If you’d been sitting close enough to the backstage curtain at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, at 26th and Eighth, you might have heard Stephen Colbert’s first word to his writers after their live performance of The Colbert Report: “Perfect.” And if you’d seen that recent show, or the live performances of Saturday Night Live or 30 Rock in the previous weeks—shows marked by flubbed lines, missed cues, makeshift props, rejected sketches, and first-draft jokes, all to audiences of eager friends and supporters jammed to the rafters—you’d know that Colbert’s assessment was exactly right.
Because if you’re looking for the ultimate only–in–New York comedy moment, this was it, times three. Sure, you can walk into a small black-box theater in any city on the continent and see a bunch of people horsing around with homemade props. But only here can you see a bunch of people horsing around with homemade props and one of them is Alec Baldwin, and, oh yeah, the rest are the stars of the NBC sitcom that won the Emmy for Best Comedy. Or it’s the cast of SNL, with guest host Michael Cera and musical guest Yo La Tengo, performing their show outside of Studio 8H in Rockefeller Center for the first time in history, uncut and unabashed, so that when Andy Samberg reprises his love song to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad praising his “butter-pecan thighs and your hairy butt,” Fred Armisen as Ahmadinejad drops his pants to the audience, revealing a bare ass covered in fake fur.
But that’s what happens when, partly to support the striking writers, partly to raise money for laid-off staff, and partly because they were going batshit-crazy with boredom, these casts decided to mount live “secret” shows at the UCB, which is co-owned by SNL’s Amy Poehler. She had the initial idea, then mentioned it to Tina Fey, her old “Weekend Update” deskmate, now starring on 30 Rock. A few Colbert writers, also UCB regulars, caught wind and decided to mount a production of their own. Let’s put on a show!
Okay, I know what you’re thinking: These sorts of only–in–New York events are great, but do you know how impossible they are to get into? And it’s true: The UCB shows sold out in about eight seconds, so you either had to be Tina Fey’s brother-in-law or willing to pony up $300 a ticket to a Craigslist scalper to get a seat. As Peter Gwinn, a writer for Colbert said, by way of welcoming the crowd: “Thanks so much for coming out, and for doing whatever it was you had to do to get in here tonight.”
But here’s the other only–in–New York element to all this. These particular shows may have been a by-product of the twice-in-a-lifetime (we hope) writers’ strike, but don’t forget: These people live here, and work here, and make the funny here. (The UCB Theatre’s sister branch in L.A. just announced a similar, though less exotic, night of stand-up by the cast of The Office.) So maybe you missed out on live SNL. But if you’d gone to the Asssscat improv show at UCB the very next Sunday, you’d have seen Poehler and SNL castmate Seth Meyers, and Jack McBrayer and John Lutz from 30 Rock, along with writers from Conan and Colbert. (The aforementioned Gwinn is one of the funniest Asssscat regulars.) Every Sunday night! Only eight bucks! And it’s not that hard to get tickets! Just don’t let the word get out.
“Street meat. Chicken tikka for lunch in midtown, a 4 a.m. kebab on the Bowery.”—Amanda Forsythe
“As a very successful woman, I love New York because it is the only place I was able to meet and marry an even more successful man.”
“I love that my grandparents could build a life and a family in this city but not in their own country. That they would then move out to the suburbs and watch me go right back in to do it for myself, in the same place where my family began.”