When Paul Scheer and Rob Huebel first stumbled upon the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre’s Crash Test show in 2004, it was run by Aziz Ansari in New York City. The two friends were hosting an ’04 election special, but “the show got progressively more depressing as the night went on,” so they decided to check out what Ansari was doing instead. A decade later it’s all theirs, and they’ve turned it into a movable comedy special filmed in and around a “60-foot glass bus.”
Despite a busy schedule, what with popular shows like The League and The Hotwives of Las Vegas premiering on FXX and Hulu respectively, Scheer was nice enough to chat with us about Odd Future getting the Paramount Studios lot stoned out of its mind, planning a bit with Ansari via text message, and how the Crash Test special came about.
When did you and Rob Huebel decide to literally take your UCB show on the road?
It was just a joke that we used to do on stage that just evolved into a reality. We love our audience, this loyal crowd that comes out every Monday night at midnight to see us. So we’re always joking with them about having a sleepover or going to Rob’s house. With the bus bit, instead of the comedians coming to us, we would go to the comedians. Ben Stiller’s company heard about the joke and everything started to fall into place after that. An amazing genius in New York built the bus and we were able to drive it cross-country, which must have been the craziest thing to see. Rob and I really wanted to do a documentary about that, just me and him going from New York to Los Angeles with no show, but we were both working at the time.
You spoke of other ideas for the special. Did you seriously consider any of these, or others?
Some of them yes, some of them no. The one that’s still running right now is that we’re going to get the entire audience to do Salvia divinorum. We did a 4/20 show, to which we brought a guy in from a local weed place. He supplied the crowd with an insane amount of his “products.” So much so that when Rob and I were walking home, we would see people leaving their leftovers on the street. They couldn’t handle the amount this guy brought.
A weed show, eh?
Speaking of which, no one has ever been allowed to shoot on the Paramount Studios back lot the way we did. We got lucky for whatever reason. Thanks to Odd Future and Earl Sweatshirt, however, when we pulled into Paramount, they smelled like weed smoke. The entire city block reeked of weed, and the security guards couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. That was one of the craziest bits of that entire night. These guys were there waiting because we didn’t know when we would get there, so they got so crazily high that it stunk up the entire block.
There’s obviously a lot of improv in Crash Test, but there’s also a lot of setup for these bits. How much of it was set up in advance?
Ben Stiller’s company got behind this and really helped push us to do the show we wanted to do. We had root ideas for things, we improvised, and the stand-ups were always a part of it. We talked beforehand to Rob Corddry, Aubrey Plaza, Natasha Leggero and most of the others about where to show up, but we set up Aziz’s bit over text message. I asked him if he was interested, and when he said he was, I pitched him the bit and told him where to wait for the bus. He was waiting at the taco stand when we pulled in, then we did the bit. That was the first time we saw Aziz, and it was the first time we ever did the bit. Pretty much every bit in the show is like that. We improvise very fat and very long, and then we cut it down to the best moments. Aubrey’s thing is the first take, as is Corddry’s. We wanted to keep that energy alive and make it feel unlike something you had seen before. The instinct is to always over-plan and overdo, but we wanted to capture the show’s energy.
Many comedy specials are spliced together from several shows. Was this the same?
We only did one bus trip. Granted that bus trip was really long, but we cut it down to just under an hour since we wanted to showcase the tightest version of what we had. There are bits that you’ll never see, though a few of them show up in the credits. It was just a timing issue. When we looked at the first cut, which was two and a half or three hours, we wanted to find the best hour.
What was it like driving that massive, weird bus all over Hollywood?
There’s a lot of travel time, getting from one location to the next. I think we spent an hour, if not more, on Hollywood Boulevard. Simply getting into Paramount was a slow process. There were a lot of bus logistics that fattened up the special, too. Also, I don’t know how legal what we did was. We had this giant bus riding down Hollywood, and we were on bullhorns so that our voices could be heard outside the bus. We were harassing people on the street. We were essentially a Los Angeles bully.
One of my favorite moments is when you banter with the “salsa” guy after Aziz’s bit…
That guy was so pissed! All of that is totally real. Those were the kinds of moments we wanted to capture. The one thing we realized in trying to release it was that people would have a hard time wrapping their heads around something that’s different. Because this is a stand-up special, but it’s not. The stage is moving around Los Angeles, and it’s not just one person with a microphone. We’re just bringing in all of our friends to do bits. It’s The Expendables version of a comedy special.
I remember watching David Letterman do one of his anniversary specials in an airplane. Conan O’Brien, during the blackout, did a version of his talk show outside in Rockefeller Center. I love those stunt-y, fun things, never knowing exactly how everything is going to go. The best part of the Upright Citizens Brigade, of seeing live comedy, is the unpredictability and the chance that you’ll never see it again. Sometimes when you see a comedy special, it’s so polished that there’s no electricity. That’s something that we were really striving for.
It’s more like a variety show than anything else.
That’s exactly it! Whenever you hear about people doing a variety show, it’s this old, hackneyed, 1950s version of what variety show is. That’s not interesting to me anymore, and it’s not something I want to do. For Rob and me, that was part of our drive. What’s a modern take on a variety show? That was kind of the fun of it, creating what a new version of that could be.
What does the future hold for Crash Test?
What Rob and I really want to do is take Crash Test and do it twice a year. Make it the new Comedy Central Roast. One of the fun things about the roasts is seeing all these people you know doing funny things that’s a little bit out of character for a lot of them.
“Crash Test” will be available on Vimeo on Demand beginning Tuesday, Aug. 18. Here’s a preview….