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UCB's new Sunset theater is here to set the improv scene on fire (literally)

Michael Juliano
Written by
Michael Juliano

After a string of secret shows, the Upright Citizens Brigade officially opened the doors to its newest theater, UCB Sunset, on Saturday with appearances by the UCB4—founders Matt Besser, Amy Poehler, Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh—as well as seemingly every comedian that’s graced the Franklin Avenue stage over the past decade.

The original space, henceforth UCB Franklin, isn’t going anywhere, but the new venue’s 85-seat theater will host a number of new and familiar shows (including Sunday’s free ASSSSCAT performances). Don’t let the suit-and-tie dressed comedians at the opening party fool you: This is still the casual, madcap UCB you know and love, overflow floor seating and all. But the new Sunset venue finally provides a proper home base for its training center, with 14 classrooms dedicated to sketch students. You’ll even find a cafe, the Inner Sanctum, that doubles as a pop-up performance space—think of it as a college dorm common room. That’s all good news for the hundreds of Harold Team hopefuls that sign up for the school’s coveted classes.

Saturday’s celebrations started with back-to-back performances of the signature improv show ASSSSCAT, with co-founder Amy Poehler and storytelling bits from Andy Richter. That was followed by the 5419 Show, a series of 110 one-minute-acts that mixed UCB newcomers with the likes of Bob Odenkirk, Thomas Middleditch and Paul F. Tompkins. What exactly can you do with one minute? If you’re David Wain, it means doing card tricks while Natasha Leggero’s dog jumps through a hoop; for Robert Ben Garant, stepping back into the Deputy Travis Junior uniform from Reno 911!; or aggressively complimentary crowdwork from Adam Pally and Ben Schwartz. And then there were a whole lot of speed eating stunts, one-note songs and, sorry, Sweet Little Kitties, a dismally dusty downpour of kitty litter.

For a medium that often takes a backseat to stand-up—as Anthony Jeselnik joked, if you can pilot a rocket you can ride a bike—it was a night to celebrate UCB’s contribution to LA’s improv and sketch scene. The new building isn’t some sort of symbolic monument to the ascendancy of improv, but rather a low-key spot to support the fresh talent that keeps the community going. If at one point LA was simply a place for egocentric stand-ups to come sign sitcom deals, now it’s a thriving community of podcasters and improv performers—though judging by the contingent of Parks and Recreation and Comedy Bang! Bang! writers and actors on stage, we’d say it’s still a pretty damn good line of work.

With two acts to go, hypochondriac Bob Ducca (Seth Morris) set a bundle of sticks ablaze, paving the way for Nick Kroll to light up the crowd over the deafening din of fire alarms and a settling cloud of smoke before a hoarse Amy Poehler thanked us for coming and let us know that we literally had to get out of the building now—a pretty perfect start to UCB Sunset if you ask us.

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