Del Close Marathon superstars commemorate the improv marathon's 15th anniversary

Amy Poehler, Nick Kroll, Chris Gethard and many more reflect on a decade and a half of nonstop improvised madness

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  • Photograph: Jason Spiro

    Ian Roberts, Matt Besser, Rob Riggle and Amy Poehler at the original UCB Theatre on 22nd Street

  • Photograph: Keith Huang

    Del Close Marathon 2008: Nick Kroll

  • Photograph: Ari Scott

    Del Close Marathon 2010: ASSSSCAT 3000 with (from left) Chad Carter, Seth Morris, Matt Walsh, Michael Delaney and Ian Roberts

  • Photograph: Ari Scott

    Del Close Marathon 2009: Death by Roo Roo with, from left, Anthony Atamanuik, John Gemberling, Adam Pally, Brett Gelman, Gil Ozeri and Curtis Gwinn

  • Photograph: Keith Huang

    Del Close Marathon 2008: Charlie Sanders

  • Photograph: Jason Spiro

    An early Swarm show at the UCB Theatre on 22nd Street with Dave Blumenfeld, Michael Delaney, Andy Secunda, Sean Conroy and Billy Merritt

  • Photograph: Ari Scott

    Del Close Marathon 2009: Bassprov with, from left, Mark Sutton, Matt Walsh and Joe Bill

Photograph: Jason Spiro

Ian Roberts, Matt Besser, Rob Riggle and Amy Poehler at the original UCB Theatre on 22nd Street


Though it’s grown larger and more diverse over the past decade and a half, the guiding principle of the annual Del Close Marathon remains the same: To honor Chicago improv guru Close, teams of improvisers from New York and elsewhere perform, one after the other, for at least 24 hours straight (with the help of energy drinks, booze and other intoxicants). Past performers and audience members are familiar with the DCM’s incomparable mix of laughs, thrills, weirdness and general bacchanalian revelry; here, Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre performers share moments they can’t forget—or had help remembering later.

Nick Kroll: The DCM is the closest thing I’ve experienced to Woodstock—in part because it makes me feel like I’m part of a real artistic community and partly because I’m naked and on acid the whole time.

Amy Poehler (UCB Four): Early DCMs, our first ones, were only 24 hours.  It was inspired by this great thing in Chicago called the Abbie Hoffman Festival, and they would stay up all night. So for the first couple [DCMs], my memories are just me staying up for 24 hours, because I was probably in 25 of the 45 shows. A lot of the memories are really drunken. Backstage was always as fun as onstage.

James Eason (of improv group Mother): It was maybe DCM 2 or 3, and Mother was the current Cagematch champ and was automatically in the DCM Cagematch. Scot [Armstrong] had… talked [Matt] Walsh, Horatio [Sanz] and Amy [Poehler] into sitting in with us. Apparently, on the way [to the theater], Horatio ordered pizza and wings from Domino’s. There we are having a great time playing with these improv idols, and the Domino’s pizza guy walks in. Horatio pays for it all and starts passing out pizzas to the crowd. Then he holds up the box of chicken wings. The crowd goes nuts. Horatio drop-kicks the wings into the audience. After the show, I saw Amy trying to appease an irate woman who’d gotten covered in awful, greasy chicken wings. Ever since then, it's been part of the pre-show [Cagematch] announcement [forbidding players from kicking chicken wings into the crowd].

Mike Still (Death by Roo Roo): The marathon has all sorts of shows that are just so strange. And  [John] Gemberling—I think this was 2010— had a show called Babies and Mommies, and everyone onstage had to either be a baby or a mommy. It was so creepy. I had borrowed a robe from my girlfriend at the time. Seth Morris was playing a baby, and he was like, “Hey, can I borrow your bathrobe tie?” And I was like, “Sure,” and I give it to him. He went out completely naked except for an umbilical cord—that was the tie thing. But in order to affix it to himself he had it in his ass crack, so I was worried I was going to get in trouble with my girlfriend at the time when she saw that her bathrobe was in Seth Morris’s ass.

Shannon O’Neill (Optimist International, the Stepfathers): My very first DCM was 2001, and I participated in a show called Substance Abuse. The premise was [that] everyone in the group would abuse a substance anytime an audience member yelled it out. Some of the substances were diet pills (just candy), absinthe (just beer, I think), Manischewitz, man come (icing)—mine was tequila—real-deal, cheap-ass Jose Cuervo. The show was Saturday at 6am, and I had been interning the entire night before. Around midnight, Amy Poehler asked if I wanted a beer, and I couldn’t say no. Six a.m. rolls around, I’ve been awake all night, the rest of my team came to the theater just for the show, and there I was, black-out drunk. There were about ten people in the audience; four of them were my friends shouting, “Tequila!” any chance they got. Long story short, I got offstage and puked in a trash can, and when I arrived back at the theater around 7pm the next night, Susan Hale, the manager at the time, looked me in the eyes and said, “You were supposed to be my good intern.”

Chris Gethard (Optimist International, the Stepfathers): [Substance Abuse] quickly ascended—some would say descended, but I think those people don’t know art—into Shannon screaming and crying, interrupting every scene, giving long monologues about her childhood interspersed with hard-to-decipher fantasies about a unicorn and ended with her dragging a garbage can to the edge of the stage and repeatedly vomiting into it. I am not being facetious when I say it was one of the greatest comedic performances I’ve ever seen.

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