“I’m a little afraid if I drink too much I might need to piss. What if I have to pee in the middle of the date?”
This won’t be the last time we hear this question tonight.
The guy posing it is a 28-year-old postproduction manager from Chicago named Mike, who bears a striking resemblance to a bearded Will Forte. He’s sitting in a dressing room backstage at the Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Theatre in Hollywood with two cans of Bud Light, having just downed a shot of whiskey.
Mike is at the UCB Theatre to take part in what is undoubtedly the most eccentric dating service in Los Angeles, The OKStupid Show. The brainchild of veteran UCB cast members Amanda Sitko and Eli Newell, The OKStupid Show (it was called The OKCupid Show until very recently, when lawyers of the dating site caught wind of it and hit UCB with a cease-and-desist) has been around since 2010, and each month presents one of the most compelling and cringe-worthy experiences to a live audience.
The premise is simple: Sitko and Newell, who claim to be “lifelong dating experts,” peruse OKCupid's site, find four Los Angeles–area singles (one guy, three girls) they find interesting, and ask if they’d be willing to have a blind date — in front of a crowd. The guy engages in three separate 10-minute dates with the girls onstage, while regular UCB cast members, also onstage, vacillate between riffing on the awkwardness of the whole thing and offering constructive criticism to the male contestant.
The audience is part of the show: The cast hands out color-coded nametags to everyone (blue for single crowd members, red for those in a relationship), encourages them to drink and takes the entire audience to a bar next door after, with the hope that, as Newell so eloquently puts it, “by the end of the show, everybody gets laid.”
“Dating out here in Los Angeles has been a lot different than the Midwest,” Mike revealed before he took the stage. “Out here it just seems like people only want to tell you what they’re up to. In Chicago, at least, people seem genuinely interested in getting to know you and learning about others. I keep telling myself that I’ve just met the wrong people out here, and that there must be cool people out here too, but I don’t know, I just haven’t really found it.”
Mike laughed that the showrunners found him on OKCupid, which he refers to as “that desolate wasteland of a dating website ” and bitched that online dating is destroying the entire process.
“Online dating, in general, is the antithesis of forming a true personal connection with someone,” Mike said between sips from one of his Bud Light cans. “It’s all about you, and we scroll through potential suitors as if we were searching for running shoes on Amazon. I just think we as a society are missing out on forming those personal connections.”
In many ways it's easy to empathize with what Mike says.
L.A. is a city where everyone is better-looking than you, where half the people you meet are here to “try to make it” and too eager to say so. Plus, apps such as Tinder and Hinge have stripped away a ton of the romance, and are probably less suited to meeting your one and only than finding your “It’s 1, and I’m lonely.”
Still, his complaints are slightly cliched, and they’re coming from a guy downing drinks in the back of an improv club, to build up confidence to go on dates in front of an audience, who just asked nobody in particular what to do if he needs to pee. So the sincerity seems a tad dubious.
“Uh, yeah, don’t get up in the middle of the date to pee,” Ptolemy Slocum, a 39-year-old UCB cast member and veteran actor, opines. “That would be bad.”
Slocum has appeared in everything from Hitch to The Wire, plus scores of commercials. Sporting ginger stubble, freckles and reading glasses, he’ll be playing a waiter named Lance in tonight’s OKStupid at the fictional Icebreaker Lounge, where Mike will meet the three girls for each of their first dates.
Throughout the night, Slocum's frenetic energy and improv skills will be the catalyst for much of the action, but for now, he helps put Mike at ease.
“Just don’t worry about it and you’ll be fine,” he tells Mike.
After some playful banter, and just a bit more liquid courage, Mike is led out onstage. He passes a “green room” where, unbeknownst to him, the three female participants in tonight’s show sit.
Julia is a 25-year-old aspiring actress from Costa Mesa with jet-black hair and a 1.000-watt smile. She’s joined there by Aleks, a 24-year-old from Maryland with striking blue eyes, and Emily, a 23-year-old first-generation Angeleno from Ireland who joined an a cappella group in college. They sit across from one another on the old couch and folding chairs that adorn the green room, downing beer and wine.
“I’m sorta new to the dating scene. I was in a longer-term relationship before this, so it’s just a bit nerve-racking,” says Emily, fidgeting with her red patterned dress. Her words spill out at a million miles a minute. Combined with her wide eyes and nervous laughter, her anxiety is palpable but refreshingly honest.
“I’m doing this to push myself out of my comfort zone. I tried to look up videos of the show but couldn’t find anything, so I’m just nervous to see how it all goes.”
Aleks, on the other hand, doesn’t seem too concerned about the live crowd. She gives off a slightly restrained, chill vibe, and while she admits she’s slightly nervous, she's kind of excited about the prospect of meeting a new guy in L.A., which has a lot more “creative types” than Montgomery County, Maryland.
“It’s all military men back home,” Aleks says. “A lot of guys who are handsome until they open their mouth.”
Julia, for her part, couldn’t seem more comfortable about the upcoming date. Cracking odd jokes in the green room, she actually seems hyped about getting onstage for the dates, and says she only has one concern about the date.
“I kind of have to pee right now,” worries Julia. “What happens if I have to pee?”
Nobody expected to see a grown man’s bare ass tonight.
UCB Cast member Slocum, playing the night’s painfully awkward/creepily sexual waiter, was presiding over the third date of the night — between Mike and Julia — and as part of the gambit in “Icebreaker Lounge” asked the newly acquainted couple to pick from a group of index cards.
Each card had an activity that they had to act out in order to break the ice. Julia drew a card titled “swap meet,” requiring them to exchange an article of clothing. When she exchanged her army green corduroy jacket for Mike’s white button-down, Slocum found that tame, and offered to trade his pants for Julia’s pantyhose, causing Mike to ask Slocum to leave.
Slocum complied but emerged a few minutes later from backstage with his pants in his hand, sporting a thong and little else, his almost-translucent pale ass shining in the spotlight, sending the audience into a fit of laughter. It’s a bit hard to trace how we got to this point.
The first date of the night, with Emily, had been a disjointed yet oddly touching experience. With the crowd cheering them on for engaging in any dialogue that was even mildly engaging (people applauded when Mike asked Emily if she was having fun and Emily responded, “yes”), Mike stumbled through fulfilling the producer's earlier suggestions (of note: “Give her a compliment so she doesn’t think you’re going to kill her” and “Stop telling her your job is incredibly boring”) while asking questions about her OKCupid profile (which, it should be noted, was projected onto a white screen behind the couple for the entire crowd to see). It ended with a slightly awkward handshake as Emily left the stage.
On the night’s second date — Aleks and Mike — Mike seemed more relaxed, though it was tough to tell if it was organic confidence or just how increasingly drunk he was from the “Fuck Punch” that Slocum kept feeding the three dates. Slocum later explained the recipe for the concoction as “essentially a gangbang of whatever liquor can currently be found backstage” — it contained whiskey, Malibu rum, pineapple juice and tequila.
Still, the conversation between Mike and Aleks flowed naturally. They love much of the same music, and both like to smoke weed and watch Cosmos.
Aleks won over the crowd by recalling how she once got stoned in a bubble bath and listened to the same song on repeat for 40 minutes without realizing it. Mike asked her which Beatles song she would choose for a single-song playlist if she became an amnesiac, explaining that he personally would choose “Strawberry Fields Forever” because his mother sang it to him as a child. The women in the audience let out an audible “aww.”
“That sound,” producer Sitko said, interrupting the date, “is the sound of every nipple in this room getting hard. Good job, kid.”
Yet when it came time for Aleks to depart the stage, Mike didn’t ask to see her again, settling for yet another clumsy handshake. Newell chided him.
“You had a great connection, I think you missed an opportunity there,” he said. “You both love watching Cosmos. You shouldn’t have settled for watching her leave. You should have asked her to come watch a documentary with you. Next date, promise me you’ll try to make plans to see her again.”
Now, on Mike’s third date with Julia, the wheels have started to come off the bus.
Whatever the acceptable threshold for Fuck Punch consumption is, Mike has crossed it. His attempts to fight through the haze, though admirable, often fall flat. When Julia mentions she has family in Chicago, Mike can only muster “cool” before Sitko comes over and lightly slaps him on the face. He asks Julia if she smokes pot. She says she doesn’t but she likes to smoke hookah. He then proceeds to ask her if she wants to smoke weed and watch a documentary. Julia is less than impressed.
Still, Mike is charming and at times quick-witted in his own way, and when the date ends he and Julia agree they should meet up for lunch sometime.
Mike has succeeded in being an interesting date for three girls in what is likely the most stressful date setting imaginable for any of them. “If you can do it here,” Newell tells him, channeling his inner motivational speaker, “you can do it anywhere.”
It’s about 11:30 p.m., and the entire UCB audience has packed into a bar next door called Birds. The lights have a red glow, a disco ball still proudly hangs, and pop music from decades past seems to be on permanent loop.
Mike walks up to the bar with eyes at half-mast as Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle With You” blares. He informs an audience member that he just smoked with the cast, and is now pretty stoned to compliment the fact that he's hammered. The audience member laughs and offers to buy Mike a drink.
Emily sits to the left of the bar, chatting with an audience member with dark, gelled hair wearing a blue oxford shirt as Julia entertains two towering audience members a few yards away. Mike sees Aleks enter and tries to strike up a conversation with her, but after about 20 minutes it falters and Aleks slips away.
Whatever connection was formed during that second date, it seems, won’t be continuing tonight.
Another half-hour goes by, and Mike is standing near the front, talking to random audience members. Emily has moved to a private booth to have drinks with friends who came to support her, and Julia is to talking to the guy with the gelled hair and blue oxford. Tonight may not be Mike’s lucky night. It seems his self-described “bad streak” of dating may continue.
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Suddenly, an audience member with a nametag that reads “Tayler” approaches Mike and offers to buy him a drink. Wearing a short black dress with her hair styled into a bob, she seems intrigued by Mike, and soon they’re sitting at a table, leaning in toward each other to converse.
More than an hour passes. The bar starts to clear. Emily and Julia have gone home.
Mike and Tayler, still engrossed in conversation, move to empty barstools and order a drink. Ironically, “Tainted Love” has begun playing as they start making out. Later, after briefly resting his head on the countertop, Mike whispers something in her ear, then they walk out of the bar, he with his arm around her.
They go right, and disappear down Franklin Avenue together into the Hollywood night.