by Amanda Zambito
The relationship between the comedian and the audience member is a very peculiar one. Most people are acquainted with the comfortable side: being an audience member. It’s one whose sole role is to be served jokes and produce—or not produce—the laughs.
But how does it feel to be on the other end of the relationship? To be the comedian on stage, who’s every word and mannerism are being judged by people you can’t even see?
Allie Kokesh, an improv comedian at the Upright Citizens Brigade, shows that being a comedian is about maximizing fun for both parties. Kokesh is pursuing her dreams in the field she loves—comedy—at a premiere comedic theatre in the country—the Upright Citizen’s Brigade. This theatre brings the “best improv, sketch, and standup in the country” to New York and Los Angeles every night of the week.
What more could she ask for? Well, maybe a job writing scripts. But until then, Kokesch is serving her audience with an absurd amount of laughs and invaluable insight into the glamor, pressure, embarrassment, and more that comes with being a comedian in the Upright Citizen’s Brigade.
Money and Power: How’d you get started in improv and Upright Citizen’s Brigade?
Allie Kokesh: I started doing improv in college. I went to Trinity College in Hartford, CT. I wasn’t finding the theatre program to be daring and risky, so I started doing improv and fell in love with it. The professor said, “If you want to keep doing comedy, go to the Upright Citizen’s Brigade in New York.”
MP: What’s your favorite part of UCB?
AK: The community. All of my friends are here. I love it because I get to work with all of my friends and it’s also great because it’s a community of people who have a passion for comedy and are working hard and turning out scripts and web-series. So you always have someone to work with.
MP: Are you ever lost for words?
AK: Yes, I am sometimes but not on stage. There’s no time on stage. If you’re over-thinking it, then you’re at a loss for words.
MP: So it comes out naturally?
AK: Yeah. That’s kind of a UCB thing: “don’t think.”
MP: If you don’t like the way a scene is going, can you steer it in a direction you want to take it?
AK: That assumes that you have total control of the situation and also it kind of under-minds your scene partner, in a way. It’s supposed to be collaborative. Also, if you’re on stage and you’re thinking, “This isn’t going right,” you’re the problem, not the scene. You should be focused on what’s going on on-stage.
MB: Does the audience’s reaction help shape the show as it’s happening?
AK: Oh yeah. It’s hard, because you really just want to do it for your teammates and for the sake of what you are generating and trying to preform. But I hear laughter and I’ll be like, “Ok, do that again.” It tends to guide and shape the show.
MB: But you also don’t want it to become over-done. How do you know when to drop a joke?
AK: I don’t think know when to drop it. I guess you just feel it. I like performing at this theater a lot because you can barely hear anything. Sound travels in a weird way in this theater. But you can see those first two rows so clearly, like all their faces and how they’re reacting to what you’re doing on stage. So my best is to just try and ignore it. But if I see that one of them is like, “Oh no, what are you doing?!,” I’m like, “Ok, change course right now.”
MP: Do you ever take it personal if people don’t laugh at your jokes?
AK: Yeah, but I think I’m just sensitive. Now that I’ve been doing it long enough I can usually say, “Ok. That’s enough.” But a bad show would kill me for two weeks, and a good show would keep me buoyed for two days. So when you see that, you think, “Ok, I just need to let it be.”
MP: Describe a situation in which you bombed the worst.
AK: Oh my gosh, I think I can always remember bombing in auditions the most cause that’s when I care the most. The first time I auditioned for Herald in 2011 I bombed pretty significantly. But I was pretty “green” and hadn’t been performing a lot.
MP: What went wrong?
AK: I played a drunk person, which is not unusual or funny. It was a weird “pretend.” It didn’t feel comfortable in the audition either, so it didn’t translate.
MP: Is there a certain type of person that would think, “Yes UCB is for me”? Is there a typical audience member?
AK: I don’t know who the typical audience member is because I’ve always been someone who has been so deeply interested in comedy and improv, especially at the UCB. So I’m obviously a biased audience participant. But I would say the type of person who is attracted to doing improv is someone that’s just kind, and intelligent, and ready to experience basically playing “pretend” with grown-ups. I think you just have to have a fun attitude for it.