The Matt Besser Interview

January 18, 2013

Today I chat with one of the founding members of the beloved sketch comedy troupe Upright Citizens Brigade, who had their own show on Comedy Central from 1998-2000 which you can now find on DVD. Recently, Last year his film Freak Dance, a parody of dancing face-off movies of the past, was released on DVD. Currently, you can enjoy his funny web series "Inside the Master Class," about what it’s like to study improv from a master (played by its creator). He’s got a new comedy album out now called "The Six Most Important Sets In The History of Of Stand Up," plus you can also enjoy him through your earphones via his podcast Improv4Humans.


What are some of your favorite memories of DJ’ing comedy radio? Do you recall any particularly well-timed song plays?
Actually when I was in college my show was supposed to be 100% punk music. But the longer I did it, the drunker I got, and the higher I got, the more I injected my “comedy” into the show. We did lots of prank calls. One simple one I loved was calling liquor store and complaining that we had found a small worm in our tequila.

How do you react when you know in your heart you’re putting on a good improv show but the audience is just cold? Does it affect the show and/or do you have means of pulling the audience in?
When we do Asssscat we spend a good amount of time before the show warming up the crowd. At its worst we are insulting their clothing, at its best we cull some really cool stories, or even last week when I pulled three guys on stage to do a choreographed dance. Asssscat originally started as an improv show that we could do at the end of our week to take a break from our two sketch shows. We made it a free show so that we wouldn’t have to worry about what the audience felt about it.

What was the process like recording commentary for UCB on DVD?
For season 3 commentary there was a whole lot of “Oh hey, remember that?! Oh sh*t I forgot about that!”

What shows (if any) have you ever listened to commentaries on?
When I was making Freak Dance I listened to as many commentaries on dance movies as I could. They kind of all run together in my mind now. I found the commentary track on Rocky Horror Picture Show to be fascinating in its history of how the show came to be.

It seems like in 2012 particularly, the examination of standup comedy became almost as popular as standup itself. How much was your new album inspired by this (I say lovingly) tendency to navel-gaze within the genre?
That’s a good observation but not really my inspiration. I just realized I had a lot of characters which were essentially doing standup so I thought a historical retrospective would be a great way to tie them together.

What’s typically the first podcast you listen to each week?
Stuff You Missed In History Class.

Why is there not a UCB satellite theater in Chicago?
We might open a deep dish pizza restaurant there first. Also, out of respect for Charna Halpern and her IO Theater where we started.

What tends to be the most difficult part about making a podcast?
Booking the guests and finding parking are the only difficult parts.

Tell me about how the Improv4Humans art came to be.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978?)  has a scene where the aliens accidentally merge the DNA of a homeless man and this dog into one creature, a dog with a human head.  So our show’s improv is for/4 humans, not for non-humans such as invading body snatchers.

Regarding “Inside the Master Class,” what does producing a series online offer you that you can’t get from either a live show or a TV series?
It’s better than live because we can edit together the best parts. Every ten minute video is cut down from at least an hour of improvising. I guess one way it’s better than TV is that we don’t have to worry about fitting it into a story arc that takes a set amount of time. We just make the video last as long as the funny does.

Freak Dance is a parody of dance competition films: what are some of your favorite dance movies?
Without irony I loved the dancing in You Got Served and the Step Up series. Saturday Night Fever is an excellent movie across all genres. (And Fame if you count it as a dance movie). But the electric boogaloos subgenre might have been what inspired me the most.

In another interview you discussed how you learned to praise, not mock when performing parody. With that guideline in mind, what are some parody films that you think do it best?
Airplane is best parody movie ever. Young Frankenstein is great.  Most of the current parody movies are crap but Shaun of the Dead was brilliant.

How does it feel to be the 337th person interviewed for Zulkey.com?
You won’t see me zulking about it.