What do you struggle with in comedy? You're a very strong performer but what was something you do or did struggle with maybe back in the day?



Now to answer your question: A lot, man. I can feel my hands getting tired in preparation to write this. That’s how much. 

When I was a kid I was bad at school and bad at sports, but good at talking to adults. Big hit at holiday parties. When I got to high school I started doing plays and that was the first time that my personality really started to feel like a skill. Things suddenly clicked for the first time for me. That was great. I still keep that feeling in my pocket and dust it off when I’m feeling like shit. 

My problem was that I couldn’t understand that everything wouldn’t automatically be a Mr. Show sketch just because I opened my mouth and started talking. I had seen funny things, and assumed my 14 year old brain was operating on that same level. I was drunk on this new power and I assumed anyone who didn’t think I was hilarious were fools. Fools, I say!

In college I was dealing with a lot and got really argumentative and snarky. So I was that guy. Obviously that’s the worst guy to be but I didn’t get like that in a vacuum. A few weeks after I got my acceptance letter, the head of the acting department called me to tell me that she didn’t see my audition so I still needed to convince her when I got to school. So I came in scared and immediately got a bunch of hostile notes about my body and voice (and soul???) from people I didn’t trust. It was garbage. We did animal projects where we had to act like animals for a semester. An entire semester! What creeps! Money exchanged hands so this could happen! I never use this shit! And the truly surreal kicker was when they told me I couldn’t be a llama for the project because I “already was one.” What is that even? What does that mean? Was that their way of telling me I have a long neck? Hate to break it to you, but I know! I’ve seen that thing! Not really looking for notes on it! But whatever, I wasn’t toiling in a mine or anything. I was just doing a bunch of acting exercises and getting told I was wrong. Look, there’re harder ways to spend being 18, I know. In fact, close your eyes and throw a dart at a board of “ways to spend being 18.” Unless you hit “Pillow Tester” they’re all harder than my experience. It still sucked to have a professor tell me I was painful to watch onstage. That wasn’t his to take from me.

So, fuck that. I dropped out of school in 2008 and moved to NYC right away. On the surface, that seemed like a confident move, but it led to a lot of self doubt. My first year doing improv in New York mostly involved me looking at my feet and getting labeled as deer when I walked into scenes at neutral. It took me a long time to stop telling myself I was wrong and I should go home and I was causing the people around me pain just by being there. That was a huge hurdle for me to clear, that fear. Probably my biggest fear as a performer is fear. I’m like that one Fireside Chat everybody knows. To this day, I don’t let myself sit back on my heels during shows or rehearsals. That’s where my self doubt lives, back there. I don’t even like thinking about it now. My leg is shaking uncontrollably as I type this. I’m like a dog who just figured out we’re going to the vet. “No,” he says in his dog brain, “this must not be.”

Eventually I had a breakdown where I couldn’t manage to ring the buzzer to go a Christmas party(!) so I figured I’d take a little bit of time off of improv. That’s when I - and by the way I realize I’m only tangentially answering your question. So you can’t get upset. Because I realize it. I’m absolved - that’s when I auditioned for Story Pirates. That changed everything. Here was this thing I respected and loved and suddenly I was good enough for it. It was the first vote of confidence as a performer I’d gotten in a long time and I thought I’d chase that feeling for a while. Their performance style was MY performance style. Suddenly I wasn’t being told not to be myself, I was being told to be way more myself. That was huge. It’s like when you read any book by any musician and they hear Elvis or The Ramones or whoever for the first time. It was like a light went on in my brain, or some other unimaginative simile. All of my bad habits were suddenly all of my strengths. My weaknesses, my assets. My vices? Well my friend, those were now my virtues. I can’t say enough hyperbolic nice things about Pirates. It saved me. Not from dying or anything, just from mediocrity. But that’s not nothing!

Once Peter McNerney dragged me kicking and screaming over to The Magnet I was a different person. Or, from another perspective, I was no longer a different person. But, I mean, more grown up. It’s complicated. I’m not even especially complex as far as people go and I’m at least ten layers deep. Can you imagine somebody like David Foster Wallace!? The mind boggles! BOGGLES! BO-O-O-O-

Whew! I had to sort of just eject out of that last paragraph. Anyway, when I started at The Magnet the two notes I would always get were “You play a lot of high status and then lose status” and “No living person would ever say that.” The first one was a note Peter gave me that I just decided I’d never get again. It was pretty simple. And by the way, his story about only ever giving me one note is totally fake. He gave me, like, four or five. I just only ever took to that one.

The second note was a little trickier. It’s true I do play a lot of characters who say things like, “Did somebody say The Mayor? I happen to be him. The Mayor.” But that’s not the worst thing in the world. I made myself laugh typing that, so that’s worth something. Rick Andrews even had a rule when he was coaching Bloomer that if he ever made a buzzer sound during one of my scenes, I had to go back and say what I just said like a human being would. It was a great exercise! I still struggle a little bit with that. I can feel myself walking into scenes because I’ve got an idea, and the character I’m playing is in distant second to my idea. It’s usually fine, but sometimes we get stuck with that character. Usually that’s not even a huge problem, but man. I have been in some shows where nobody was editing and suddenly this character I didn’t give a fuck about is stuck onstage. And you can bet the audience doesn’t care about him either. Total garbage.

Lately I’ve been struggling with rhythm and pace. Struggling is totally the wrong word for that, but for some reason I’m just plowing ahead with this paragraph instead of backing up and finding a better word. In level 6 Teddy Shivers mentioned he didn’t know what to do in scenes with me because I talk like a revved engine. And he’s right! I do just go and go sometimes! My brain isn’t especially deep or powerful, but it’s fast. So I struggle onstage with getting ahead of myself and the show. I’ve definitely been in 2nd beats and been all like “didn’t we cover this shit already when I was thinking about this during the 1st beat?” Does that sound conceited? Probably a little. Fuck it, slowpokes! I’m fast!

But, I listened to the last episode of Best Show on WFMU last week and something hit me about pace: fast and slow are irrelevant. It’s rhythm that matters. Listen to that show sometime and it’s apparent. The archives are all up. Tom’s in no rush. He’s got three hours to fill. And Jon Wurster, that guy’s a drummer! One of my favorites! He gets rhythm, for sure. So I guess that’s what I’m working on now. I like the speed I move at, and I don’t intend to change it. But I do intend to become really conscious of my rhythms onstage and how to play with them.

So that’s a lot of what I’ve struggled with. Also, a bunch of unnecessary backstory. I hope you liked reading this. But if you didn’t, that’s your fault. Nobody made you read this.

If somebody made you read this, please reply with “I AM SAFE.” That’ll be our little code for “I AM NOT SAFE.” From there I don’t know what we’ll do. Play it by ear, I guess.

Great, from a question I asked. Branson is the funniest as a performer and a super sweet human being and he’s much more candid here than he need be. I just saw people asking him fake questions and decided to ask him something real.


I made this especially for Christmas

These were made by my friend David Guzman for a holiday sketch show he did. I thought (and think!) they were very funny, which is what I generally think about “The Guz”. Enjoy!


(I promised my teammate Kara that I would write about our Supernova team. Here it is, Kara - finally!)

This fall, I was lucky enough to get into the second round of Supernova, which is a great indie circuit program put together by Nick Feitel and Amey Goerlich. This was a great opportunity to get…

This was very nice of Nicole to write and I’ve been very fond of this team and their progress. Come check them out in January!


Will Hines is and forever will be a vital part of the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. He is a man that dedicated a lot of his time and passion to help foster and develop young talent through the UCB Training Center. He is also arguably one of the best improvisers, writers, and directors at the…

This is great. Couldn’t have said it better myself.


I talk to Will Hines and John Frusciante about getting into improv at UCB, and a little bit of other stuff as well. It’s fun! Listen to me talk about stupid stuff I did when I was in 101, including my secret “back pocket initiation” that I held on to in case I ever panicked and couldn’t think of anything to do (never used, and revealed here for the first time, ever!) 

You should also listen to every other episode of the UCB podcast. They are all great and I am very proud to be one of the guests on that long list of awesome people.

Yes, @connorratliff is the best. Listen to this.

Sebastian Conelli

I just want to say right now: I take all the credit.

It was a little over two years ago, Sebastian and I met in the Magnet Summer Intensive. I was right out of 401 and Seb was right out of UCB 301 and we both felt like losers.

I was 70 pounds heavier and felt so crappy about myself and not passing 401 that I was brooding and always down on myself and Seb was feeling lost after a 201 and a 301 where he hadn’t been invited to join the practice groups people had formed in class.

We were fast friends as we had both done UCB and we loved the other people in our intensive: Tara K., Matty T, Pat May, Shacottha Fields, James Coker, Ray Munoz and others. We were both scared shitless but we both thought each other were pretty funny (though I’m sure Sebastian would completely deny his end).

We took all our level 4s at the Magnet together, I became an intern, we both started doing The Circuit, the Magnet’s student Harold teams, and whatever Sebastian had turned on and a lot of people came up to him after show congratulating.

Still he somehow looked up to me for a while with all my confidence, anger and improv nerdery. I formed an indie team Orange Augustus out of a practice group and Seb was the first one I asked.

Sebastian started really killing it at the Magnet doing Level 5 and 6 and I didn’t get in so I headed back to UCB and after struggling through another couple 401s found my groove and passed.

I dragged Sebastian along when I started taking classes with Gausas. I encouraged him to go back to UCB even when he was scared since he hadn’t been back in so long. After he didn’t pass his first 401, I still insisted to him that he was good enough for there and told him to take class with Will Hines who could teach him something different.

He got on a house team at the Magnet and was doing great. I encouraged him to do an internship at UCB and introduced him to the coordinator. Slowly but surely, he got comfortable at UCB, just being the funniest guy in class after class, first Will, who took a special shine to him, then Nate then Performance classes like Form 56 and The Play. People started to know who he was, congratulate him as they saw him around.

He got a callback for Harold his first audition he felt great about, but he didn’t get on. Was he imagining that he had done well, he asked me. I told him that if he thought that, he probably had.

He survived a round of cuts at the Magnet and started doing sketch shows there, which he excelled at and student shows at UCB, where the teachers loved him. He really wanted to try Maude, worked so hard on his three minutes and didn’t get on and I told him I thought he was ready even if hadn’t got on.

The reason I share all of this is not for my own glorification (though I admit having some fun taking credit) but to show you this is a person who struggled, a person who was unsure.

Because when you see Sebastian like I did on Wednesday in class with him, just nailing every scene (“I have Michael J. Fox disease!” was a recent line in class.), it’s easy to think of it as a foregone conclusion. “Oh, he’s just the most talented guy.”

But the truth is this is the guy left out of the practice group, the guy who had to take 401 over, the guy who wiped toilets at UCB while on a house team at another theater.

I think people love Sebastian now because he’s so talented and funny and a nice guy. But I think he’s the coolest because he works the hardest. Because, as his friend, I’ve seen him keep on facing those challenges, those self-doubts he faces and rise to them. I think he’s the guy who works the hardest of everyone I know.

Other than me that is! Who is great!

So now I hope that, since he got placed on a UCB House Team in their most competitive audition ever, he will not find an excuse to feel bad for a couple days.

And I’ll still come there to see my friend who coached me through all my own bullshit, who reminds me to feel good throughout my failures, who’s honest with me and supportive, who thought I was funny enough to do teams with back almost three years ago today.

I love ya buddy. Congratulations, and this I mean: you earned it.

When you pitch sketches or bring them into Maude, do you do so only if confident, if you're confident or unsure or no matter how bad you think it is?


I’ve never written anything bad in my life. I don’t understand your question.

Or, seriously. I would say that the question no longer applies but actually not for reasons of extreme arrogance.

Beige writers bring in three sketches to our first meeting and end up working on two of them for most of the month. Since we usually only get one sketch in per show, we have sketches we worked on for multiple drafts ready to go for next month’s meeting. I then tend to bring in two new sketches and one old one to our first meeting. Because of that, I can easily bring in things I’m less sure about because I know I have at least one sketch pretty far along.

That doesn’t answer your question though and it obviously wasn’t always the case. When I first joined Maude night, not only did I have zero banked sketches (packet not included), but I was awful at pitching things in general. I just had an incredibly hard time explaining what it was about an idea that was funny to me. Considering my first Maude sketch was about a talking car who weirdly tried to persuade his owner to “fuck in him,” you can see how that would be a problem. That month, there were tons of conversations with me desperately trying to tell our director that “It’s funny!* Trust me!”

As you can imagine, that’s not how you pitch a sketch.

*And it was. For about 50% of the script. God, I’d love to rewrite that Frankenstein’s monster of a sketch today.

So how do I pitch today? Well, here’s something to keep in mind when pitching a sketch: some of my favorite sketches I’ve ever written originated as an idea someone else couldn’t figure out. Same the other way around. Any pitch you make, whether it works or not, will help the team. Either someone will know what it’s missing and will help you complete it, or it’ll wedge its way in their head and eventually knock a new idea loose for them.

Remember that, that even bad pitches are useful, and you’ll be fine with sharing those less-than-complete ideas. You’ll then be halfway there. The other half is learning how to deliver a pitch concisely. It’s like writing a tweet. You have to clearly explain an idea in the shortest way possible. Learning to do that just takes practice. I like to think I’m better at it now than in my “Trust me!” days.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that there’s nothing wrong in not being confident in your pitch. Just be confident in your knowledge that it’s always worth sharing. That’s what I think every time I look at my teammates and say that I’d like to see a car who wants someone to fuck in them.

I asked this question about bringing ideas to the table in a sketch group! I think he answered it well.





For ONE man, setting up security questions is impossible.

Big thanks to Delaney and Bieber for making this!

The platonic ideal of sketch!

Do we really need me to reblog this and say how great it is too? Yes, we do.

This show was the best. Now you can watch a small part of it.


I started a thing that might become a good resource to the NYC improv community, and I’d really like it if you’d help me add to it and keep it updated.

It’s a list of:

  • Performance Venues
  • Practice Spaces
  • Shows Looking for Comedy Acts

It’s designed to be a centralized information source of what’s currently available to us, and also a place to critique those things, that doesn’t reside in the carcass of a dead message board.

Please take liberties with it. Try to add and shape the document, but avoid deleting other people’s comments. YesAnd this, and help me make having an indie team in NYC an easier proposition.

I think this is a pretty good resource and very generous of Chris. I tend to enjoy Brit Pack and The Creek, despite the negative comments, but I recognize they’re just what some people think. People looking to book shows take heed

Austin Pendleton Scene Study Notes Week Seven

More notes on acting! For free!


When you get a suggestion from the teacher or director, it’s not a definitive answer, it’s just an acknowledgement that there’s a problem.
All you take away from that is that the scene isn’t working.
The suggestions are just thrown in to try to help or something to explore just to try to crack things open.
If we don’t know why we’re doing something in a scene specifically, it becomes a generality.
A huge part of being an actor or director is how to absorb criticism productively, including criticism we find stupid.
Sometimes the criticism is stupid because the work is stupid.
Anyone who stays in bed all the time is full of many impulses that are thwarted.
Brecht was famous for his props, he directed his own plays. Brecht wrote for props, he famously paid more attention to that than most people.
Try not to utterly violate the character with the shoes you wear, at least walk as the character walks.
Uta tore into me for doing The Importance of Being Earnest unshared, as the grooming was essential to the character,
If you’re playing a character that can’t get out of bed, part of the sensory experience of it is that bed and if you don’t know it then your circuits will fry.
Make sure in a scene that you’re not playing the characters too much alike, there should be a sharp contrast.
Sam Shepard plays are kind of biblical, it’s a ritualistic thing that the father must be defeated or killed.

We need a sense of place in the scene especially if the acting is good
Because if the choices are very clear it begins to seem like acting if we’re not affected by place, how does it interrupt where we are?
It’s a sensory awareness of the other people in the place you are, are you alone, surrounded, are you self-conscious.
When you produce the play, you don’t create the atmosphere completely but you have a sensory awareness from it.
Go rehearse in an analogous place to where it’s set, you have New York City at your disposal.
Get a specific sense of what you take in peripherally. Little things moving in on you. -Elaine May
The scene would feel different with the same language at 3 o’clock in the afternoon
The playwright has specific intentions where he places the scene.
The element of self-consciousness happens when we deprive ourselves of context.
It releases a little bit from the obligation of behavior, the obligation of clarity.
When we proceed without context we feel exposed, whereas if we really believe the context, we feel less obligated to have burdens of proof.
If it’s a scene climbing Everest, then you have to imagine quite fully what those physical and sensory experiences would be.
How cold it would be, how far down you would be, what’s the behavior of cold while hanging on to a rope.
You’d have to research it quite a lot.
Most good playwrights, Shakespeare, the garden at two in the morning if they hear that he’s there, he’ll be killed. And yet people yell oh Romeo, Romeo.
Two senators talking in an empty public square about assassinating Caesar, it’s very specific.
If you rob the stuff of the circumstances Shakespeare gives you that you fall in to a certain amount of declaiming.
You don’t have to remember, it enters you,
Uta devoted whole exercises to that before you even do a scene.

Find the attraction in the scene, the reason why these people need each other.
If you are blessed/cursed with a unique pattern of behavior as an actor, accept it, understand it, challenge it. Know when to break it.
The one way to get in to trouble when you get a narrow package is an overindulgence of your tendency (in this case rushing)
Always turn what you get from the other character as an obstacle, even if they’re looking at you in sympathetically, think that they might turn on you at any second.

If at a certain point, if you’re in real trouble, just give up and take in everything around you, not for any reason, just to deal with it.
Vladimir intellectualizes everything as a defensive mechanism so it’s difficult to learn lines.
All you can do is surrender.