point (4 days later) is one about an outlaw hired to work at a school and he inspired his students. Oh! And The crack home where they tried decluttering.
Pre-DCM Day 2
I went to a dance class by Janelle Ginestra at TMILLY TV. I took the red line and learned public transportation is pretty much the same everywhere. The class was super advanced and I was WAY out of my element but it was very LA. Everyone there was there to become a more hireable dancer. I was there to fuck around because I love dancing. I was the only person who couldn’t do a split.
After the class I saw another show at Second City Hollywood. One of my favorite things about Second City Hollywood is the lounge area and the lack of a bar. I think it’s the most comfortable I’ve felt in a comedy club, which I’m glad I experienced before almost having a man thrown on me at UCB the next night. The show I saw this night was called MontreaL.A. and it was a one man show where a guy with a bunch of baseball caps on the stage, of which he only wore some, and he improvised about his journey as a comedic actor from Montreal to L.A. There was no point, or end to the show but it was interesting and definitely Hollywood.
I walked back to my hostel both nights. I walked past IO West and learned it had shut down last year.
DCM Day 1
Day 1 of DCM21, Friday June 28. I took a Matt Besser Bit Workshop.
I had no idea what to expect, but $5 did not seem like a lot of money to lose to take a workshop with one of the UCB founders. I was confused by how 200 people were supposed to fit in a space but when I saw UCB Inner Sanctum I understood. I loved the space. All in all there were about 60 people who took the workshop. Matt Besser guided us through the creation of a bit show centered around Disney Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. The bit show was interactive in nature with different sections the audience could visit and observe people performing different bits according to their stations. The stations were Line, storm trooper jail, the cantina, millennium falcon and the lightsaber workshop. Everyone was tasked with thinking of a character or bit they could portray at one of the stations. Before the official sections were announced I had thought of the a sketch about Lines I had written and thought I could do a bit with the Lines. If I lived in LA, I would do the show on July 19th but sadly, I had to participate only in theory.
The thing that stood out to me the most from this workshop was a story Matt Besser told describing a bit he did with the UCB4 early in their career. He described taking an audience volunteer on the stage and then putting a gas mask on them. There was a tube attached to the mask which the UCB told the person would be used to blow marijuana smoke into the mask and get the volunteer high. The bit or “joke” was that it wasn’t a joint but a cigarette, so they blew cigarette smoke into a person’s face who was covered by a gas mask. Matt Besser said “if you’re not balking by now you should be” as he was telling the story, saying over and over “what were we thinking?” and what were they thinking? I couldn’t stop thinking about this story throughout the weekend as it unfolded.
After the workshop I went back to my hostel and prepared for my first show of DCM- Offbook: An Improvised Musical Podcast with Zach and Jess and special guest, Carl Tart.
I sat all the way in the back on one of the couches. There was this restless dude sitting on the couch next to me who just kept moving around wanting to see but I was like, I just wanna chill on the couch like I’m listening to a podcast. They’re not gonna do anything interesting on stage because it’s a podcast. Anyway, that restless guy kinda killed my vibe but the show was good enough that I didn’t care. I feel like I’ve never been disappointed by musical improv and it is a perfect art form.
After the podcast, I walked back to the hostel and got ready to go to the late night bit shows. This is where things got fucked up.
DCM Day 2
Unlike previous DCMs, there wasn’t a weekend wristband, there was a more a la carte style way to select shows. Shows were shown between the 3 stages at UCB Franklin, UCB Sunset, and Inner Sanctum. The daytime shows were sold individually for $15 a pop. Podcasts at Inner Sanctum were $10. Late night bit shows for Saturday and Sunday were $12 or $20 for both nights. Since in the past I had enjoyed bit shows the most I purchased a two night late bit show pass. The pass includes unlimited access to all shows between 1am-1pm. I also purchased one $15 improv show and one $10 podcast. So this DCM cost me $45, compared to $40 I spend at previous ones for unlimited shows at 4 stages the entire festival, and $5 I spent last year for the Poet and Genius pass which let me see 3 shows.
Got to the line for late night bit shows 30 min early and there were about 20-30 people ahead of me. A friend from an improv class in NYC saw me in the line and let me join him, closer to the front of the line. We picked backseat center seats and the show started.
My Every Whimprov
My immediate thoughts were this is kinda dumb. John Gemberling played a king and he asked the other improvisers to do whatever he wanted. He started off calling them slaves and Jon Garbus was like “that doesn’t sound right” so Gemberling asked him to ask every audience member if they were okay with the usage of the word slaves. Everyone said no except one white guy, of course.
The cast list does not match the announced cast list. Colton Dunn is an addition. As is the lady. Gil Ozeri was not there. They did a bit about dog food going up your butt? idk either.
Next was Matt Besser’s Hootenany Sing-A -Long Improv Comedy Experiment. They played songs by Elton John, like Rocket Man and put the lyrics on the projector. Everyone sang along and then Matt Besser interrupted at some point and initiated a scenario for the other improvisers to improvise scenes off of. It was overall good, but not memorable and they didn’t do my fave Elton John song “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” so I didn’t care, sorry not sorry.
Next was Comedians of Wrestling Heavyweight Title Match and this is the part of my whole experience where I was like we’re not in Kansas anymore.
I was tripping balls for this occasion and one of the reasons I chose to trip balls at this occasion was because my first real experience tripping was the first DCM I went to, DCM18. In my 5 years of taking classes and going to shows at UCBNY, I’ve never felt unsafe, until 1:50am PDT June 29, 2019. This bit show was just a wrestling match, and to justify having it during an improv festival, they did a 3 line scene in the beginning. 3 lines of improv and then like 15 minutes of violent fighting. There was a point in the fight when the two people fighting, Idy Nwadiwe and Dan Black, went up into the audience and started hitting and throwing each other into the audience! Literally unsafe. If I wasn’t tripping balls I might have been more numb to the violence but I was ultra sensitive to EVERYTHING and I felt really bad watching this. I don’t know if actors in LA are just really good actors but I was convinced Dan Black was pretty hurt. I feel like I saw blood on the stage when his head was smashed against a wall, but again, I was tripping balls so I could have been seeing things. It just was so realistic. The slaps and throws and there was a point where the announcers were like “no not the improv chairs, we need those for 50 more hours!” when Idy was throwing Dan into the chairs. It was like there was real concern they would damage property.
At previous DCMs, there were shows going on at multiple stages the entire time. So if I had walked into this stage with a live wrestling match on a comedy stage, I could have just left and gone to another show. But this was the only thing to watch. I remember thinking about the story Matt Besser told during the bit workshop about blowing cigarette smoke into an audience member’s face,and it slowly started dawning on me that UCB doesn’t care about safety.
As the night went on things didn’t really get better. I kept getting this sinking feeling that something wasn’t right. Were these really the BEST shows LA has to offer for the bit show lineup? Why were the same 10 or so comedians in every show?
The next bit show was Carl Tart on a hoverboard.
Carl Tart is in a lot of shows.
I don’t think this is bad, he is very funny with a great stage presence, but why is he in everything and how is he in everything? He was also in Offbook: The Podcast Musical which I watched earlier. Only other person who matches him in quantity of shows in Jacob Wysocki, but more on him later.
Carl Tart on a Hoverboard was Carl Tart on a hoverboard. I remembered during Matt Besser’s workshop he mentioned one of the ways to come up with a bit is if you just have a prop lying around. I guess Carl Tart had a hoverboard lying around.
Next was The Straight Men.
This was a very large team.
I guess this was normal improv but I was so shaken from cOw I no longer trusted UCB.
After The Straight Men was The Black Panther Object Work Spectacular.
If I hadn’t been traumatized by cOw, I might have had a different response to this show but the aggressive energy of this show just left me with a bad taste. In hindsight, this was one of my favorite bit shows. Shaun Diston asked for suggestions and would always say ” I heard Africa” no matter what the suggestion was, so every scene was initiated off “Africa” which was very funny. Will Hines was the only nonblack person on the stage and at one point he stepped forward to initiate and they stopped him.
They went through the audience and gathered every black person in the room to go on the stage. It was a breath of fresh air to see something like this at UCB and I think a hostile takeover was really the best approach in terms of bringing intense diversity, but why is everything so hostile?
Next was Remember The Order which was an interesting concept…
… But in the context of the night so far, to me it came off as another mean spirited bit. Every time the guy playing the PA forgot a detail about someone’s order, everyone would freak out on him (because they’re hungry). They would make him remember increasingly difficult detailed orders that included things like how to park the car. It was a lot.
Next was The L Ron Hubbard Invitational Monoscene.
I actually remember seeing this bit in NYC. The bit is L Ron Hubbard, portrayed by James Dwyer, introducing a bunch of scientology celebrities who are going to do a monoscene, but they never get to the monoscene it’s all introductions. The show ends with a note about how you can visit a Scientology center right across the street from UCB Franklin.
This is the most shows I’ve seen at DCM and I’m not even finished. I’m gonna have to write a part 2. In part 2 things gets much better with Rachel Bloom, someone NOT being crucified like Jesus in an improv scene and I GET INTO VIP.