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Published on October 13th, 2008 | by Sharilyn Johnson

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Have you hugged your comedy community today?

Today is Thanksgiving here in Canada (what can I say, we’ve always been a little ahead of the curve). I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to how much we appreciate the comedy community we each associate ourselves with, whether it’s as a performer or as an audience member.

I wasn’t in New York for the final performance of Mother, the UCB house team that’s been around longer than I’ve even been aware of the UCB. The ending of the group (in its current incarnation, anyway) was a pretty big to-do in the New York improv community, and rightfully so. I read a few references to this being the “end of an era”. The last of the “big” UCB house teams, holdovers from the old space on 22nd St. The Swarm is gone, Respecto is gone, and now Mother is gone. Now what?

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I went home to Winnipeg in September. I became part of the standup community there years before I ever actually did standup. After the pro-am nights at Rumor’s or the Charley or the Pyramid (or even going way back to those brutal West End shows), me and the comics would go for post-show drinks. Around the table would be, well, everyone. Sometimes there were up to 10 of us, staying up way too late on a Monday night for our own good. Maybe everyone just wanted to pretend they didn’t have day jobs.

But then Charlie had a falling out with the club. Kelly stopped coming. Rob was working around the clock and was lucky to even make his set. Soon, the comics’ table became the comics’ booth.

Most times, it was just me, Dan, and Jason. I moved to Toronto. Dan is moving to Alberta soon.

When I went back to Winnipeg visit in September, we went for one last post-Rumor’s drinks, knowing that the three of us would soon be spread across three different provinces.

The conversation was the same as it ever was. Complaining about the club, teasing Jason for doing an old bit, and gossiping about everyone who wasn’t there. Last call came much too soon. We walked out to the parking lot, appropriately spooky and quiet under the streetlights. I think I was the one to finally utter “so, I guess this is it”. The three of us hugged, and got in our cars. And indeed, that was it.

But the thing is, it was over long before the John Hughes movie ending. The community, at its best, had been slipping away for a while.

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I’m willing to bet that there are improvisors who took their first classes back when the UCB Theatre was on 22nd St, and were on a Harold team for a while. Maybe got married, maybe got busy with the day job, or just wrapped up in any of the other things that keep us busy when we approach 30. They don’t make it to UCB much anymore, and when they do, they might not recognize the new kid behind the bar, or even anyone else outside of the cast of the show.

For them, the end of Mother’s run probably feels much the same way that final round of drinks back home felt for me. An event of note, in that it sheds light on all the other events that should have been of note.

The lesson is to enjoy what exists, the way it exists, right now.

When I arrived in NYC for my latest weekend jaunt, I got off the plane at LaGuardia, hopped in a cab, and went straight to the UCB Theatre. Didn’t even drop my bags off first — just grabbed a requisite $2 PBR and took a seat in the front row. Within 5 minutes I felt a drop of mystery Gristedes liquid land on my arm from one of the pipes above, as if the building was welcoming me back in the only way it knew how.

There are hundreds of young performers who are going through its doors who will one day look back on it as the important, dynamic place that it is. And I wonder if they appreciate it.

Perhaps it’s because it’s not my home that I view it as a piece of history. Politics, trying to get gigs, struggling with getting your show mounted… these are all things that get in the way of appreciating where you are right now. It’s like exams and cliques getting in the way of enjoying high school despite everyone over 40 telling you that “these are the best years of your life”.

No matter where we consume or perform our comedy, let’s try to move through it with our eyes open. Comedy creates a human bond unlike anything else, and that’s something worth being thankful for today.

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About the Author

is the author of the book Bears & Balls: The Colbert Report A-Z. Called "one of the city’s most discriminating comedy critics” by NOW Magazine, Sharilyn has been covering comedy for longer than she cares to admit. She served as the comedy reporter for Winnipeg's Uptown Magazine for five years, and was the host of the radio show Laugh Tracks for three seasons. Her work has also appeared in the Toronto Star, the Winnipeg Free Press, The Apiary, and on CBC Radio's national comedy programs LOL and Definitely Not the Opera.



3 Responses to Have you hugged your comedy community today?

  1. Paul Hallasy says:

    My name is Paul Hallasy and I’m a stand-up comedian in New York City. I saw a link to your blog on Sheckymagazine.com.
    Something about this column resonated with me, inasmuch as you were talking about “comedy communities.” While many people have probably heard of UCB and sketch comedy in general seems to be enjoying a period of popularity that perhaps is eclipsing stand-up comedy, I would like to point out another New York City comedy community that may not be as well known. It’s called The Comics Studio and it’s been a training ground for stand-up comedians in New York for at least eight years. Its comics have gone on to appear on Last Comic Standing and to open for performers such as George Carlin and Joy Behar. And, in addition to being a great place to work on your craft, it is truly a supportive community.

  2. Hi Paul — thanks for your comment! I’d heard of the Comics Studio, but wasn’t aware it had a such a good thing going. NYC seems like a pretty tough nut to crack for young standups, so it’s great that a place like that exists.

    Your comment that sketch is perhaps getting more popular than standup right now is an interesting one… I’m definitely going to chew on that!

  3. Chad Riden says:

    Well said and stuff.

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