January 30, 2006
By Jon Shurkin
Seeing the UCB: A.S.S.S.S.C.A.T. show was, to once again put it in musical terms, like seeing some super group playing a small, intimate theater in an effort to get back to their roots. Why? Because the cast of this show included “SNL” cast members Amy Poehler, Rachel Dratch and Horatio Saenz, as well as Will Arnett (Gob from “Arrested Development”!!!! ) and not-as-famous Matt Besser (grandson of an original Three Stooge, Joe) doing improv for over an hour. All this in the tiny and intimate Eureka Theater.
The show was frickin’ great.
The cast was on, barely breaking a sweat throughout their performance, and almost completely in-synch with each other. Every bit that they did was brought to an almost inevitable conclusion and even the bits that started off rough eventually picked up. And whatever they did was hilarious.
Their most elaborate bit, and the one that showed just how on they were, started off with Amy as a boss attempting to fire Rachel for having a drinking problem, which somehow turned into Rachel having a problem with egg nog, and which led to a scene at the office holiday party and the reason for Rachel’s dismissal, a discussion as to the true meaning of egg nog, followed by a retelling of the Christmas story with egg nog as the driving force (Horatio and Amy were the three wise men and Rachel the camel), and it all somehow came together and ended with the show’s running joke about there being a vibrator shaped like Rachel. Or we think it was something like that– things were going so fast and furious it was hard to keep track. And frankly, we had trouble hearing half the bits because the audience was laughing so loud.
What made the show so special is that Amy, Horatio, and Rachel were pretty much chosen to be on “SNL” due to their sketch comedy/improv skills. You would figure that since “SNL” is pretty much the pinnacle of sketch comedy, they’d hire only the best. So seeing them perform like this is a way of seeing just what it was that got them on the show in the first place. In fact, it’s a chance to see them unfettered by typically lame-ass writing and beaten-to-death recurring characters. Even all the “SNL” haters out there have to admit that both Rachel and Amy are extremely talented and this show proved without a shadow of the doubt just how funny they could be once let loose. And as for Horatio, yes, he broke out in laughter a few too many times and didn’t do much, but what he did do was just kind of hang out in the outskirts of whatever was happening and jump in with just a few things that was both dead-on funny and usually completely filthy (like a plane about to crash because the pilots killed themselves in an auto-erotic asphyxiation accident). And Matt, the only cast-member not on “SNL” or a dearly beloved, doomed TV show, more than held his own and was as funny as the others. It was, however, a little weird to think that while joking about Bono, they actually knew Bono.
The show also featured Will as the monologist, which basically meant he started the show and did a break half-way through with a long bit of improv standup (more like something out of the Storyteller thing at Cafe Du Nord), for this show about the given theme of drugs. Out of all the cast members, he was the only one who seemed to sweat a bit and had trouble finding his story (his bit about drugs kind of rambled until he turned it into a rant against his parents) but did manage to tell a hilarious story about trying to smuggle drugs through Europe. And no, he didn’t enter the stage to the “Final Countdown.” Either way, it didn’t really matter because, as the t-shirt some of the audience members were wearing said,
“We Love Gob!”
Another great thing about the show is that Will, Amy, Matt, and Horatio all hung out outside the theater before and after the show, taking photographs, answering questions, and signing autographs. Not that we’d get to hear about any diva-like behavior or green m & m type requests on their contract, but all of them seemed to be having a good time and pretty cool about the whole thing. Not what you’d expect from SNL cast members who haven’t had a great reputation for being all that cool, more like drug-addled, ego-driven, and prone to making completely dreadful movies.
Having the unenviable task of opening up for them was LA improv group Pretty, Pretty Pony, which for them was a little like having to open the Who circa 1971. They gave it the old college try, however, and put a lot of vim and vigor into their performance, maybe too much. They never let a bit develop or run for very much at all as members were constantly running in and out to take other people’s places and/or change things around. It could have been due to a lack of confidence in their abilities or maybe everyone was out trying to get discovered, but it was more noticeable compared to the rather lengthy bits of improv displayed by the UCB afterwards. They managed to come off with enough good lines and the occasional laugh-out-loud funny bit to keep the audience merrily entertained.