What do Amy Poehler, Adam McKay and Horatio Sanz all have in common with Tricia McAlpin? None of them have ever slept with a Colorado senator. Also, they all happen to be members of the Upright Citizens Brigade collective; the Second City players of the Big Apple (and now, Los Angeles), if you will. McAlpin is a writer and improv star of the West Coast wing of UCB and has had her work featured on FunnyOrDie.com and blogs about wedding nightmares on her own WeddingBarf.com. Here, she talks about organic farming, Phish and why improv is awesome.
French Davis: When did you decide comedy was going to be your career? Tricia McAlpin: I always knew I wanted to do something in the arts. I took acting in college but I couldn’t really get into the corny exercises, like laying on your back and remembering sad things from your childhood and stuff. I started doing plays downtown in NY that were comedies, and it was a blast being on stage and making people laugh.
FD: How did you end up on the Upright Citizens Brigade? TM: Once I saw an improv show at UCB in New York I was like, ‘Oh, I need to be a part of this.’ It was just so cool and real and not goofy like some other comedy shows I’d seen. UCB had the feeling of more like a cool music venue or something than a stuffy theater. It just looked like everyone on stage was having so much fun. So I took classes at the theater and formed an improv group with people I met in classes who I got along with. I was having a blast. I’d wait tables just enough to get by and then go to every UCB show I could see. And then I’d practice improv with my friends in our apartments whenever we could. When I got placed on a house team in New York I was like “Gahhhhhh! Dreams do come true! This is it!” Since then I’ve started doing sketch comedy at the theater as well, and now teaching and touring. I just got obsessed with learning from everybody and getting better at improv and writing and making videos. Being able to perform at the theaters in NY and LA, and to travel and perform with UCB is a freaking dream come true.
FD: What’s a typical work day like on UCB? TM: Well on tour, we usually all get super early, carpool to the airport and fly to whatever city we’re doing a show in. Once we get there, if we’re lucky, we have time to tool around town and check out the sights. Then we go to the theatre, soundcheck, hang out in the greenroom and do bits for an hour or so, get up on stage and do our show. It’s a totally different show every night, completely improvised, so it’s always a surprise for us what’s gonna happen on stage. After the show we usually go out on the town and do a moderate to extreme amount of drinking, end up at a hotel, watch free HBO and head home to LA or off to another city the next day.
FD: Watched some of your vids on FunnyOrDie.com. How did you end up writing for them? TM: Funny or Die is the best. They work with a lot of people from UCB and have given us lots of opportunities to make videos using their equipment and with access to their awesome camera and sound people. I did a sketch show at UCB with my friend Johanna Parker and they produced some videos for the show. Our director Eric Appel worked there for a long time and ended up directing one of the sketches from our show as an F.O.D. exclusive. It went great and got a bunch of views so we made another one, “Coffee Snobs,” and now we’re working with them on creating a web series based on those characters.
FD: Who are some of your biggest comedic influences and why? TM: Growing up I was way into Golden Girls, I would watch it with my Mom all the time. Of course SNL; I would reenact all the sketches on Monday morning with my friend on the school bus. And then at UCB, seeing Asssscat, which is the premier improv show a UCB, for the first time and watching Matt Besser, Matt Walsh, Ian Roberts and Amy Poehler, the founders of UCB, improvise together with people like Horatio Sanz, Kevin Dorff, Miriam Tolan; that was a huge inspiration. I saw a sketch show with Casey Wilson and June Raphael at UCB in New York, that they wrote together and played all these characters, I left that show and immediately started writing my own stuff. It was like, oh, this is exactly what I want to do.
FD: What’s your dream gig? TM: Definitely creating my own TV show, like Tina Fey or Lena Dunham. If I could tell stories from my point of view, hire my friends to write and act in them, and get it on TV? That would be the dream for sure.
FD: If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing? TM: Eek! Well, I was way into Phish for a while, I was pretty close to like following the band full time and then like, working on an organic farm or something when they weren’t playing. So if I wasn’t doing comedy I’d probably be like, the shittiest worker at an organic farm. I’d probably always be doing dumb bits about tomatoes or something and everyone would hate me.
FD: What should we expect if we’ve never been to a UCB show? TM: Expect to have your MIND BLOWN!!!! Right? No, I mean, I’ll own that statement. We will blow your minds. More specifically, what we do is long form improv, so it will seem more like you’re watching an improvised sketch show rather than short form improv you may have seen before like, Who’s Line is it Anyway.
FD: What’s your advice to comics starting out? TM: Go see comedy shows. Like, all the time. And then when you see people who are doing stuff that makes you laugh and feels like your style, figure out a way to become a part of their community. If it’s a theater like UCB where you can take clases, do that. If it’s a club where you can volunteer to do lights or sound, do that. Just become a part of the community, watch and learn, and once you can get up on stage don’t be afraid to try and fail and try and fail again and again. Get together with other funny people and make stuff; videos, blogs, whatever. Just keep making stuff and watching shows and learning from people who you think are funny. I mean, if you can go to NY or LA and take classes at UCB? That is what I would recommend more than anything. UCB is the best.
FD: How did WeddingBarf.com come to life? TM: WeddingBarf came about while I was planning my wedding. I was never the type of girl who thought about getting married or what my dress would look like or any of that stuff, so when I looked to the Internet for help I was shocked to find all of these wedding blogs glorifying spending crazy amounts of money to have the “perfect” most “original” wedding with an offbeat color scheme and mismatched vintage chairs, etc. etc. etc. It horrified me and then made me laugh so I focused that energy in writing the blog. I was surprised how many people identified with it. the wedding industry is too crazy for most people to handle.
FD: Quickshoot challenge: Pick one of each of the following: TM: Bill Cosby or Eddie Muphy? Both! Too hard to choose. Coldplay or Social Distortion? Phish? Obama or Romney? Obama!!! Iced coffee or hot coffee? Iced Motorcycle or SUV? Toyota Corolla (ugh sorry) Tina Fey or Amy Poehler? BOTH! Impossible to choose, they are my heroes. Fat Luther or Skinny Luther (Vandross) Fat? Everyone is more fun when they’re fat, right?
FD: Fill in the blanks: TM: • “The first thing I do when I get home from work after a particularly bad day is: this is hard cause my job is awesome, but I’d have to say eat macaroni and cheese and watch a dumb romantic comedy.” • “Fewer things make me want to punch someone more than when: they tell me I post too many pictures of my dog on instagram.” • “Bartender? I’d like a vodka and soda and serve it with a Doritos Locos taco” • “The argument about whether or not women are funny is one thing I could seriously do without.” • “Sorry, I don’t believe in people who say they don’t watch TV.”
FD: And finally, what’s the most important thing you want our readers to know about you? TM: I’m pretty great at Zumba.
Tricia McAlpin is performing with the Upright Citizen’s Brigade at the Boulder Theater on May 25 at 8 pm. Tickets are $15+. Call 303.786.7030 for more information. No animals were harmed during this interview. That we know of.