We’re doing a project where we ask people: what’s your UCB? We talked to Will Hines about Monkeydick, the early days of the UCBT, teaching, the Stepfathers, and a bunch of other stuff.
LW: How’d you find UCB?
WH: I found it because I was taking an improv class at Chicago City Limits in 1997, 1998, and 1999. I was just doing it for fun, to have something fun to do besides my day job.
The UCB arrived in New York in ’96, and started doing classes in ’98. In May of ’98 I was taking a class at Chicago City Limits, and the students there said, “hey, there’s a new place in town called the UCB, and it’s really cool, and we should go watch one of the shows.” This was really early in UCB time. I’d never heard of them. I don’t think their show had started yet on Comedy Central. So the class agreed to go see a show. The UCB was doing shows at Solo Arts on West 17th Street. They just rented space on the fifth floor—it was basically like doing a show at Under St. Marks or something, but they were renting it three or four nights a week.
(Drysdale, left, with Susan Messing)
“Why is our ego so fucking fragile, that something that happens to someone else, has anything to do with us at all?”
Rebecca Drysdale, a brilliant improviser and a writer on Key & Peele, posted a missive on the eve of what she calls the “Harold Moon”—basically, when the Upright Citizens Brigade theaters on both coasts choose the two or three improvisers out of 500 to join house teams, called Harold teams, that have weekly performance slots. It’s a blissful time when normally sane and rational people lose their fucking minds because somebody else gets the opportunity to do fake-surgery on stage in front of 12 people. And THEY can’t! They were not cast! When there was no ladder rung to reach for, suddenly one appeared, and they didn’t reach it!
Drysdale, who was never on a Harold team herself, essentially says there is no one achievement that will magically thrust a comedy career upon you. There is no one road to success, and placing emphasis on Harold auditions—or on industry showcase, being asked to be on a podcast, whatever—is just adding undue stress to what’s already the vaguest and most anxiety-ridden profession out there. It’s all about perspective, man, and the dangling Harold team carrot brings out the ferocious sides of people.
“Decide whether you are going to be a person who wants to be genuinely happy when good things happen to the people that you love…or not,” she writes. “If you are one of those people, someone who can have backs instead of watching your own, someone who can support the people around you on and offstage, those people who do get cast, nominated and signed will bring you with them. Those touchdowns count for the whole team, so be on it.”
Drysdale encourages people to remember there’s a reason they got involved with the arts in the first place. It wasn’t about achieving arbitrary or strictly financial goals, but creative ones first and foremost. She also acknowledges the push-pull of wanting to get on stage a lot so you can get better, and relying on Harold teams for automatic, hassle-free guaranteed performance slots.
The thing that struck me the most is that odd cart-before-the-horse conundrum she describes, because even though it’s clearly the byproduct of an imperfect system, and probably doomed to be problematic in one form or another for a while, there’s actually a solution. A solution so horrifying—because it involves WORK—I dare only speak its name after a colon: self-production.
I’m performing on November 8th at Atomacon in North Charleston, SC. It will be the first con I’ve ever performed at and I am super stoked! There’ll be costumes and fanfiction writers and sci fi references and that’s just my set. I really look forward to seeing what the fest brings with it and being a part of it! Boom!
I need to start off by saying that I’m a big fan of The Creeper. My first introduction to him was actually in a collection of The Best Joker Stories Ever Told that I received from an aunt. The idea of a joker-like superhero who didn’t look or act like a hero was really interesting to me.
He was never a hit character though and there wasn’t much with him in it, save the occasional guest spot and the Ditko originals or Dennis O’Neil’s backups, so it was hard for me to find out much about him. Later in college I found a short lived series that had come out in the late 90’s written by Len Kaminski, which I thought was fantastic, though admittedly a little slow.
The take on the character was somewhat unique in that we find out that Jack and the Creeper’s origin may have all been a hallucination on his part and that the Creeper may have been a part of him all along and the experiment simply brought it out of him. Neither could co-exist without the other. Like I said, an interesting idea, and it made for some cool stories, though it seems eerily similar to what Kaminsky had been trying to do with his short lived run on Venom as well.
Afterwards Steve Niles, creator of 30 Days of Darkness, got his chance to write The Creeper. Unfortunately, a full series was shortened to a six issue limited series and Niles was tasked with combining every Creeper origin story ever told so as to make sense for new readers. This led to a not very good series and the Creeper being dormant for a few more years until The Outsiders was rebooted yet again with Peter Tomasi on board.
The concept was that Batman had left Gotham, but had assembled a strike team in his place to take on the heavy hitters, with each member representing an aspect of Batman. Much of it was the original Outsiders line-up save The Creeper and a new Owl-Man. It started off strong and then…well, it seemed like Tomasi got tied up in Green Lantern and The Mighty because the story seemed to take a nosedive after the second issue. He was eventually replaced by Dan Didio who really didn’t do any better, plus he had to figure out yet another Creeper origin story that Giffen had written which revolved around the Creeper being of demonic heritage. Again, not a bad idea, but just not executed well.
That brings us to now. The Creeper is given yet another new origin story, this time as an oni who was slain by Katana’s sword. Her sword is broken and his spirit rests in Jack Ryder’s corpse. Its not a bad concept, but its not handled well. The Creeper is now a villain, which just kind of goes along with the status quo of evil looking dude has to be a villain, and he’s not particularly funny or even entertaining. He’s just sort of there and he does cruel things an then Ryder wakes up and moans about it.
I understand, its just my opinion, but I would love to see The Creeper handled with some sort of gravitas, with care. Maybe the DC universe is too confining. Maybe a Vertigo series would serve him better. I know there was one done a few years back set in France with two sisters at the heart of the story. Perhaps its time to look at that again.
"What’s the matter? Never taken a shortcut before?"
Lissa Treiman is awesome
Ok, well, “playing game” generally means you do improv a bit more like you’re writing a sketch on your feet. It should feel like your scenes comes up a funny idea, and then once it finds its idea it uses that idea as the main theme.
Here some things you can work on.
I loved this video and still do. Such a simple, dumb idea, but it entertains me more than most complex storylines
Jealousy and bitterness exist in just about every pursuit, and especially artistic ones. I can only speak from a comedian’s perspective, but I’ve watched it ruin people. I believe that if you are going to pursue stand up comedy as a career, you have to understand that there is no clear cut path to “making it.” You can’t let yourself think that paying dues leads to anything except the lessons and experiences that you take away. You can’t start believing that another person’s success is your failure. You can’t become so jaded that you write off the entire industry because of a few perceived injustices. There’s always someone who has more of a right to complain than you do and chooses not to. Falling into cynicism about things outside of your control can poison everything you do and derail you from honing your craft, which is always THE MOST IMPORTANT THING.
@spiritanimalus is gonna teach @lockouttagout how to do the Black Jack White. #hadouken
I got a chance to meet and perform with Craig Holcombe at New Brookland Tavern in 2012 and thought he was really funny. Then I found out he had made up his set on the spot and does it every time he gets on stage. I’m an improviser and a stand-up, but almost never at the same time, so I was intrigued to see someone who had married the two so well. Here’s a Q&A where we talk about how it got started and how he does it.
1. How long have you been doing stand-up and what made you want to do it?
I’ve been doing stand-up for almost four years. The timeline is fuzzy because I did everything but stand-up first. I started in improv, did some theatre, then wrote and performed in a sketch duo. I didn’t really have a desire to do stand-up until I didn’t have a group to work with. When my sketch group, Secondhand Futon ended, the only stage time I could get was doing stand-up. As I did it more, I grew to love it.
2. What led to you deciding to improvise your sets rather than doing pre-written material?
After doing “traditional” stand-up (where I write jokes and recite them onstage), I began to get bored. I wasn’t using skills I had learned in sketch or improv. Also, I was a jazz musician before I was a comic. I played bass. We were a working band and never rehearsed. We practiced at home and then got together on stage to demonstrate our skill. I fell in love with that creative lifestyle and wanted to copy it but in comedy. It took a few months but I eventually filtered out my material and taught myself to create comedy in the moment.
3. What are some of the advantages/disadvantages to your style?
Personally, I don’t see any disadvantages in my style as far as my act is concerned. It’s fun and exciting and I have a deep passion for it. It does present some problems when trying to describe my act to someone who hasn’t seen it, especially someone who might be getting me a gig. People who run rooms like to know the guy they hired will definitely get laughs, not make it all up as he goes along. The advantages are endless. I’m not constrained by time or subject matter or material. I can talk about anything or anyone for as long as I have time on stage. The style I have is a direct reflection of my personality and lifestyle so it’s kinda like a custom-made performance style. I’m sure a lot of people would be very put off to try what I do but that’s fine. They’re not me. I do the act that I’m best at.
4. Having that improv and jazz background, did you find it difficult to get use to reacting to what was coming out of your mouth, rather than waiting on the person/people you were working with?
The background in jazz and improv taught me to listen and work only in the moment. Because most of my material begins with the audience, it’s like they are my group. I have to just be very aware of what they’re giving me in words, comments, body language, etc. I’m reacting to myself and the crowd. In the beginning it was difficult to listen and also push the material forward. That’s just part of the skill you learn from experience. You don’t have to make a snappy comment of every detail of the moment. You can stop listening long enough to allow something to develop. It’s a balancing act I’m always trying to improve.
5. A lot of comics have differing opinions on the audience, some see them as good friends, others as a challenge to be overcome. How do you view them and how does this affect your show?
Generally, I love all audiences. I think of them as new people to learn about and entertain. I like to have a blank view of the audience until I get to talk with them, though. Even though I like them, I don’t know them yet. I also think of every audience as a challenge because I’m speaking to a group of people I do not personally know. The challenge is: get their attention, get some information out of them, then turn that around to make them laugh. I’m very positive towards crowds but also cautious because I don’t know what’s going to happen.
6. Do you find that different venues affect your show ie smaller venues, more intimate, bigger venues, broader style?
The size of the room doesn’t have much to do with my style. I tend to take small intimate things and share them in a big way. For example, I may ask a person in the front row what they wanted to be when they grew up. That’s a personal, intimate question. The answer, however has to be used to entertain the room. I try to get the audience to feel intimate and connected regardless of how many people are there. Every one of my shows is essentially a “you had to be there” moment and I think the audience gets that.
7. What are some goals you have and how does this affect you?
My long term goals are the same as when I started: get on a stage, perform, repeat. Also, I want to do this and only this, which makes getting paid pretty necessary. Artistically, I have very simple ambitions. I just love being on a stage with a live audience. I never had a desire to do films or television. In that respect, I accomplish all my goals every time I step on stage. In the early days, my goals had a lot more to do with finding my style and my delivery, my voice basically. Now that I’ve got that mostly figured out, I’m just trying to get gigs.
8. Your first big show is this weekend. How are you preparing for it?
As far as my show is concerned, I have given absolutely no thought to what I’m going to talk about. I’ll walk on stage, open my mouth and start talking.
Craig performs tomorrow night, June 29th, 2013, at Coffee Underground in Greenville, SC Check it out!