Everyone knows Bill Murray, Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert.
Yet few outside the comedy world know the man who taught and inspired them. His name was Del Close, and for more than 30 years, he was the force behind the Chicago improv scene that thrived at places such as Second City and Improv Olympics.
Close died in 1999, but New York improv troupe the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) has been keeping his memory alive with annual Del Close marathons. This year’s consists of 420 shows over 56 hours, featuring improv groups from across the country and places like London and Helsinki.
amNewYork spoke with UCB co-founder Matt Walsh, who also stars in HBO’s “Veep.”
What’s the most important thing you learned from Del Close?
There were many lessons. He was big on saying, “It’s not your first or second thought onstage. It’s your third thought that you use.” Instead of giving your first reaction, think “What’s a better reaction?” What I took away was that you have to play at the top of your intelligence. He would give us reading lists and tell us to stay on top of pop culture. He made us believe it’s a real job to be a comedian. You’re being a social critic.
Your site promises “insane” late night shows. What do you have in mind?
Those are slots where people come up with concepts that are not necessarily inside jokes but might be strange to the standard audience. There’s a 13-minute show that’s the introduction of 70-100 Mets from bygone eras. There’s Cosby Prov, where people come out in Cosby sweaters and talk like Bill Cosby. One year we had Robot TV, which was improv for robots if they were high.
Does anyone ever stay for the full 56 hours of the marathon?
Inevitably, two or three people come in like marathon runners or Everest climbers with backpacks, blankets, a change of clothes, a toothbrush, protein bars and Jolt Cola. I think they must fall asleep at some point, though.
If you go: The 14th Annual Del Close Marathon runs Friday through Sunday. For full schedule, venue and ticket information, go to delclosemarathon.com.