UCB celebrates the 19th anniversary of the Del Close Marathon.
The Del Close Marathon was created by the founders of United Citizens Brigade after the death of the mentor in 1999. This year marked the 19th anniversary of the commemorative marathon; involving 701 shows and 2651 performers in 33 US states and 5 countries.
Del Close is a founding father of improv comedy, having coached superstar comedians such as Billy Murray, John Belushi, Tina Fey, and UCB’s original four, Amy Poehler, Matt Walsh, Matt Besser, and Ian Roberts. The list barely scratches the surface of Del’s exhaustive influences, and the marathon is an annual tribute to the comedic genius who had shaped the very spirit of today’s improv theater.
A very brief history of improv theater: “The Harold” is a structure Del had created as a necessity for his 60’s San Francisco-based improv group, The Committee. “I took over as the Director of The Committee in 1967. It was the summer of love—Charlie Manson was just down the street and everybody’s hair was very long. Everybody was sharing everything. Everything was done in large groups, sex, theater, politics,” Del explained in an 1986 interview, “My idea of the improvisation company was to get a whole bunch of people out there and find some sort of form or structure, where we could all play at the same time. Not just one person doing a monologue or three people doing a scene they’d been rehearsing.” His vision was to bring as many people together onstage to create a communal, social, and authentic form of art.
Matt Walsh, Matt Besser, Ian Roberts, and Horatio Sanz gathered at the UCB theater in Chelsea on opening day to introduce the marathon and share a few memories of Del Close. He was a hard-to-please tough guy who gave out letter grades after every show. “I’d step off the stage thinking that was a terrific show, and Del would hand me a B minus,” Matt Besser shared, “But that always made us try harder every time.” DCM is not only a memorial for Del, but also a festival to encourage new, aspiring comedians. It’s a productive and communicative space for older and newer comedians to come together and share their passion for the art of comedy.