Why New York Comedy Is So Successful

Why New York Comedy Is So Successful
Arts & Culture

PSFK and Mixhibit take in the Upright Citizens Brigade 3-on-3 improv competition.

Rachel Pincus
  • 24 december 2013

First on Scene brings our readers an exclusive look at distinctive cultural events, supported by the Smirnoff Mixhibit app available for iOS and Android. This week, PSFK is on the scene at an Upright Citizens Brigade 3-on-3 Improv Tournament. Check out our Mixhibit of the event, and share your Mixhibit using #PSFKonScene for a chance to win a PSFK Party Pack.

The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater (UCB) was originally founded by comedians Matt BesserAmy PoehlerIan Roberts and Matt Walsh, who performed as an improv troupe of the same name in a short-lived but beloved Comedy Central show from 1998 to 2000. Every so often, things get competitive, and the venue hosts tournaments where three judges aided by the audience, decide which comics reign supreme. The tickets are cheap, and you never know who you’ll find on stage when you get there – it could be your favorite comedian, or it could even be a future Saturday Night Live cast member. PSFK was lucky enough to be on scene to take in the latest 3-on-3 improv tournament where twelve teams went head to head for the grand prize. Check out our Mixhibit below to see our hilarious night in action.


Saturday’s three-on-three tournament was at the semifinal round when we arrived. An entry in each round is exactly 15 minutes long, and since the lights go out exactly when that limit is reached the best groups are often cut off mid-sentence, which adds to the frantic nature of the whole performance. As everything is off-the-cuff and the audience is enlisted for prompts, it doesn’t get old to see a particular troupe more than once because the material is always new. In fact, repeated viewings help you to get more of a sense of the personalities at play on the various teams.

Improv is such a flexible medium, that almost anything — a chair, sweater, word, or look — can be funny. A frequent device used on this particular night was the comedians’ switching of genders and character roles, which confused even their teammates. Girlfriends Best Friends (Allie KokeshRyan Haney, and Joey Price) used these miscommunications to great effect as they riffed on how they all had proposed marriage to someone named Patricia (who could have just as easily been Pat — a male). The other teams in the semifinal round were LA (Shaun DistonAnthony Apruzzese, and Alexis Pereira), Pahjonka Johnk (Dru JohnstonBen Rameaka, and Josh Patten), PARM (Dan BlackNeil CaseyGavin Speiller), New York City (Kevin HinesWill Hines, and Charlie Todd), Rare Candy (James DwyerJesse Lee, and Sal Gentile), Three Dogs (Ken BeckAlex FrenchCory Palmer) and Sabonis (Don FanelliMichael KayneConnor Ratliff).

The winner of the tournament turned out to be PARM (“like the sandwich”). They emerged onto the stage with their trademark upward hand clapping motion, which they repeatedly affirmed was “authentically Italian.” We were skeptical at first and our instincts proved sharp: “No one in the group is Italian,” confirmed team member and SNL writer Neil Casey after the performance, “but Dan Black knows where to get the best chicken parm heros in New York, and we talk about that a lot because all three of us like to parm out when the time is right.” Their illustrious prize seemed to be a Ziploc bag full of 20 dollar bills awarded by host Patrick Baer, but the team was very excited to receive the honor. PSFK chatted with the victors after their moment of glory about their history as a team. It turns out that the relationship between the sandwich and their good fortune may be intrinsically linked. “We parmed out at a pizza place right before the semi-finals which immediately preceded the finals,” said Casey. “We won both so maybe it helped. However, before the qualifying round, we did not get a chance to parm out and, in fact, we hadn’t parmed out together in a while, but we still won. Maybe the other teams had never eaten chicken parm? It certainly couldn’t hurt.”


UCB theater – no longer in its original location, but still in its original neighborhood – has now spawned roughly 75% of NBC’s Thursday night sitcom roles, as well as other prominent spots on Saturday Night Live, Late Night With Conan O’Brien, The Daily Show, Human Giant, The Hangover, The Other Guys and UCB has also pioneered a new comic aesthetic in which gross, weird and smart mix in surprising ways. Every location of the theater – there are three, two in New York and one in Hollywood – has its house comics, and they are forever reconstituting their teams and testing out new relationship chemistry. Though cramped and without a fully-functioning bar, the UCB theater is intimate and forever churning out new talent. There are good bets for evening entertainment happening there almost every night, but the venue is best known for its long-form improv, which is showcased during the shows: ASSSSCAT 3000Death by Roo Roo, and during its Harold Nights (a type of event pioneered by SNL godfather Del Close).

Taking in some improv is a quintessential New York night out with friends, and UCB is a place where even the most comedy-phobic visitor is guaranteed to laugh.


Check out the gallery below for some more photos from the show, and stay tuned for next week, when PSFK will be on the scene at the Wired Store opening.

Upright Citizens Brigade Theater

First On Scene gives readers an exclusive look at New York’s most vibrant cultural events, presented by the new Mixhibit app from Smirnoff. Follow #PSFKonScene to catch all of the event highlights live, and share your own Mixhibits with us on Twitter for a chance to win an exclusive PSFK Party Pack.


The Mixhibit app from Smirnoff is a groundbreaking new tool that blends users’ best moments captured on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter into a one-of-a-kind video. In a digital age where good times rarely happen without a phone in hand, the Mixhibit app provides a seamless way for people to “show and tell”, as users of legal drinking age select photos and status updates, and a soundtrack from the app’s library of over 10,000 songs, to create their video. The Mixhibit app is the newest way that Smirnoff is bringing people together to responsibly celebrate good times with friends. Check out the hype film to see how it works, join the #Mixhibit conversation on Twitter, and download the Mixhibit app now from the App Store or Google Play store.


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