If one wanted to become, say, a welder, that person would seek out a great vocational school, hone their craft, then hit the streets and start professionally welding their little heart out. Well, unbeknownst to many, the same can actually be said for working in the world of comedy. And while there are several schools where a would-be funnyman could potentially master their craft—for example, Los Angeles' Groundlings or Chicago's famed Second City—there's no comedy curriculum that's produced more modern-day stars that the Upright Citizen's Brigade Theater.
If you're a massive comedy fan, there's a solid chance that the vast majority of the talents you're currently quoting, DVRing, and retweeting got their start at UCB—either in New York or in L.A. And if you're of the opinion that someone's simply either born funny or not, that comedy isn't something that can be taught or learned, let me sway your opinion with exhibit A: the near unfathomable success rate of this bi-coastal improv and sketch institution.
In 2014 in particular, talents who studied at UCB have seemingly taken over the comedy world, little by little, show by show.
Look at the coup de grace of comedy, Saturday Night Live. In this, the show's 39th season, the larger-than-usual cast is comprised of 18 hilarious talents, 10 of which have studied and performed at UCB at some point in time. Longtime cast members Bobby Moynihan, Kate McKinnon and Nasim Pedrad are all Upright alums, but so are a majority of the show's recent newcomers: John Milhiser, Kyle Mooney, Noel Wells, Brooks Wheelan, and Sasheer Zamata. And it's not just the class of 2013-2014. Several other former UCB talents have made it to comedy's grandest stage, names like Horatio Sanz, Rachel Dratch, Jenny Slate, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, the latter of which actually helped found the now-legendary theater.
And even to this day, Poehler remains more than faithful to UCB, the organization which helped launch her into the A-list stratosphere. The Brigade actually began as a comedy troupe back in 1990. It was founded by not only Poehler, but also the hysterically funny Matt Besser, Ian Roberts, and Matt Walsh, who currently co-stars on HBO's Veep. But decades after the group's inception, Poehler still proudly reps her squad.
Parks, by far the funniest show on NBC's current primetime slate, is absolutely full of UCB veterans, and one has to assume that Poehler was in some part the catalyst for the castings. Aside from the writers room being jam packed with UCB performers, the active on-air roster includes Alison Becker, Harris Wittels, Jon Glaser, Aubrey Plaza, the incomparable Aziz Ansari, Billy on the Street's Billy Eichner, and Ben Schwartz, who constantly steals scenes as Jean-Ralphio Saperstein. And in the case of Schwartz, his other series, Showtime's House of Lies, also has a very UCB-centric cast. There's of course Schwartz himself, but other UCBers—the incredibly funny Lauren Lapkus, Eliza Coupe and the aforementioned Jenny Slate—also appear.
And you noticing a trend here?
That brings us to the other UCB-heavy series that Poehler's currently involved with: Comedy Central's recently-renewed Broad City. Poehler produces the raunchy female-powered series, but its two stars, the broads in Broad City—Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson—also passed through the comedy institution. And the ladies didn't have to look far to round out their small but impressive cast. Two of the show's supporting players also came from New York side of UCB—John Gemberling and Chris Gethard.
And when it comes to Comedy Central's current lineup, Broad City aside, a good portion of the network's current crew came from the famed improv theater. Prior to knocking it out of the park on their not-to-be-overlooked sketch series, Key & Peele, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele first began working together within the confines of the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. And with the duo not only teaming up yet again on FX's Fargo, but also on an upcoming Judd Apatow project, the sky's the limit for these two talents. But it doesn't stop with Key & Peele, Nick Kroll, star of the eponymous Kroll's Show, also studied at UCB, as did his ridiculously talented co-stars on The League—Paul Sheer and Jason Mantzoukas, who both also regularly slay on Scott Aukermann's Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast, which constantly features, yes, you guessed it, UCB players.
As you can see, Upright Citizens Bridge alumni tend to stick together, as if they all belong to the same fraternity. In a sense they're all bonded for life, comedic brothers-and-sisters-in-arms if you will. These performers generally tend to look out for their own, which is commendable far beyond the world of comedy. Look at Adult Swim's incredibly bizarre but bizzarely incredibly Children's Hospital. The series was created by and stars Upright vet Rob Corddry, but over the course of the past few years it's also featured so many other UCB talents—names like Ed Helms, Rob Huebel, and Brian Huskey.
And the list of popular UCB-fueled shows goes on and on. From Community to Arrested Development to Archer, many of us are currently reaping the benefits of the theater's unparalleled talent on a nightly basis. If you're a comic, an actor, or a writer who's currently feeling inspired after reading this, you absolutely should be. Know that if you sign up for a course at one of its three theaters—another NYC location, UCB East, opened in 2011—your career may wind up in incredibly accomplished hands, and maybe, just maybe, you may wind up following in some very enviable footsteps.
Written by Peter Hoare (@PeterHoare)