Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) is an impressive name to have on your resume. With alumni like Amy Poheler and Nick Kroll, you know this New York-based improv and comedy group has some heavy hitters. This Spoleto season, the UCB is not only bringing their traditional improv (is there such a thing?) but is featuring two acts from veteran cast members. This is where GUMP / Strangers Wanted comes in — one show with two separate comedy acts. GUMP features Matt Dennie and Josh Sharp, who says GUMP is, "Roughly speaking — a parody that falls off the rails pretty quickly. We like things with small narrative arcs. We both loved Forrest Gump with its many insane characters and points in time, which felt like a fun vehicle for a show. It very loosely follows the plot. " He continues, "It's a dumb — I mean that in a positive way — and physical show. We like stuff like that — silly, visual, physical. Dumb things make me laugh."
As for GUMP's history, it's been running in NYC at UCB to positive acclaim for the past seven months.
"This is our first time taking this show on the road, so we're super psyched," says Sharp.
Sharp and Dennie met at a UCB Performance workshop class. "It was one of the weirder ones, pushing boundaries. A more experimental show. Matt and I found the same things funny and started writing together. Theater is very collaborative. We've been consistent writing partners ever since," says Dennie.
Shannon O'Neill, the single talent behind Strangers Wanted, agrees with the collaborative element. It's her favorite part of comedy. "I'm drawn to it for the team aspect," she says. Which is what makes her show that much more surprising as she's on her own, on an island of improv with what seems like an overwhelming amount of work to do: she hosts a talk show where every single aspect is improvised and comes from the audience — the band, the warm-up comic, the sidekick, the guests, even the topics for her opening monologue. And all of it changes with each show.
"I come out and basically — I 'cast' from the audience. This includes the music played by the band who most likely have no experience and they create sounds that make my theme song for when I arrive or any interviewee comes onstage. I get my Andy Richter/Ed McMahon sidekick, and they get a catch phrase from audience. They can interrupt and ask questions." And allaying an unspoken fear, she is quick to add, "It's all volunteer — no one is pointed at or forced to do it. You have to raise your hand on your own."
What inspired such craziness? "I love talk shows," O'Neill says, "I was a huge Letterman fan growing up. I have been wanting to be my own talk show for awhile but also don't like planning la lot, which is a joy of improv. Combine it so it's a talk show where I don't have to plan anything."
She continues, "It's a pretty dangerous concept I think, as I don't know the audience or what they'll say. But it hasn't failed me yet."