The Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Improvisation Manual
The Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Improvisation Manual (often referred to as The UCB Book or The UCB Manual) is an instructional book released in 2013 summarizing the improvisational theory practiced by the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. It was written by 3 of the 4 founders of that theater: Matt Besser, Ian Roberts, and Matt Walsh. The book was edited by Joe Wengert, illustrated by David Kantrowitz, and designed by Camille Bugden.
Theory and Content
The book has been lauded for the codification of improvisational terminology that it seems to strive for. This includes re-positioning Yes, And as only one of two distinct parts of scenework. After Yes And-ing to establish a Base Reality, scene partners strive to discover a First Unusual Thing, which is then framed, agreed upon, and developed into a patterened, repeatable Game. The authors summarize this process with a newer mantra - one which essentially breaks from the tenet of Yes And - of "If, Then." "If, Then" abbreviates the fuller phrase "If this is true, then what else is true?"
The book delineates several Long Form forms, including a full chapter devoted to the Harold and smaller sections discussing the Movie, Monoscene, and Deconstruction. It labels ASSSSCAT as a form in and of itself, which is break from the more common label of the Armando or Monologue Deconstruction.
The book discusses various improvisational openings as well. Among these are monologues, the Pattern Game, the Invocation (complete with an example of Del Close performing an Invocation of himself), Character Monologues (akin to the opening from the Documentary), and Organic Openings.
The work can accurately be described as a "How-To" for practicing and performing Long Form comedic improvisation. In this light, it differs greatly from works like Keith Johnstone's Impro or Viola Spolin's Improvisation for the Theater, because it makes little effort to explore theories of human spontaneity or collaboration. This aligns it more in the tradition of Charna Halpern, Del Close, and Kim Johnson's Truth in Comedy, which explores the performance-oriented, comedic potential of these grander theories.
The writing of the book reportedly occurred over a large stretch of time. It's release had been rumored for years prior to it finally being finished and made available for sale. It is unknown why Amy Poehler was not involved directly in the writing of the book, although it can be assumed that it was due to schedule conflict. Furthermore, due to the schedules of the three authors, the book was reportedly written in short bursts at very odd hours (7 to 10 am), whenever the three could arrange time to collaborate. Effort was given during the writing to make the work accessible to people with a complete lack of improv experience.
The book was released at a press conference to begin the 15th Annual Del Close Marathon. The UCB 4 took the stage alongside an unexplained box, which was eventually opened (to chants of "Box! Box! Box!") to reveal the book. Roberts expressed little interest in promoting or marketing the release, explaining to Splitsider: "We think that most people that'd be interested in this would know about us and just come to us for the book."
A list of contributors to the completion of the book is included before the first chapter. Many UCB teachers and performers are included.
- Amy Poehler
- Alex Sidtis
- Julie Brister
- Owen Burke
- Chad Carter
- Chelsea Clarke
- Michael Delaney
- Drew DiFonzo Marks
- Alex Fernie
- Chris Gethard
- Ian M. Gibbs
- David Harris
- Kevin Hines
- Will Hines
- Anthony King
- Will McLaughlin
- Billy Merritt
- Shannon O'Neill
- Danielle Schneider
- Amanda Sitko
- Matt Whitaker
The the 384 pages of the book are organized into three sections, each of which contain several sub-chapters.
Section I:The Beginning of the Scene
- Chapter 1: What is a Base Reality?
- Chapter 2: How to Create a Base Reality
Section II:The Game of the Scene
- Chapter 3:What is a Game?
- Chapter 4:Finding Game
- Chapter 5:Playing Game
- Chapter 6:Using Character to Play Game
- Chapter 7:Using Support Moves to Play Game as a Group
- Chapter 8:Helpful Hints & Hazards
Section III:Longform Structures
- Chapter 9:Starting from an Audience Suggestion
- Chapter 10:Openings
- Chapter 11:The Harold
- Chapter 12:Other Longforms
- Chapter 13:Rehearsal & Performance