Del Close Marathon

This past weekend was the 9th annual Del Close Marathon. The short version is that it is 56ish straight hours of improv featuring all the normal UCB and NYC indie teams plus a whole mess of teams from across the country and reunion shows by now-defunct teams. In addition to the constant shows at UCB, two other theaters (Hudson Guild and the theater at FIT) participated. More info can be found at the website.

I arrived at the UCB theater at 4 on Friday to pick up my volunteer wristband (a lovely light blue color) and got in line. I then saw shows at UCB from 4:30 PM to 4:15 AM (the Press Conference to Golden Girls All-Star Reunion). Yes, Golden Girls. That's a lovely example of the type of insanity that went on in the late night/early morning hours.

In the first seven hours I saw downright mind-blowing shows from UCB teams (Stepfathers, Death By Roo Roo), great stuff from improv pros (MySpace, BASSPROV, Satellites), and entertaining and fun shows from teams across America (Stottlemeyer - Chicago, MacGuffin - LA, Code Duello - Boston, Jackie - Washington DC). It was eye-opening to see how UCB's style compares to other cities and it was really exciting to see people watch Roo Roo and Stepfathers for the first time. The UCB teams I see on a weekly basis had great shows just because the energy was so high.

The last couple hours of my first stretch was where things went insane. Insane with hilarity. I saw improv on unicycles (Uniprov), improv from the 1930s (The Sunshine Gang), improv done with 10 guys impersonating Bill Cosby (Cosbyprov), and improv done as characters from A League of their Own (There's No Crying in Improv) and the aforementioned Golden Girls. There was also Wicked F***in' Queeyah, improv done by Boston natives as stereotypical Boston natives ("Derek Jeter has AIDS" was written on Anthony Atamanuik's chest). They came on stage, all holding six packs of PBR and spraying it all over the audience. The team included my 101 teacher, Ari Voukydis, and my current 401 teacher, Michael Delaney (sporting a fake black eye), both in full on Red Sox gear. Also of note were The Smartest Panel Of Experts and Thank God You Brought Beer, both of which were panels where improvisers acted like celebrities/crazy characters. But come on, anything that involves Chris Gethard dressed as Darryl Strawberry rapping about vikings and Jon daly dressed as a drunk Scottish Christmas tree is pure genius.

I went home and got seven or so hours of sleep, up just in time to head over to UCB's school to take my special marathon workshop with Peter Gwinn. Every performer was eligble to take workshops, so there were people walking into the UCB offices for the first time. I heard them talk about how nice the place is; it made me appreciate where I am and what I'm doing and who I'm doing it with even more.

I headed over to the Hudson Guild Theater after class was done at 5 PM and watched shows there from 6:30 - 10:00 PM. I got to see UCB favorites Tantrum and fwand as well as really awesome shows from Chicago (Feverberry Mountain and Callous) and Philadelphia (The Cabal and Rare Bird Show). I made my way back to UCB at 10 PM and stayed until 3 AM. I was originally intending on staying at UCB from 10 PM until the end of my volunteer shift on Sunday at 6 PM, but after Match Game '76 (17 improvisers as various '70s characters, insane creations, and others 'playing' Match Game...but not really) I had to go home. Before leaving I saw an incredible string of shows including the brilliantly entertaining The Scramble and the one-two-three punch of Cracked Out, Derrick, and C+C+C Improv Factory. As I left, the insanity was really just starting and there was a line outside to get in...at 3 AM.

I got two and a half hours of sleep and returned to the theater at 7 AM.

Almost empty.

The theater was maybe 1/4th full, with half of those people asleep in their chairs, improv still going on full steam ahead. Sunday morning was a big block of NYC indie groups and Magnet theater teams, all of whom gave strong shows despite the hour. Sunday's highlight, for me, was the KROMPF Improv Breakfast. Just what it sounds like. Some of my favorite improvisers serving breakfast and then doing hilarious scenes. After Ryan Karels said that "if everyone eats with the idea that everyone has to eat, then everyone will eat," Joe Wengert countered with "But seriously, we're not f***ing millionaires, so everyone take one piece of bacon. There isn't enough for everyone to have a normal portion of bacon, so just take one. Sorry to start on a hostile note..."

My DCM shift started at 10AM and I immediately was asked to check the men's bathroom and then get to work on cleaning up the green room with the other volunteers. I then did whatever was necessary for the rest of the shift (moving a piano, dumping out nasty beer water, crowd control) and remembered just how much I miss doing this sort of thing. It was very reminiscent of all the times I PAed on productions and it was great to feel like a part of this big event. I answered all sorts of questions while outside; memorizing the website finally paid off. The only show I really watched during my shift was iMusical, an improvised musical. It was outstanding and I think got a standing ovation, but I was too busy helping move a piano to notice.

The shift ended at 6PM and I left soon after, insanely tired and happy.

Shows I saw...

Friday @ UCB Theater
4:30 PM Marathon Press Conference
6:00 PM MySpace
7:30 PM Satellites
8:00 PM Stottlemeyer
8:30 PM MacGuffin (UCBLA)
9:00 PM The Stepfathers
9:30 PM Code Duello: Hamilton & Burr
10:00 PM Seth & Ed's Puppet Talk Show
10:30 PM Jackie
11:00 PM Death By Roo Roo
11:30 PM Bro'in Out

Saturday @ UCB Theater
12:00 AM Chuckle Sandwich
12:30 AM Smartest Panel of Experts in the Universe Ever
1:00 AM Bastards Inc.
1:30 AM Director's Commentary LIVE
2:00 AM The Sunshine Gang
2:15 AM Uniprov
2:30 AM Thank God You Brought Beer
2:45 AM 3:00 AM Wicked Fuckin' Queeyah
3:15 AM The Return of Cosbyprov
3:30 AM Fluxx Entropathic
3:45 AM There's No Crying in Improv
4:00 AM Golden Girls All-Star Reunion

Saturday @ Hudson Guild Theater
6:30 PM Rare Bird Show
7:00 PM Tantrum
7:30 PM Shark Attack!
8:00 PM Callous
8:30 PM Fwand
9:00 PM Feverberry Mountain
9:30 PM Cabal

Saturday @ UCB Theater
10:00 PM Reuben Williams
11:45 PM Pass The Mic

Sunday @ UCB Theater
12:45 AM The Scramble
1:15 AM C+C+C Improv Factory
1:30 AM Cracked Out
2:00 AM Derrick
2:15 AM Drag Kings of Comedy
2:30 AM Match Game 76
7:00 AM The Yes Andersens
7:30 AM Money
8:00 AM Queefer Sutherland
8:30 AM Bombardo
9:00 AM Big Tobacco
9:30 AM KROMPF Improv Breakfast
10:30 AM Junior Varsity
2:00 PM iMusical
6:00 PM Scheer-McBrayer

48 Shows, 22.5 hours of improv.

Photos taken by Ari Scott



On Tuesday I hit a milestone nearly sixteen years in the making. I purchased my 3000th comic book at Midtown Comics in Manhattan. More on that issue later, but first, of course, I have to write about the sixteen year journey that has lead me to this purchase. You know, so when I reveal what issue I bought it can be a total let down.

I remember owning comics throughout my childhood before the obsession started. A Kool-Aid Man comic my mom got through Kool-Aid points (the provider of some of the most anticipated yet crappy artifacts of my youth), random Muppet Babies comics bought in Knoxville before I had to suffer through a University of Tennessee football game, and a whole mess of Marvel's Star Wars comics given to me foolishly by my sister's then-boyfriend when I was in the first grade (for real, these issues are from 1977-1983 and are worth anywhere from $250-400. Kicking yourself any, Kevin?). My interest in these issues unknowingly laid the foundation.

The real obsession, the real collecting, didn't begin until nearly halfway through my second grade year. I would often go to the mall with my parents (understatement, I would go to the mall with my parents on a weekly basis until the end of 8th grade) and on one particular outing, I convinced them to buy me a comic at Waldenbooks in Rivergate Mall. G.I. Joe #119. Somehow, G.I. Joe was the one mainstay in my childhood. Robin Hood, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Super Mario, Chip & Dale's Rescue Rangers, Peter Pan, Zelda, COPS, these all came and went leaving dozens upon dozens of packed away toys in their wake. G.I. Joe, on the other hand, stuck with me through all this and even survived the arrival of Star Wars into my wee little brain. That's why I bought this comic (or asked my mom to, the start of a tradition that would last way too long). Plus the cover had Snake Eyes vs. Snake Eyes! Obviously a gimmick to jaded 23 year old me, but this was important to a 7 year old!

Truth be told, Captain Planet & The Planeteers #1 was acquired two months prior to this at a Wal-Mart. I don't count this as the start, though, since issues of Captain Planet past the third issue weren't easily found. G.I. Joe would stick with me until the series' cancellation in 1994 and, honestly, I'm too embarrassed to say that Captain Planet & The Planeteers got me into comic books. I continued buying only issues of G.I. Joe, along with a handful of Batman comics, for a little over a year.

Then it happened.

February 1993. X-Men Adventures #5. I had been watching the X-Men cartoon on Fox on Saturday mornings and was somewhat intrigued. Wolverine was cool, Gambit was cooler, the cartoon itself was pretty exceptional. I could grasp at that young age that the show was telling stories just a tad bit more advanced than the G.I. Joe cartoon and the rest of the other Saturday morning fare. So when I saw X-Men Adventures at a Kroger's grocery store, a comic book based on the cartoon that I was maybe/sorta enjoying, I asked mom to buy it for me. She had no idea what she was doing. From there a classic snowball effect happened and within a month, I had my first issues of Uncanny X-Men (#299) and X-Men (#17). Before third grade was over, I was collecting Wolverine (starting with #69), X-Men Classic (#83), and X-Factor (#91). X-Force, what would go on to become my favorite overall series, followed the next month (#24).

Nothing has topped these first few months of collecting. I would spend Saturdays at Box Seat Cards & Comics, rummaging through all the comic book cards and back issues (my first back issue being Uncanny X-Men #188). I bought the updated Official Marvel Index to the X-Men and devoured every synopsis. I had goals, like buying Uncanny X-Men #266 after I chose to buy the entire fourth series of Marvel Universe trading cards instead of it (I swear, that decision haunted me for a while). Every bit of knowledge I could absorb, I would, and everything I read was the best ever. Finding comics was like a game. I wasn't aware that comics came out on Wednesday, I was just aware that if I kept looking in Wal-Mart, Waldenbooks, and Kroger's, I wouldn't miss an issue. And yes, my completest tendencies starting showing at this young age. I had to have every issue of the Fatal Attractions and Child's Play crossovers, which introduced me to the New Warriors and caused me to start buying Excalibur. I got pre-packaged assortments of comics for every holiday, it seemed, which is where I got more exposure to the second tier x-books. I only bought comic cards and back issues at comic stores, rarely a new issue even though I'd always note that they had them before all my beloved grocery/book stores.

Eventually the excitement wore off and I became used to it all. I reached a point where I knew everything about the X-Men and I had no more cards to collect and I started going to a comic shop every Wednesday. I consider this the moment I grew up as a comic fan, when I started going to a shop. It became a routine, a schedule, no longer the free-form kiddie-splosion of finding issue willy-nilly. This was 1997. X-Factor started being mediocre and Generation X and Excalibur started being unbearable. Thankfully, Joe Kelly's Deadpool and brief run on X-Men, alongside X-Force, kept my love for comics going strong.

Then I hit the dark ages. My mom had a falling out with the owner of my comic store regarding him not purchasing an ad for my high school yearbook (yep) and I became comic shop-less. We tried subscriptions but they were always late or didn't come, leading to many angry phone calls to whatever number was printed on the shipping board. On top of this, I was completely disinterested in both X-Men and Uncanny X-Men, something that had never happened before. This was 1999 and I was over it.

The first X-Men film in 2000 changed most all of that and, eventually, I got back to my routine and started collecting again. Over the last seven years, comics have become an integral part of my life. I may have stopped buying Uncanny X-Men or X-Men at various points over this period, but I've discovered other (Marvel) comics to become interested in. The rush I felt that disappeared once I learned everything and collected nearly everything X-Men has been replaced with new rushes for Spider-Man and the Avengers. I've started branching out, buying milestone runs on Fantastic Four and Daredevil. Non-mutant comic Runaways has stolen my heart and, for a brief while, I was actually buying an indie-ish comic (Walking Dead).

Yes, the next step for me to take is indie comics. That's what the cool kids read, that's what kids my age (23, actually not a kid) read. For some reason I can't get out of the superhero genre, specifically Marvel. I find DC too stodgy and dodgy with it's continuity; I feel like any rush I'd get from trying to learn everything about Supergirl's origin would actually make my head explode. No, I'm content on devouring everything there is to devour about the Marvel universe and catch all that indie stuff in trades every now and then. Y: The Last Man is pulse-pounding fun, and maybe one day I'll actually buy all the trades. For now, I have Mike Carey's excellent run on X-Men to read.

So now to what I deemed worthy to be called my 3000th comic (I know what number it is, by the way, because of my Excel spreadsheet). Since all of my reasonable holy grails have been purchased (Spider-Woman #37, Uncanny X-Men #266), there wasn't an issue that immediately sprang to mind. Uncanny X-Men #94 is the only one, but its $800 value kinda put a stop to that. I decided that if it was going to be an issue of Uncanny X-Men, it would be one with a cool cover that had mild importance (John Byrne's first issue, Magneto's return, etc.). Then I got to thinking nostalgically. The copy of Star Wars #1 I have is a reprint (from 1977, but still) and pretty tattered. I could replace it. Or, honoring what I've deemed as my first real comic experience, I could buy G.I. Joe #1. Yes! Those sounded like good ideas! But Midtown didn't have them. They actually only had two issues of Uncanny X-Men on my list, both of which were in mediocre to poor shape. So I bought Uncanny X-Men #103! Not on my list, but a classic issue for a decent price ($40).

And that's some of it. I didn't tell you the fate of my first copy of Wolverine #75, or which issue of Astonishing X-Men made me cry, or how Spider-Woman #37 ruined my nephew's first Christmas. All stories for when I buy my 4000th comic.


A Popularity Contest...

...is exactly what the Emmys have become. For reals. Years ago (the 90s), the Emmy's seemed more like an out-of-touch parent who knew what they liked (Frasier, John Lithgow, Helen Hunt) and wouldn't change for nobody! New shows (Buffy) and popular shows (Friends) were overlooked for all or the majority of their run. And now, as ratings across the board slip and the Emmys themselves become more irrelevant, they're nominating the hits, trotting out the celebrities, and making dumb ass decisions in the hopes to boost ratings. Seriously. Let's look at the nominees!

Outstanding Drama Series
Boston Legal
Grey’s Anatomy • ABC
Heroes • NBC
House • Fox
The Sopranos • HBO

The biggest problem here is that Lost was overlooked again. After the fluke that was the 2005 Emmys, where Lost's win was kinda like a retroactive apology for the shunning of all the quirky/insane dramas (Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Joss Whedon in general) that came before, the show has since been scooted off the radar. Seriously. Seriously. You can not tell me that any of the nominees, save Sopranos, are as well written or innovative as Lost. Boston Legal and Grey's Anatomy are practically comedies and House is about as procedurally as a procedural can get. And Heroes. Oh Heroes. You're a good show, you're interesting. But honestly, your acting is always middle of the road, I've rarely if ever been surprised in the episodes I've seen, and your dialogue is on the level of an advanced 8th grader who reads too many comics. You don't deserve this, and you sure don't deserve this over Lost. But America loves Heroes, Grey's and House, so here they are.

Outstanding Comedy Series
Entourage • HBO
The Office • NBC
30 Rock • NBC
Two And A Half Men • CBS
Ugly Betty • ABC

Pretty much the same as the drama category. 1 cable show, 1 oddball (Boston Legal being the oddball drama), and 3 of America's Favorites. I can't say anything about Entourage, but the Emmys have to nominate HBO in every category so, you know, fine. America's Favorites thankfully include The Office, the most refreshing and daring sitcom since Arrested Development, but they also include the horrific Two & a Half Men and Ugly Betty (more charming than funny, right?). The real surprise is the oddball 30 Rock which came into it's own early in the first season, something that rarely happens since most shows struggle to find their voice that first year. I hope 30 Rock wins, The Office has a better shot at winning, but I fear Ugly Betty is going to charm the voters.

Outstanding Lead Actress In A Comedy Series
Desperate Housewives • ABC • Felicity Huffman as Lynette Scavo
The New Adventures Of Old Christine • CBS • Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Christine Campbell
30 Rock • NBC • Tina Fey as Liz Lemon
Ugly Betty • ABC • America Ferrera as Betty Suarez
Weeds • Showtime • Mary-Louise Parker as Nancy Botwin

Cable (Mary-Louise), oddball (Tina Fey), three America's Favorites. Predictable! But, happy that Felicity was nominated even though Housewives is slipping in quality and viewers and Tina Fey's inclusion is awesome. She always plays the straight woman, but she does it so well.

Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy Series
Extras • HBO • Ricky Gervais as Andy Millman
Monk • USA • Tony Shalhoub as Adrian Monk
The Office • NBC • Steve Carell as Michael Scott
30 Rock • NBC • Alec Baldwin as Jack Donaghy
Two And A Half Men • CBS • Charlie Sheen as Charlie Harper

I swear, if Tony Shalhoub wins this category again for a show that is now loathed by critics, I just, I can't even comprehend. Other than that and the obligatory Sheen, this category is strong. Alec, Ricky and Steve are all comedic genius doing thought-provoking comedy. And really, who isn't going to give it to Alec? We all know the temper the guy has. I wonder if his daughter answered when he called to tell her he was nominated...

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Drama Series
Boston Legal • ABC • William Shatner as Denny Crane
Grey’s Anatomy • ABC • T.R. Knight as George
Heroes • NBC • Masi Oka as Hiro Nakamura
Lost • ABC • Michael Emerson as Ben
Lost • ABC • Terry O’Quinn as John Locke
The Sopranos • HBO • Michael Imperioli as Christopher Moltisanti

This is the best category because it's the only place that Lost is given any props. Thank you, Emmys, for not making me hate you through and through. Yes, Michael Emerson is a genius (and Emmy fave, by the way) and should win this category. That Japanese Guy From Heroes shouldn't even be on here. He's just lucky he's the only actor on the show that is distinctive and the only character with more than two traits in his personality (sorta).

Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Comedy Series
My Name Is Earl • NBC • Jaime Pressly as Joy Turner
The Office • NBC • Jenna Fischer as Pam Beesly
Two And A Half Men • CBS • Holland Taylor as Evelyn Harper
Two And A Half Men • CBS • Conchata Ferrell as Berta
Ugly Betty • ABC • Vanessa Williams as Wilhelmina Slater
Weeds • Showtime • Elizabeth Perkins as Celia Hodes

They had to nominate six people, because Lord knows both of those women from Two & a Half Men deserved it! Who even knew there were women in that show? Mindy Kaling and Angela Kinsey from The Office steal every scene they're in....but Men is America's Favorite. I'm really only posting this category because Jenna Fischer was nominated. Sweet, adorable, subtly brilliant Pam Beesly! I'm so elated! I'm glad that such a nuanced and emotional performance can be recognized, as well as every female who has ever been on Two & a Half Men.

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Comedy Series
Entourage • HBO • Kevin Dillon as Johnny Drama
Entourage • HBO • Jeremy Piven as Ari Gold
How I Met Your Mother • CBS • Neil Patrick Harris as Barney Stinson The Office • NBC • Rainn Wilson as Dwight Schrute
Two And A Half Men • CBS • Jon Cryer as Alan Harper

And the category that has me in smiles all day, solely because Rainn Wilson's awesomeness got him a nomination. The guy's been one of my favorite actors for years now (Arthur Martin, what what!) and I'm just, wow, overjoyed at this. He deserves this and, scarily, there's a chance he could win. A real big chance. But, uh, why does every cast member on Two & a Half Men have to be nominated? Actually, where's the half man at? He must feel like a quarter of a man.

That's about all the nominations I have the stomach to go through. Lost also got nods in the writing and directing categories for the season finale, deservedly so. But I'm sure The Sopranos will win both of those. The comedy writing category is great, 1 Extras and 2 each of The Office and 30 Rock. Also, 30 Rock's theme song and SNL's "Dick in a Box" got nominated. Just, you know, thought that was keen.


A Bit of Grass-Stain Does Not a Ruined Pair of Jeans Make

Monday was breezy, lacking humidity, and slightly overcast, making it the perfect evening to walk to Central Park and stand in a sea of people for almost four hours. To see the Decemberists. The surprisingly best live band you will ever see.

But before I get to the goods, I have to talk about the openers. Land of Talk played first and were somewhat enjoyable. The band's front man is actually a front woman, who both sings and plays some of the most shreddingest solos I've heard. But, proving that I'm becoming an old fart myself, I fell asleep during their set. While standing up. Trust me, falling asleep while standing up is one of the weirdest things ever. You sway and jaunt awake when you're about to lose balance. Then, of course, you play it off to the people around you like you meant to teeter totter.

Oddly enough, the band without any ladies made me grow, at last count, eighteen vaginas. Grizzly Bear lived up to all the indie hype by proving to be another one of the whispy, whiny, and glacial bands that blogs fawn over and proclaim to be genius even though they come no where close to, you know, rocking. Just because they harmonize and play an autoharp doesn't make them worthwhile. No song had a melody, a discernible beginning or end, or even any type of rhythm. Just sparse noodlings from dudes in tight jeans. You know what, I'm honest when I say I like rock and roll. I like seeing bands play pop songs and look like they're having fun.

And that's what the Decemberists are all about.

They came out and opened with "July, July!" and "Billy Liar", two songs from their first two albums that I didn't hear last time. I pretty much was set, right there, good time was already had. After the second song, Colin said that the band was going to play summery songs to fit the mood. And they did. Aside from two ballads, every song was pop perfection and upbeat, exactly what a band should do. Even though Colin had to keep the banter to a minimum (this banter being a highlight of the last show I saw) due to the strict curfew, he managed to have fun with the audience. He tossed a beach ball onstage and back and forth with the audience, had everyone do spirit fingers in the air during the ticker tape parade line of "Perfect Crime #2," and inspired everyone to sing along loudly to the closing choruses of "The Engine Driver" and "Sons & Daughters." All the while, John Moen added fun vocal accents while playing the drums and Chris Funk and Jenny Conlee made goofy faces and laughs while ripping through their multiple instruments with glee. Not to be outdone, bassist Nate Query did some amazingly fast high kicks while playing his upright bass during "Mariner's Revenge Song." No other band has this much fun onstage.

After promptly ending their set at 9:30, Colin came back onstage and announced that they could play "a whole lot more" since they were so good with staying on time. He then went into a solo performance of "Red Right Ankle." The band's closing songs were absolute joy. Right before Jenny's part in "The Chimbley Sweep," Colin put the entire band "to sleep" and then put the audience "to sleep." A huge field of people all sitting, crouching, at the whim of Mr. Meloy until the band started up again with the song's closing chorus. And I posted before about how awesome "Mariner's Revenge Song" is live, and it was no different this time. The look on every concertgoers' face after the show was one of pure glee. I overheard many people say how amazing the last song was and how they thought the show would be boring. Yeah, an acoustic based indie band who sings songs about 19th century European life should be boring shouldn't they? Not the best live band on Earth, right? Well, every time I see the Decemberists, they blow me away.

Setlist: July, July!/Billy Liar/Summersong/Perfect Crime 2/The Sporting Life/From My Own True Love/The Engine Driver/Crane Wife 3/The Island/O Valencia/Sons And Daughters//Red Right Ankle/Oceanside/The Chimbley Sweep/The Mariner's Revenge Song