Long-form improv as we know it today was heavily influenced and popularized by the Upright Citizens Brigade theatre and its founders Amy Poehler, Matt Besser, Matt Walsh, and Ian Roberts — oft regarded as the UCB Four. It’s fair to say that we may still be stuck in a world full of short-form improv à la Who’s Line Is It Anyway? if it weren’t for these folks. The four brought the improvisational lessons and skills they mastered in Chicago — under the tutelage of their teachers, Del Close and Charna Halpern (regarded as the grandmother and grandfather of long-form improv) — to New York, where many a comedic voice became smitten with the troupe.
Their shows gained popularity in the stand-up centric town of New York, eventually finding their way to Los Angeles for obvious reasons. UCB has left a lasting impression on not only improv, but comedy as a whole. It’s an impression that continues to grow exponentially, as an impressive alum can be found in every crevice of the comedy world (notables: Aziz Ansari, Ed Helms, Aubrey Plaza, Charlyne Yi, Thomas Middleditch, Zach Woods, Sasheer Zamata, Ilana Glazer, Abbi Jacobson, and a bunch of other people you’ve probably heard of). What follows are early accounts from UCB’s founders and current performers on the theatre’s roots and how it became the place to see and learn improv.