An unprecedented battle of improv awesomeness took place at the Upright Citizen's Brigade Theater two nights ago.
Since its LA chapter opened in 2005, UCB has been hosting a Cagematch every Wednesday night at 11 p.m. Two teams compete by performing one 20-minute improv set each. They can do whatever they want during those 20 minutes, except "kick a chicken wing into the audience" or "wear a luchador mask," according to the rules. Most teams choose whatever form of long-form improv they feel they do best: Harold, Montage, Armando, Deconstruction etc. The audience votes to choose a winner, who will come back the next week to meet a new challenger.
If a team wins 15 consecutive Cagematches, The Gauntlet begins and the reigning team only plays former winners. There have been plenty of long runs, but three-man-team Convoy (Alex Fernie, Alex Berg and Todd Fasen), who now have a weekly show at UCB on Thursdays at 11 p.m., hold the record by far with 44 consecutive weekly wins. No team had even gotten close -- until now.
Heather and Miles, the two-person team made up of Heather Anne Campbell (whose credits include SNL, Amsterdam's Boom Chicago, Drew Carey and the Improv All-Stars) and Miles Stroth (Second City, member of the seminal improv team The Family, and a teacher & performer at Improv Olympic), won their 44th consecutive Cagematch last week, and returned Wednesday night to play none other than... Convoy.
The winner of this epic Cagematch would hold the new record at 45 consecutive wins. AND BECOME KING OF THE WORLD! Maybe not, but you gotta admit, it's quite a feat. "I think the UCB Cagematch is the one match in town where it's really about the show and not about which team brought the audience," said Stroth, who runs his own improv school now, in our conversation after the show. The Miles Stroth Workshop. "It's really a credit to the audience. They take choosing a winner seriously."
The line of fans waiting for tickets stretched all along Franklin Ave. and up the block behind the theater, but the competitors themselves were not fazed by the epic-ness of the night. "None of us are particularly invested in the competitive side of it," said Alex Berg in an email the day before the match. "This show is about us saying, 'Hey, you're breaking our record! That's great! Let's do a show together and celebrate it!""
Campbell and Stroth were equally lighthearted about the competitive side of things and each other. When I asked Campbell the day before the show how confident she was going up against the legend that is Convoy, she said, "In improv, the only thing you can be confident in is your scene partner. And if Miles doesn't die of old age by tomorrow evening, then I'm confident that we'll have a good show together." Miles added, "I'm confident that I will be tired. I think we'll be OK, though, because Heather is not as heavy as she looks."
The show began with Harrison Brown, the weekly host, waving an American flag and physically shaking and intimidating the already amped-up audience into a cheering, stomping mob. Harrison introduced the teams. They greeted each other with a high five that swung down to a low five, and 40 minutes of great improv began.
Up next: How did each team fare?
The men of Convoy are quick-witted and fearless. They have vast resources of knowledge on every topic from science to history to pop culture, and they are able to dredge up trivia from these fields to enrich a scene with authenticity or humor at a moment's notice. Though they bank tons of laughs for inserting their dry witted selves into a catalog of crazy situations, they are unabashed to dance on chairs, stick their faux boners in each others faces, and commit to being chickens. One minute they'll get a laugh for calling out a team member using a record player in a middle-class setting during a time period only a few years after its invention when only the rich would have owned one, and in another for getting a hard on repeatedly while wearing sweatpants in public.
Heather and Miles, while just as intellectually nimble, are much more character driven in their creation of worlds, conflicts, and interweaving story lines. Their pace is faster and, as there are only two of them, each one will often play multiple characters in a single scene, each with a distinct personality and physicality. At one point in the show they, almost simultaneously, played two jittery cops and the world-worn couple pulled over for giving a hand job while driving. Campbell is especially adept at committing to the hair-pulling madness of one character in one moment, then calmly reflecting on the situation from another character's perspective in the next.
One audience member described choosing between Convoy and Heather and Miles as choosing between "high intellect and beautiful chaos." But a choice MUST be made. The votes were counted and the audience has spoken. The new UCB Cagematch Grand Champion is.....Heather and Miles.
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Each week, Cagematch host Harrison Brown edits together a recap video and posts it to www.ucbcagematch.com. The Heather and Miles vs. Convoy video is below:
To attend next week's Cagematch and see Heather and Miles meet a new challenger visit www.losangeles.ucbtheatre.com for reservations. The $5 tickets usually sell out a week in advance. There is a waitlist.