Matt Besser is one of the founding members of The Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB). UCB started as a Chicago-based improv team composed of Besser, Ian Roberts, Matt Walsh and Amy Poehler and has transformed into a well-known comedy establishment in New York City and Los Angeles. These folks not only formed UCB but Besser, Roberts, Walsh and friends regularly perform together as ASSSSCAT. ASSSSCAT will be performing, with a few alterations to the lineup, at UP Comedy Club on Sunday April 6th as part of the Chicago Improv Festival. Besser shared a few words with me about how he got started and some of his favorite moments.
How did your experience in Chicago help prepare you for New York and your current day successes?
Lots of experimentation supported by the burgeoning long form improv community. Lucky enough to work with a genius like Del Close who taught us the Harold which became the building block for everything we have made and taught.
What kind of influence has ASSSSCAT had on you as a person and on your career as a whole?
The Harold probably influenced my person and career more than ASSSSCAT. ASSSSCAT is essentially a lazy derivative of the Harold. Of course, our sketch show was a written Harold, and I think I’ve used the basic tenants of “finding the game” in all work that I’ve created.
What was the tipping point that made you move to New York and what was your experience at the beginning?
In the early 90’s there were not many opportunities to get a show on TV if you were based in Chicago. Of course the internet has changed all that, but at the time we needed to pick a coast in order to get seen by the industry.
What prompted writing the Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Improvisation Manual? What was that process like?
When our improv school became accredited we had to hone our curriculum to have a very clear ladder of education. Organizing what we taught essentially became a book, so expanding on that seemed natural.
What should be the primary focus of improvisers interested in using improv to generate content for sketch videos?
A video needs to be focused so don’t let allow your improv to wander all over the place. Focus on the game of the scene.
What is the most rewarding experience you've had based on your life in comedy?
My weekly ASSSSCAT performances with my friends completes me.
What has been your favorite moment shared with ASSSSCAT thus far?
Tackling one of Andy Dick’s fans who tried to join one of our scenes so we held his head to the stage for a few minutes.
What is the greatest insight you’ve discovered about life and comedy?
It’s easier to work on something together rather than forcing your own agenda.
Matt Besser will be performing all over Chicago Improv Festival. Catch him Saturday and Sunday in performances and workshops. Check out the CIF website for more information.