Through the power of social media, the unwavering nerve of fanboys, and the insatiable need to please crowds, a ragtag comedy outfit fulfilled the unfathomable dream of sharing their stage with wrestling legend Mick Foley. UCBW, the comedy wrestling promotion under the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater’s ever-expanding umbrella, had a watershed night Thursday when Mr. Foley featured in UCBW Cagematch, a hybrid of competitive improvisational comedy and professional wrestling.
The UCB Theatre is no stranger to celebrity, featuring stars of Saturday Night Live on a regular basis and fueling the careers of comedians like Rob Riggle (The Daily Show, The Hangover) and Donald Glover (NBC’s Community). Opening in 1999, the UCB Theatre has gone from an alternative comedy haven for the city’s most offbeat performers to a ripe crop of talent from which casting directors and talent agents can easily pluck.
But what transpired this past Thursday felt like a return to the theater’s underground innocence as scores of MegaFans and improv nerds filed into the “UCBW Arena” for what was guaranteed to be a great show performed largely by unknowns…and for the outside chance that the tweets about Mick Foley appearing were not just a ruse to pack the house. And whereas some audience members of UCBT’s flagship show, Asssscat 3000, often take celebrity appearances for granted, the Cagematch crowd’s group mind, upon seeing Foley in the flesh, may as well have been screaming, “THIS IS F___ING HAPPENING!!!”
Since its inception in February 2006, UCBW has given burgeoning comedians the opportunity to loosely emulate the professional wrestlers they idolized as children. And in the world of alternative comedy, that emulation takes wrestling to a place that mainstream media has yet to allow. Rife with good-natured absurdity and well-meaning profanity, UCBW aims to pay tribute to companies like WWE while improving upon sports entertainment’s tropes and devices in ways that Vince McMahon’s entertainment juggernaut would be insane to consider.
This week’s UCBW Cagematch exemplified the show’s ability to honor wrestling’s most compelling storylines while building from them for a variably more sophisticated audience than your typical ticketholder for WWE Raw. During this season in UCBW, the primary rivalry has been fueled by a hostile takeover of the company, as Buck McMahon, the brother of UCBW CEO Chuck McMahon, bought the company and co-opted it with his own cavalcade of characters that champion short form improvisational comedy (a la Whose Line Is It Anyway?). Naturally, this coup is egregious to UCB zealots because short form improv is pretty much the only kind of comedy that the UCB Theatre does not showcase. So as Buck McMahon’s crew has run roughshod over the UCBW loyalists while championing ‘Freeze’ and ‘Party Quirks,’ audiences’ hatred of CSzW has intensified, making Cagematch a weekly must-see.
The conflict punctuating the CSzW takeover is between UCBW’s most hated BlooperStar, Wall $treet (go figure) and the UCBW Hardcore Champion and fan favorite Whole Lotta Denim (aptly named for his penchant for wearing a whole lot of denim). This week, WLD teamed up with UCBW’s resident frat boy Little Brother to face Wall $treet and his fellow BlooperStar Razor Raymond, who travels exclusively by Razor scooter. And since this match was a warm-up for WLD’s challenge of Wall $treet for his UCBW World Intercontinental Heavyweight Championship of the World at Saturday night’s UCBW AutumnSlamn (sic? Nope!), Mick Foley decided to be the special enforcer for the tag team match.
A know-nothing cynic might think of Foley’s involvement as an undue imposition by a pro wrestler turned novelist turned standup comic, but only if that cynic was unaware of how sinister and many the CSzW BlooperStarz are. Of course, WLD and Lil’ Bro were in dire need of assistance once Wall Street called in (via his trademark Bluetooth device) “Cold Sober” Steve Boston, Dollywood Hogan, late-90s Sting’s racially charged upgrade known as Black Jacket, and corporate mascot Burrito (brought to you by Chipotle). Somehow out of the sightline of Referee Robot Riley, they charged the stage to a chorus of audience boos and administered a textbook beatdown to the show’s heroes.
But the tables turned when reinforcements came in the form of UCBW’s MegaStars Beach Cop, “The Manly Man” Randy Manly, Bedbug, and Big Sister. When Foley came to, after having white dust blown into his face, he exacted his own brand of justice with his old friend Mr. Socko! The crowd’s eruption erupted when Socko’s grip alternated from Wall Street’s mouth to Razor Raymond’s testículos…and back…multiple times.
Along with the hilarious wrestling action (complete with broadcast announcers and invisible ring ropes off of which the competitors bounce), the night included two talented improv teams each performing for 25 minutes and some expected stellar mic work from Mick Foley, including a bit between Foley and “The Manly Man” Randy Manly that took place during the ballot count that would decide the fate of the competing improv teams. Not bad for a $5 ticket, right?
At the end of the night, Foley told the audience that he hopes to return to the UCB Theatre some day. Needless to say, the invitation from UCBW is wide open. And, hopefully, the possibilities for where UCBW goes from here are, too.
Photographs courtesy of Arin Sang-UraiUCBW Cagematch takes place every Thursday at the UCB Theater at 307 West 26th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues. And don’t miss the season finale “pay-per-view” UCBW AutumnSlamn Saturday, October 22nd at Midnight. Tickets are $5 at the door, and reservations can be made at UCBT’s AutumnSlamn page.