Instructor: Dominic Dierkes
Date Taken: August 2008 

At about the same time I decided to jump back into improv, I also decided to take a sketch class. I never really had much interest in writing sketch for the stage, but figured the class could give me some good insights on overall comedic writing.

Below are the notes I took from the sketch class. Find out more about UCB’s training program here.

Class #1 

  • Assignments every week- will then read them through as a class
  • Everything in your sketch should serve your premise
  • There should only be 1 game in your sketch, otherwise trim the fat
  • Sketches are 3-5 pages
  • Everything should heighten (reactions, the stakes, etc)
  • Have a beat, explore those ramifications, then heighten to next beat

Class #2

  • Always get to the game quick
  • As soon as the epiphany (or a complete reversal) occurs, the sketch is over
  • Premise should be specific and can be expressed in 1 sentence.
  • If you heighten too quickly you lose the value of what you do after
  • Characters should be defined, even it it’s not told to the audience.  The writer (and ultimately actors) should know their motivations
  • Have only 1 game (take/angle/etc)
  • Be in the active, don’t just talk about it

Class #3

  • Character Sketches:
  • Even though it’s a character sketch, you should know “his deal.”
  • Characters should still respond to people (rather than ignore them).  They should still be a “person” i.e. there is something believable about them.
  • Be as succinct as you can (especially in stage directions)
  • Commercial Parodies:
  • Good skill to have, it is a part of your writer’s packet
  • Parody something as specifically as possible
  • Game always comes from where you deviate from the actual commercial
  • Find that one thing you can change and then execute it the same way as commercial
  • Generally fall into 2 categories: (1) The product is weird. (2) The way you’re advertising is weird.
  • If you try to both of the above, you are probably trying too much in the sketch
  • Make them visually similar – think about the types of shots
  • Should be less than 2 1/2 pages

Class #4

  • Ridiculousness isn’t enough for a sketch, you still need to know and play your game
  • Common questions/comments when reviewing a sketch:
  • What beats do you like?
  • What’s your game?
  • Get to your game quicker.
  • Which beats match your game?  Which don’t?
  • How can you blow this out more?  What else is true?
  • Genre Parodies
  • Similar to commercial parodies: pick 1 thing to change and keep everything else the same
  • Make it as specific as possible without requiring people to have seen the original
  • 3-5 pages, don’t worry about capturing an “entire episode” if parodying a show, just show one scene of it
  • Play the conventions of that drama
  • For genres, the visual style and feel of it is incredibly important (must match the genre)

Class #5

  • Sketch 201 – more focused on building your packet (as extension of 101)
  • Sketch 301 – More specialized (putting up a sketch revue, working with actors, etc)
  • Best advice: put your stuff up (at UCB, other places, Liquid Courage, on the Internet)
  • Try to put on a spank show, do sketch “open mics”
  • Tips for Video:
  • Robert Rodriguez’s book about making a really cheap film
  • Equipment is important
  • Check out Improv Resource Center for thread about shooting your own sketches
  • If you have a camera but little experience you can easily find people to work with
  • 3 Things for Video:
  • Sound (shotgun or lavalier mics)
  • Tripod (Not shaking)
  • Lighting – 3 point lighting setup

Class #6

  • Political/Topical Sketches
  • Sketches inspired by the news
  • Characters are pop culture icons
  • Take a news story and take it to the extreme
  • Have to have a specific angle

Class #7

Sketch Rewrites. No notes.

Class #8

Sketch Rewrites. No notes.

UPDATE 2016: These pictures are absolutely cringeworthy but I’m leaving these up for comedic purposes (and not in the way it was originally intended).

I recently wrapped up my first class at UCB with my class performance on August 16. This a review of the Upright Citizens Brigade’s Improv 101 class.

Summary

UCB’s Improv 101 class is a great introduction into the world of improv.  It provides an end-to-end look at the key skills it takes to be a strong improviser.  I recommend the course for anyone interested in gaining a basic understanding of improv, whether it’s to improve your comedic timing, enhance your performing abilities, or just to have fun.

Course Details

Length: 8 3-hour classes + show
Cost: $325
Instructor: Bobby Moynihan
Description: From the UCB Website:

Students will learn the fundamentals of long-form improvisation. Core concepts covered include using character agreement to make your scenes succeed, developing character, character status, object and environment work, “playing at the top of your intelligence,” and heightening (finding ways to make your scenes get funnier from start to finish).

Review of the Class

UCB’s Improv 101 is their introductory class to long-form improv. The 101 level focuses on the basics of improv and has two elements I really like: a class show at the end of the course, and a syllabus that covers all of the basics, including game. Some introductory courses pick only one thing, such as characters or “yes and,” and only teach that. While UCB definitely focuses more on “yes and” in 101, they introduce many other elements–backline support, 2nd beats, game, characters, status, object work, etc. It should be noted that some of the more advanced teachings could have been because of our instructor, or the level of our class. Also I have prior improv experience, so I can’t speak directly to how the class is for a new improviser, but from others have told me, they too enjoyed the class.

Review of the Instructor

The class as a whole was fairly structured. The UCB Training Center opened in 2006 and has refined their courses over that time, having specific objectives for each level. With that being said, the instructor does play a big role in your experience in the course. I was fortunate enough to have Bobby Moynihan before he made the leap to Saturday Night Live. Bobby was a great 101 teacher; he understood the basics of improv and was always very positive towards what people did correctly (an important focus for people’s first introduction to improv). Bobby also adapted the content of the course to the level of the people in our class, allowing us to get into some more advanced topics.

Top 5 Notes

There were a number of things that I learned from the course, but here are the Top 5 notes, quotes, and suggestions:

  1. Play to the top of your intelligence.
  2. Listen for that first unusual thing.
  3. If this is true, then what else it true.
  4. Don’t be “coy” – be specific.
  5. Buy the The Upright Citizens Brigade: Asssscat! DVD and watch the audio commentary.

Instructor: Bobby Moynihan
Date Take: June 2008

I took a short break from improv after moving to New York in January 2008. To jump back into it, I decided to take classes at Upright Citizens Brigade—my first official improv class and my first real exposure to long-form improv.

Below are the notes I took from the class. Find out more about UCB’s training program here.

Class #1 – Introduction to Yes And & Support

  • Tuesday night is Harold Night @ UCB
  • Check out the Assscat DVD (specifically the commentary on the DVD)
  • Always “play to the top of your intelligence”

Class #2 – Yes And & Commitment

Guest Instructor: Silvija Ozols

  • First suggestion is the best one (to take)
  • Remember Who What Where, generally in first 3 lines
  • Listen for that first unusual thing
  • If this is true, then what else it true
  • Don’t be “coy” – be specific
  • Dare to be dull aka don’t go for the funny joke

Class #3 – Object Work & Establishing the Environment

  • Pointing out a mistake is a dick move.  Using the mistake in your scene is good improv
  • You can work on object work every day at home

Class #4 – Environment Based Scene Work

Guest Instructor: Jeff Hiller

  • Make a connection with the other player
  • Play to the top of your intelligence
  • The scene is always about the people in the scene, the object work is just the spice

Classes #5-8 – Preparing for the Show

[No notes]

UPDATE 2016: A promo video I made in 2008. Check out the incredible title graphics!

I had to write a hand-written note the other day, and it reminded me of how much it really sucks when you can’t use the delete ckey to fix all of your mistakes/  So i nthe …. So to give a shout out back to the days of yore, I’ve dcecided that I’m not going to tuse the delete key while writing this post.

HOpefully everything will still remain readable, and that I don’t drag on for too long (as I won’t be dediting it back down.).

Ive heard that you;re sopposed to be able to judge how much self esteem wone ahs by analyzing their ahandwriting.  For example… The idea is that the bigger the person’s handwriting, the bigger their self eesteem (maybe because it’s realyted to people with smlow self esteem thin k people won’t read their writing if it ‘s small?).  Well if that’s the case, then I have less self–esteem thatn pre0buscent te/boy with acne.

My handwriting is about the equivalent of a 6 point font a computer (yes I’m a geek and that’s how I’m doing my comparison), but not rnearly as neat.  I’ve never really thought about it being because I have low self eseteem, I( think I’m pretty awesome), it’s more about effieciecy.

You see I’m an engieener by trade, and so it seems more efficeient to write smaller.  You have less workd to do (the words/letters/linest hat make up those wletters are smaller) and it also takes up liess space.  I remember back in college comparing notes with people, and where they’d have 30 pages of notes on a given topic, I’d have 2 1/2.  Granted part of that may have been linked to sleeping in class, but the bigger part was that I just wronte smaller, and used the space more effectively/

I guess you might say the old saying for me should go (“the pen is mighteir than the dagger..”.).  I’d fventure to say that the othe r part of it was that in elemarntary school, people would always comment that my handiwiriting was small.

As a result, I’d be sure to continue writing small, and in fact probably tried to swrite smaller,  just because of the attention it received.

I imagine that ctually happens a liot.  It’s like some type of odd reward (or stroke if you follw transactinal/game theory).  You do something weird/different, you get a reaction or attention, so you do it more often, and often more extreme (you like that sentence, I idi fo r some reason).

That’s probbly why people get multiple peircings, tatoors, or why Rosie Odonnell is becomeing more and more of a  “not nice eperson “…

But I’d better stop before I hurt some people’s brain with my terrible typing.  At firtst cglance, it seppears that my brain is thinking way to fast for my hands to type (I put in letters that belong at the end of a word at the begginning) and that I also might very well be dyslexic.

And not e that I was typign at my normalspeed, not trying to slow down just to be more accurate, or speed up fto be less.  This is about how much editing I need to do for a normal bpost (unless the fact that I’m seeing all my errors is making me type wrose, then it might be alitt le off.).

Mayboe I should consider a tpying course: “The big red doc jimped over the silver moon” or something like that.

I’ve recently been doing some thinking about my persona on-stage and have come up with a few ideas about “Stand Up Drew.”

The first big point is that there are some key differences and similarities between my on-stage and off-stage personas. If I had to identify some differences, I’d say they were:

  • I’m more outgoing on stage than I am in real life – but only to some extent. To even do stand-up and improv is pretty different than how I was in high school, but I’m slowly becoming more outgoing every day. At the same time, I am still way too reserved in front of an audience and need to learn to commit more.
  • My sense of humor is bluer (dirtier) in real life. I’ve tried (for the most part) to stay clean whenever doing stand-up, but my natural tendency in improv and every day situations is to go for the blue. I wish it wasn’t true, but it is. However this is one area that I don’t want to just accept and start doing bluer material, I’d rather learn to make my natural self more clever.
  • In addition to blue humor, I seem to stick to puns/play-on-words to make people laugh – both on and off stage. I don’t think this is bad, but I need to learn variety (such as characters) in order to keep things fresh.

And while there are many things that “come through” about me on stage, I think there are few things that are key to my persona:

  • I’m in my own head a lot. On stage (improv and stand-up), I’m self-conscious of how a set/scene is going, and what I “should” be doing. Off the stage, I think about how others perceive me and also over-analyze everything.
  • I don’t retain emotions long (at least the negative ones). I rarely stay upset with someone for more than a day, and will always try to avoid burning any bridges. My brother’s knew to be mean to me in the morning, because by the time my mom got home at night, I was already past it and everything was hunky-dory (whatever the hell that means). This makes it difficult for me to carry through on a joke that relies on my emotional standpoint on a subject (such as “hating” people that say the word “so” at the end of a sentence).
  • I am always trying to think logically. Back to the previous point, I believe that emotions are fleeting and shouldn’t affect you negatively. After one particularly hard break up, I was pissed at myself after a week of still being sad about it because I thought to my self – “life happens, move on, get over yourself.” If only emotions listened like that. This makes some particular jokes even funnier to me, because I really visualize certain things actually happening (like ravens with x-rays).
  • I have a rather odd perception of self-pride. I don’t drink alcohol or use medication often because I have this feeling that I should be able to create the same result without outside stimulus (I’ve always thought of alcohol as “steroids for your personality” – and I wanted to be Ken Griffey Jr). But at the same time, worry about what others think, and doubt myself comedically. Which is weird because I truly believe I could do anything that I set my mind to and 100% wanted to achieve (save maybe make it in the NBA or NFL).

I’m not really sure where I wanted this post to go, and didn’t mean for it to be like a “journal” entry, but it is was it is, just as Popeye was who he was. So to bring back the funny, lets end on a joke:

A man goes to a therapist for the first time and is laying down on her coach. She tells him to “start at the beginning” and so the man does. But after every thing he says, the therapist lets out a “sigh.” After 20-30 minutes of this, the man finally gets irritated and asks “Why do you have to keep doing that after everything I say?” The therapists replies, “Didn’t you know, I’m a sigh-chiatrist.” (ba don cha – how do you like that long set up for a pun, haha).

First and foremost, I have to thank Katie for leaving me an amazing comment on my blog.  If even half of what she says is true, then I know that all the time and effort I put into comedy is well worth it.  Comments like that make me feel so fortunate to even be able to perform in front of people, so thank you, Katie, and everyone else who has shown their support.

Now that I’ve slept and had some time to think about the entire weekend, I suppose it’s time to reflect on the two shows this past weekend.

Fred Leeds Show

I already reviewed the Fred Leeds show, but I still think it’s important to talk about the show’s significance.  I only knew Fred Leeds for a short period of time (I had the honor of performing with him in my first show as a Smarty Pants member), but I knew him long enough to know that he was an amazing man.

Before I met Fred, I was actually afraid of getting older.  I felt like I had to accomplish everything I really wanted to do before I hit 50, otherwise it would never get done.  But the fact that Fred was still performing at the age of 70, and the energy and charisma that he had, assured me that life isn’t over as you get older.

So here’s to Fred, an amazing improviser, and even better person.  I hope that we did him proud at his First Annual Comedy Rocks show, I know he was watching the whole thing.

The 8th Floor Send Off Show

What’s amazing about this past weekend is that I had the opportunity to perform in not one, but two incredible shows.  Saturday’s Send-Off Show was one that I will remember forever.

The show started with the video that Moran, Nate and I spent a good deal of time on; it depicted a day of reflection for us as we prepared for our final performance with The 8th Floor.

After the video ended (suitably on Jay-Z’s December 4th’s ending lyrics “If you can’t respect that, you’re whole perspective is whack, maybe you’ll love me when I fade to black”), I started the show off recapping the history of The 8th Floor.  I thought it was important to share with the audience what all The 8th Floor has gone through and accomplished in the past 3 years.

With all of the sentimental stuff out of the way, we started the improv off with “First Line, Last Line.”  Every now and then, as an improviser, you have a scene where it seems like every line out of the player’s mouths gets a laugh.  “First Line, Last Line” was one such scene for us.

The rest of the first half of the show went well, though it lasted longer than we had planned.  “Home Shopping Network” was of course filled with loads of energy, with Nate and I nearly sweeping Moran and Lindsey (after they had talked so much trash…)  We had planned for a 90 minute show, but by the time we reached intermission, it had already been over an hour.

As a result, we shortened the intermission break and went into our “Ambassador Tasty” skit, followed immediately by Chain Death Murder.  We played a few more solid games, and then reached our final two games of our final show: “Most Dangerous” and “Pendulum.”

For those of you who don’t know, “Most Dangerous” is a game where the players play barefooted and blind folded, with around 100 live mousetraps set up on stage.

Needless to say, it’s a painful game.  I was so fortunate as to have a mousetrap snap directly on my big toe, where it remained for the rest of that game.  I’m not sure what it is, but people love seeing us get hurt…

It was then time for the last game.  “Swinging Pendulum of Death.”  When we thought about how to close, “Pendulum” seemed like the natural end, for the game ends with all three characters dead.  When Kyle called the game over, I was officially done performing with The 8th Floor.

A Standing Ovation

And then it happened.  I don’t know if it was because our show was so good (I thought it was great), or because of what we were able to help start (it’s been a long, but amazing 3 years), or what, but Moran, Nate and I (and the 8th Floor) received a standing ovation (our first).

I was speechless, and still am when I think about it.  But just like Katie’s comments, that reaction from the crowd reaffirmed everything we had put into the group.  All of the late nights, long practices, miles driven, expenses paid, (and on and on) was validated and worth it.

So again, I can’t say it enough.  Thank you everyone for your support, both this past weekend, and in the three years that The 8th Floor and myself have been performing.

And I suppose that means it’s now time to move on and focus on the future. Luckily I am already able to perform with another hilarious group, and already have a full weekend of performances and events this weekend.  As a side note, I will be making DVDs of the Send-Off Show here in the (hopefully near) future.  If you’d like a copy, let me know and I’ll get one to you.

Thanks again, to family, friends, strangers, and of course The 8th Floor.

I was talking to Matt at Smarty Pants practice tonight and something he mentioned got me thinking about my blog and the stand up that I do. He talked about how, in a way, it can be nice to be a relatively unknown comedian. As an unknown, you can do the same material over and over again and people will still find it new.

It’s definitely an interesting concept. Though there are certain jokes that you want your favorite comedians to tell, for the most part you like hearing new material each time you go see them. If you saw the exact same show again and again, would you continue to put forth the effort to go see them?

To make things worse, most people don’t realize that headlining comedians do (for the most part) the exact same set every single night, at every club they go to, for an entire year (or more).  Have you ever been to see the same comedian twice in one weekend? Minus some crowd interaction and sometimes the order of material, you’ll often get the same jokes with the same set ups and the same punchlines.

BUT, this is what works for stand up comedians. They have a new audience every night, why not use material that you know will work, that you have spent countless hours perfecting at local open mics?

And now we get to my dilemma. By posting the videos of the stand up I do, am I effectively limiting my audience that is eager to see me? Will I disappoint the people that come to my show if I do 100% of the set they saw on YouTube (or 90% or even 50%)?

Obviously many people realize that seeing comedy in person is 100 times better than on video, but does that make it worth it if the person could just wait a few hours (or however long it takes me) after the event to the see the video on the Internet?

If I think about this in terms of a business (which is what stand-up is, a sole-proprietorship where the product you are selling is you), then posting to YouTube and detailing my set out in my blog are potentially cannibalizing my own product.

And all of that sounds bad. But the trade off is that I can reach a much larger audience by posting my videos. They can see, with little risk involved, if they think I’m funny. That could encourage them to come out and see me live next time I perform, as they have already had a test-trial and realized they liked the product. Of course, will they still be satisfied if the next time they see me live, it’s the same material that I did on YouTube…  and the cycle begins anew.

I guess I don’t really have an answer, I don’t know which is effectively better. Until I figure that out, I’ll keep on keeping on, posting comedy videos every now and then to share what I’ve been working on.

A stand-up set from 2006 at Funny Bone at Newport on the Levee. My 19th stand-up show.

UPDATE 2016: It’s weird to leave this up considering how bad it is, but I think it’s an important part of my evolution. Plus who doesn’t enjoy a good anti-Michigan joke?