Eventually, the group leased a 150-seat theater on West 26th Street, below a Gristedes.
JACK MCBRAYER, 30 Rock: It was a huge deal when we finally got that basement, where blood would drip from the deli above us. There were Hefty bags full of disgusting shit-water. We started calling them shit bags.
TODD: I was in a show where one of those bags burst, and somebody initiated a scene that was at a child’s birthday party with a Slip ’N Slide. We all slid on it. It was disgusting, and the audience was grossed out but loved it.
JENNY SLATE, SNL: The audiences are always hoping for a zoo, for the most energetic, weird, original thing they can get.
KEMPER: [In one scene], we were all on the ground, and I was laughing so hard, I wet my pants. And my teammate was dragging me across the stage, and there was a streak. I don’t know if anyone saw it.
ST. CLAIR: I’ve seen almost every man naked at one time or another. They love to take their balls out onstage.
MCBRAYER: Someone either [once] got teabagged, or was centimeters from getting teabagged, on the face. I’m talking about balls, fleshy balls. Strangely enough, it worked in the context of the scene.
PALLY: I co-hosted a show called “The Dirtiest Sketch Show.” It’s the one night where you are lauded for doing the most vile, offensive, racist, disgusting sketch you can do. I’ve seen things most people will go to their graves never even imagining.
KING: Two guys bought some dead chickens in Chinatown and fucked them onstage.
KLAUSNER: I heard about the one where Brett Gelman tap-danced in blackface.
GELMAN: It was Valentine’s Day 2004, and I had just broken up with my girlfriend, so I was pretty angry. Somebody came on the mike and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, September 10, 2001.” And the spotlight comes up and “The Candy Man” starts playing, and I come out naked in tap shoes and blackface, dancing horribly. Then all of a sudden, the lights turn red, and [the German industrial band] Rammstein comes on, and I look at the audience and I go, “Tomorrow, a terrible tragedy will happen that will kill thousands of people. America will become a cage of fear. What are you going to do when fascism takes over?” And I started goose-stepping around the stage. Then, after about a minute of that, “The Candy Man” comes back on, and I finish up the tap dance. And I received a standing ovation.
PART IV: HIGH-STATUS CHARACTERS
The theater’s regulars had begun to join the cast of Saturday Night Live: Sanz in 1998, Poehler in 2001. The Daily Show hired Helms, Corddry, and Riggle. MTV gave the Human Giant troupe a show. UCB was becoming a gateway to bigger things.
GELMAN: When Lorne Michaels started pulling people from the theater, there was an increased sense of competition.
WILSON: As fun as [UCB] was, it attracted people that had the eye of the tiger.
WILL HINES, performer-teacher: People go through a pretty predictable arc of finding the UCB, falling in love with it, and immersing themselves for a year and a half. Then there’s another year where they’re kind of ripened and not yet bitter, and if they don’t get put on a team by the end of that year, they’ll [eventually] become resentful and leave.
KEVIN MULLANEY, performer–UCB school manager, 1999–2006: The people that have succeeded are almost entirely the people you’d see at the theater at 10 a.m. on a Thursday, trying to work out a sketch or a show.
KING: Aziz [Ansari] and Scheer were always doing new things.
SCHEER: [Our group] Human Giant was totally built by UCB. Aziz was like, “I don’t want to host just stand-up.” So Aziz and I did a full-on experiment, where we went to the Scientology center in midtown, spent a day there, and reported our findings.
AZIZ ANSARI, Parks and Recreation: Paul, at the time, was on Best Week Ever, so [the Scientologists] recognized him and pulled him into a different area, and I was trapped with this weird dude. I think I gave them the name of some Indian kid I went to high school with. And we talked about it in the show that night, which was fun, because that’s the kind of thing you can’t really do at a comedy club.
SCHEER: Chevy Chase came by one time and did the monologues.
HUEBEL: This was around the time when Amy was still on SNL, and I think Chevy wanted to get back involved with the show—trying to get to know the young guys—so he was coming around the theater. I came in, and Chevy was backstage. Just to preface it, I grew up the biggest Chevy Chase fan in the world. I knew every word to Fletch and Caddyshack. I wanted to be Chevy Chase. So we go into a little spot just off the lip of the stage, and there was a break in the conversation, so I said, “Chevy, I just want to introduce myself. I’m Rob Huebel.” And he just slapped me across the face. He didn’t say anything; he just looked at me for a second and belted me. It was really hard—offensively hard.
JASON MANTZOUKAS, performer: I wouldn’t know exactly how to explain it to you, other than to say it was simultaneously amazing and terrible.
HUEBEL: He tried to make a joke afterward, something to the effect of, “Don’t interrupt me when I’m talking, ha ha ha.” And I just stood there. They brought us all on, and it was awkward. But in his defense, he wasn’t trying to be mean; he was trying to be funny. It was a bummer only because I was such a huge fan.
MANTZOUKAS: That being said, backstage in the green room, hanging out, he could not have been a lovelier guy.
CHEVY CHASE: It’s a faint memory, but I know it was done in good humor.