For three seasons on Comedy Central, a mysterious group with “no known ties and unlimited resources” created and monitored chaos in the form of the sketch comedy show The Upright Citizens Brigade. Formed out of the Chicago improv scene in 1990, the most famous incarnation of the group consisted of Matt Walsh, Ian Roberts, Matt Besser, and Amy Poehler. (The lattermost celebrates a birthday today.) Each of the four have gone on to notable careers following the show’s 1998 to 2000 run and the group continues to be an influential force in comedy thanks to the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatres in New York and Los Angeles. Poehler, who played Colby, emerged as the eventual breakout star as a cast member on SNL and later as Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation and the voice of Joy in Inside/Out.
Poehler’s work on The Upright Citizens Brigade showcased her versatility as a character actor. From over-the-top caricatures to a droll, deadpan housewives, Poehler was able to do it all, and fit her performance to exactly what the sketch required. Here’s a look at some of her most entertaining work across the show’s three seasons.
“I was kind of a whore.”
In what at first appears to be a straightforward bit, Poehler plays a prostitute looking for a more conventional job at a coffee shop. As the manager runs through her list of outlandish, though abbreviated, qualifications, he tells her she’s simply not qualified. This prompts her to question his own dreams, and after a tearful admission of his aspiration to become an astronaut, she provides the motivation to make his dreams happen, in a montage set to a “November Rain” sound-alike.
“Yaya is happy. Her music is a gift from god!”
As a mild-mannered reporter tries to interview Poehler’s eccentric pop star Yaya, who spends most of the time yelling back and forth with her father in outlandish European accents, she occasionally answers his questions in between her asking her father why other pop stars like Mariah Carey and Celine Dion are so mean to her. (His answer is, of course, jealousy).
“There’s no such thing as too much scrapbooking.”
Poehler and Besseler play Gretchen and Dan, a suburban couple, complete with Minnesota accents, who discuss Gretchen’s scrapbooking hobby. This includes preserving mementoes like toll-booth receipts, CD wrappers and, it’s soon revealed much more… personal items, up to and including every conversation she and Dan have.
“I got stoned at one of the booths and I got the munchies.”
Here Walsh plays a presenter eager to show a room full of devotees the miracle of “Spaghetti Jesus,” which Poehler’s deadpan character reveals she has just eaten. Poehler then vomits into a chalice, which gives way to “Vomit Jesus,” prompting Walsh to proclaim “the visage is even clearer than before!”
“Oh. You made a hat. Okay…”
Poehler shows her strength playing it straight as a simple role-playing exercise gets increasingly out-of-control when a frustrated server, her boyfriend, and his friends agree to help. Before long, the therapy blurs into reality.
“But I haven’t had a chance to try my Wolfman Jack Lady’s Shaver yet!”
Poehler plays a housewife who, once talked into purchasing a doorbell that uses the unmistakable voice of famed disc jockey Wolfman Jack, decides to keep buying products featuring his voice. She delivers her lines with commercial-level enthusiasm, almost bringing a convincing sense of normalcy amidst the overlapping voices of Wolfman Jack.
“Once I made Christmas cards out of pictures of my cervix!”
We’ve all known this person, the one who pretends to guard their personal diary only to share his or her most intimate thoughts with whomever will listen. Poehler’s coffee-shop patron is note-perfect, mixing existential angst with shallow teenage patronizing, down to her diary’s definitive “gay list.”
“I don’t want Cassie wandering into the hot chicks room unsupervised!”
Once again Poehler plays it straight as half of a house-hunting couple whose real-estate agent shows them the “hot chicks room,” where “hot chicks” do nothing but party 24/7. Between the husband’s likening the room to their microwave (“We use that durn thing all the time!”) and the agent’s painfully forced small-talk (“My parents also had children”), Poehler’s the glue that holds it together, particularly when she explains that their standard poodle doesn’t like poor people.
“There aren’t any filthy astronauts around here.”
It’s no surprise that a sketch called “Baby Sparring” features an outlandish premise. Here Poehler sells it as Donna, the welcoming neighbor who breaks it to a newcomer that the kids “gotta grow up some time.”