Upright Citizens Brigade / Emma Peaslee

Funny Money | Emma Peaslee

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In January 2013, Kurt Metzger, a stand-up comedian, performed at a show at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. No surprise there: Metzger was another comedian on the circuit. But a surprise was in store: at Metzger’s next appearance, he openly criticized the UCB. If a great deal of what he said came off as griping, one of his comments hit the mark: UCB does not pay its performers. 

Many different voices have weighed in, including the AV Club and even the New York Times. In response, UCB has made a concerted effort to clear up the misconceptions about the organization. Chris Gethard, a UCB veteran, came to defense of UCB on his blog. “The four owners of the theater do not take money from the theater. They make their money off of their own creative endeavors. In the same way that they ask us to perform for free and let the theaters be the physical locations of a strong community, they perform for free and participate in that community,” Gethard explained. The message being: no one is sitting back and making a fortune off the theaters and comedians they aren’t paying. As one of the founders Matt Besser said in a podcast intended to clear up the philosophy of UCB, “What business can you point to where the four CEOs have taken no money from their company?” 

The four CEOs he refers to are himself, Matt Walsh, Ian Roberts, and Amy Poehler. Originally the four performed together in Chicago. When they moved to New York, they performed shows and offered improv training. The four went on to open three theatres and a training center. While some shows are incredibly popular, others struggle. The theatre is not meant to feature headliners and sold out shows every night. In fact, you will notice a distinct absence of big names on the line up of most shows at the UCB theaters. This is the exact sentiment UCB wants to put forward. Nate Dern, Artistic Director for UCB in NYC said, “We want people to develop at UCB, then stop needing us and go off into the world.”

The UCB theaters offer a chance for performers of all abilities to take risks and learn. John Mulaney, a former writer for SNL and a seasoned standup, performed a show at UCB in January. However, while the material was undoubtedly similar to the material he will be doing at bigger clubs while he is on tour, the UCB atmosphere allowed him to practice. Mulaney brought notecards onstage and recorded his set. He stopped at points to get his thoughts together or to comment when something he noticed “was not funny at all.” Had the audience paid 25 dollars and had a two-drink minimum (things bigger clubs do in order to afford to pay their comics), they assuredly would have been less okay with these interruptions. However, they only paid five dollars and were more than happy to see one of the topic comics of 2012 perform, and one can only assume John Mulaney was equally grateful to have a chance to practice in front of a young audience. 

Emma Peaslee is a junior American Studies major at Kenyon College.  Spring 2013 at NYAP, she's interning at Upright Citizen's Brigade and Sharp Entertainment.