The Documentary

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The Documentary is an improv form created by Billy Merritt at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Fall 2002. One of the first and most successful of the UCBT's performance classes, The Documentary has been offered as a class at the UCBT at least five times, allowing Merritt and others who worked closely with him (notably Porter Mason, Jane Borden and Amey Goerlich) ample opportunity to experiment with the form.

The Documentary has also spread to other theaters in other parts of the country, such as Dirty South Improv in North Carolina.

The Form

Initially, the form that came out of the first class was much like a Harold. There was an opening, several scenes involving two people interacting, followed by a group scene, second beats of the initial three scenes, etc. There were notable differences, though, including the use of narration at the beginning and throughout the Documentary, as well as interviews to an invisible camera, used to introduce characters for the first time.


  • Suggestion: of a place or an event.
  • Opening: A sort of pattern game, where the cast members come up with fake factoids and character declarations inspired by the suggestion. The opening ends with a tagline and title for the Documentary. The fake factoids evolved into a run of true or made up facts, called the fact flurry (it usually follows the interview).
  • First beats: A short two-person interview to an invisible camera, followed by a scene between those two characters.
  • Group scene: More of the community, introducing peripheral characters. Recently, it has evolved to a series of monologues by characters that are part of the world examined by the documentary, called Enviromental testimonials.
  • Second beats. These are standard scenes, focused in the original pairs that were interviewed. They may also offer a confessional type of monologue, breaking the fourth wall.
  • Group scene 2. This can also be a documentarian walkabout, which is a scene where we see panel or man-on-the-street-type interviews.
  • The event/climax of the documentary, in which the characters interact
  • Wrap-up: possibly including the narrator and further two-person interviews

Over time, as performers got more comfortable with the form, the structure got much looser.

Gradually, the pattern game/factoid opening was dropped in favor of starting with a series of two-person interviews. (The improvisors particularly loved this part of the show, and Merritt had to remind them repeatedly to "get out of the chairs.") This opening was also a favorite of Monkeydick, who used it to open Harolds.

Something that has been introduced lately is a more active role of the documentarian, who may intervene in every single part of the piece if they wish to do so.

The First Three Classes

Merritt's first Documentary class was in Fall 2002, with a debut performance at the 22nd St. UCB Theatre on Tuesday, October 22. The cast was Porter Mason, Jane Borden, Sarah Burns, Maggie Kemper, Dave Martin, Benj Hewitt, Federico Garduño, Camille, Sara, Brendan McLoughlin, John Snyder, Helaine Cira and Jason Scott Quinn.

A second class followed immediately after, consisting of Mark De La Barre, Jeff Scherer, Brett Christensen, Kate Spencer, Matt Demblowski, Andy Rocco, Amey Goerlich, Dan Kois, Liz Black, and BJ Gallagher.

Shortly afterwards, two teams were formed out of improvisers who wished to continue with the form in a run at the theater: The Locals and Gay Paris (pronounced "pair-iss," not "par-ee"). The Documentary ran at the UCBT for several months in 2003 and 2004.

[this is still being written]