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: Ari Scott

    Del Close Marathon 2009: ASSSSCAT 3000 with, from left, Matt Walsh, Ian Roberts and Matt Besser

  • Photograph: Ari Scott

    Del Close Marathon 2010: Donald Glover of Derrick

  • Photograph: Jason Spiro

    Respecto Montalban at the UCB Theatre on 22nd Street with Owen Burke, Rob Riggle, Danielle Schneider and Paul Scheer

  • Photograph: Ari Scott

    Del Close Marathon 2009: Baby Wants Candy with, from left, Rebecca Drysdale, Jeff Hiller, Bob Kulhan and Thomas Middleditch

  • Photograph: Keith Huang

    Del Close Marathon 2008: Brian Huskey

  • Photograph: Keith Huang

    Del Close Marathon 2008: Chris Gethard and Bobby Moynihan

Photograph: Ari Scott

Del Close Marathon 2009: ASSSSCAT 3000 with, from left, Matt Walsh, Ian Roberts and Matt Besser

Billy Merritt (The Swarm, the Stepfathers): What many don’t realize [about the DCM] is the injury factor. You will not come out of the weekend without at least severe dehydration and a nasty cold. I’ve seen mild concussions, broken wrists, blood noses, nasty cuts, broken hearts and borderline alcohol poisoning. In his early days at the UCB, Rich Sommer [of Mad Men fame] worked one of the DCMs as an intern/bartender in the backroom area bar. The room is a swamp: no ventilation, smoky and hot. In his eagerness to get more beer to the backroom, he slid on the wet floor and banged his head on one of the low hanging pipes. We all laughed and laughed… until we realized he got a slight concussion. His girlfriend took him to the emergency room, despite his protests—he wanted to finish out his intern shift.

John Gemberling (Death by Roo Roo, Monkeydick): It was at least six or seven years ago, and a bunch of us were hanging out in the wayyyy back[stage area]. I was there, as was Joe Wengert, Matt Besser and Rob Riggle. Everyone was probably extremely drunk. Except me: Alcohol tends to give me a tummy ache. I was probably high, though. And I’d definitely done whippits. Rob Riggle had transformed into his drunken alter ego named Johnny Hotglove, and Matt was egging him on for his own amusement. Somehow he came around to this plan: Joe and I would wrestle Riggle on a weird, dirty mattress in the corner. So we all got on our knees on this disgusting mattress (I really can’t imagine what this fucking mattress was doing there), and Besser yells “GO!” and Riggle just smashes into us like the Mack Truck of a human being that he is. I remember Joe's placid, Alfred E. Newman face as he just accepted defeat and got up off the mattress to resume his evening. His fuckin' face never changed the whole time! I guess he probably was pretty high. I determined, in that moment, to defeat the monster mountain that was Riggle. “I may be smaller, but I’m strong, and I’m quick!” I thought. “I’ll grab him and use my strength to force his drunk ass to the mat!” Riggle just fell on top of me and pushed my face into the mattress. My strategy quickly changed. “I’ll just wait here with my face in the mattress until he gets tired. I am an immovable stone!” I guess I was a little confused on the rules. Riggle was quickly declared the winner.

Matt Donnelly (Neutrino, Possible Side Effects): Possible Side Effects took [the DCM] quite seriously. In maybe ’99 or ’00, we arrive a little early for our 2 a.m. slot and we hear that Chris Kattan is at the theater. This was the old theater in the old days, so having a celebrity show up was a big deal. Then, backstage, we hear Chris Kattan join whoever is onstage in the 1:30 a.m. slot. “How exciting!” we think. We sneak around to watch: Mr. Kattan is sweaty (coke), red-faced (drunk), hyper (coke) and entering every single scene. Suddenly, we are scared: We don’t want this to happen to us. We think it is exciting to perform with an SNL cast member, but not at the expense of our show. We begin our show and [there’s] no sign of Mr. K. Then, after 5 minutes, we hear him rumbling backstage like a rat who has found his way into the insulation of a wall. We stay calm and focused on the show after a brief exchange of Uh-oh looks on the back line. Finally, about ten minutes in, Chris Kattan bursts onto the stage and interrupts screaming, “Could you please keep it down? I am trying to watch Splash!” One guy in our group pretends to close cabinet doors in front of [Kattan’s] face and turns to the other guy [onstage] and says, “Sorry you had to see that.” The audience roars with laughter. Chris is embarrassed and leaves the stage. The next scene we make references to the high and lows of cocaine and get more roars. We had a great show.

Chris Gethard (Optimist International, the Stepfathers): My personal favorite performance I’ve ever put on was as part of a group called 5 Dudes. One year for the marathon, it wound up being just me, Bobby [Moynihan], and Eugene [Cordero]. They brought a giant watercooler jug onstage and said it would take the place of Charlie Sanders during the show that night. At one point, they set up a scene where the water jug was my therapist and then left me onstage. I wound up improvising with it, doing a heartfelt therapy session, for close to the entirety of our half-hour set. At one point I glanced backstage and both Eugene and Bobby were staring at me with grins on their faces while Bobby chain-smoked cigarettes. I look back on it and realize it’s actually the best scene I’ve done in 13 years of improvising. There’s a great picture of it hanging in the green room at UCB Chelsea—I don’t know who took it, but I’m glad it’s there. Anytime a young improviser asks me about it, I just say, “That water jug was the best scene partner I’ve ever had,” and refuse to explain any more.

Alex Sidtis (UCB Theatre managing director): Among the UCB staff it’s unclear whether the Del Close Marathon is more loved or feared. It is literally like preparing for the funniest storm you could imagine—chairs and performers have been known to take to the air. The day after it’s over is always a relief, but I miss it immediately.

The Del Close Marathon begins Fri 28 at 4pm and ends sometime before midnight Sun 30; visit for details.

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