Outside of the postapocalyptic wasteland that is the stage at UCB’s Cagematch — Los Angeles’ famed battleground for long-form improvisational comedy — all-time record holders and current champs Hebecky Drysbell (73-0) rarely see each other. But if you’ve ever watched the duo onstage, you’d find that hard to believe.
“It would be weird now to meet on Saturday and go to a museum,” says Heather Anne Campbell (SNL, Fox's ADHD, Whose Line Is It Anyway?, Drew Carey's Improv-a-Ganza), who is one half of the two-woman team. Her partner, Rebecca Drysdale (Key & Peele, MTV, Second City, UCB NY, iO West), admits that they initially made an effort to hang out more outside of Cagematch, but at this point it would just ruin their relationship.
The two share an uncanny chemistry onstage — akin to Colin Mochrie and Ryan Stiles of Whose Line Is It Anyway?, or Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. The fast-paced, quick-witted and character-rich brand of improv at which they excel seems to come effortlessly when the duo performs on Wednesdays.
“We have a very specific language that we speak; we’re both nerds,” Drysdale says. Campbell cheerfully points out, “We watched all the same movies and TV shows growing up.” In the professional realm, they’ve both been involved with Comedy Central’s popular sketch show Key & Peele (in different capacities) and, perhaps most notably, are alums of Amsterdam’s Boom Chicago, which is what drove them to team up in the first place.
Campbell started improvising with Drysdale only 73 weeks ago, but she's no stranger to the Cagematch stage or its L.A. chapter’s rankings. After shutting out local improv legends Convoy with 49 consecutive wins as part of Heather & Miles (with Miles Stroth, founder of the Pack Theater) in 2012, Campbell returned to beat her own record with Hebecky Drysbell in 2015 and hasn’t lost since.
“We’re sort of in, I guess you could say, uncharted territory,” says Harrison Brown, who co-hosts the show alongside Ronnie Adrian and Jonny Svarzbein at the theater's Franklin Avenue outpost every Wednesday night at 11 p.m.
“Cagematch has always been about finding the new team that doesn’t have a home somewhere at UCB and giving them stage time [to see] if they can build an audience,” says Svarzbein, otherwise known as “the Scheduler.”
When the cap on 50 consecutive wins was lifted, few people were expecting Hebecky Drysbell to go on to win 23 more shows. But that’s exactly what they did, which now makes them the longest-running team to date — surpassing some of the most memorable names who’ve earned Cagematch fame, including White Women, Shitty Jobs and Cook County Social Club.
Their unprecedented run has the hosts rethinking some of the show’s many rules. “If they lose, retire, what have you, then we’re going to set a permanent cap on 25 or 30 [wins],” Svarzbein says.
In the meantime, you can rest assured that the most important Cagematch rules, set by the tribal council Thunderstruck (the hosts), will remain fairly unchanged. Those rules state that if anyone competing in Cagematch eats a chicken wing onstage, kicks that chicken wing into the audience or is wearing a luchador mask, that person will automatically be “DISQUALIFIED!” as the audience shouts in unison with the hosts. And if any performer breaks these rules, they will be banished to the shadow realm of … “Pasadena.”
These aren’t just hyper-specific and amusing guidelines to keep people away from the suburban snoozetown. They’re also common refrains to the opening segment of the show, echoed by many of the late-night regulars. The show has garnered such a cult following that now some of the fans “are making their own traditions of what to follow with the intro,” says Svarzbein.
“It’s almost like a Mystery Science Theater or Rocky Horror Picture Show kind of thing. They know all the call-and-responses. They know what to say at what times. And there have been times they even surprised us by [saying] the same thing … without any prompting.”
But when it comes to Hebecky Drysbell’s rules, there is only one they swear by:
“All we ever say is: ‘Move fast, play a lot of characters, have fun,’” Drysdale says.
Quickness is the mandate because, as it stands, the duo has only 20 minutes a week to improvise together and put out their best work. To secure a permanent weekly slot on the UCB schedule, they’d have to wait for an opening, and openings are hard to come by. For now, while the uncertainty of performing in a winner-takes-all and loser-goes-home format may be stressful, Campbell and Drysdale aren’t sweating it too much. As far as they’re concerned, they’re happy to simply come out and perform together every week for as long as it lasts.
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“The UCB slogan is ‘don’t think’ and I think the slogan for our show is ‘don’t worry,’” Campbell says, because no matter what the suggestion is or how far-out the scene may go, she is never worried about Drysdale keeping up, and vice versa.
“I never worry. I’ll be like, ‘Hey, the six of you, what do you think?’ Because I know Heather will play all of those [characters],” Drysdale says.
“And neither of us wants to win the show, but there is the joy of upending things,” Campbell adds. “We don’t want to win the game in the scene; we want to win that scene. And the best way to do that is to lose as individuals.”
See Hebecky Drysbell take on Dope Town 3000 (Zora Bikangaga, Shaun Fisher, Greg Smith) on Wed., Nov. 9, at 11 p.m. at UCB Franklin, 5919 Franklin Ave., Hollywood; $5 (tickets often sell out in advance). franklin.ucbtheatre.com/performance/49906.