By Helen Holmes
Like any passionate comedian, some of United Citizen’s Brigade improv up-and-comer Allie Kokesh’s most vivid memories are of completely blowing it in auditions. “I played a drunk person, which is not unusual or funny…it was like a weird pretend that didn’t translate to being funny,” she said. Mistakes aside, Kokesh is in fact a seasoned riot who tears it up regularly with her troupe First Lady. “I have a friend who’s a Juilliard-trained actress, and every time she talks about her process I get lost,” Kokesh said. “Every time I go into auditions, I’m just trying to be the funniest thing ever.” A Trinity College graduate, she’s studied improv on both coasts and balances UCB with odd jobs, which she says provide the fuel for much of her comedic energy. We spoke to Kokesh after a dynamic Wednesday night show to ask about her heroes, her pratfalls and her advice to anyone looking to be the next Steve Martin.
JI: Can anyone take classes at UCB?
A: Yeah, anyone can. You usually start at the 101 level, in either sketch or improv. And they also occasionally host storytelling classes, but it depends on the teachers that are available.
JI: How did you transition from classes to being part of a troupe?
A: There are audition classes for joining troupes. They hold open auditions once a year; in fact the open auditions are coming up on May 16th, and I think they’ll have about 500 people who sign up to audition. The number of spots changes every year. In the fall, they hosted closed auditions with 54 people auditioning, and there were only 4 spots. The time before that there were 11 spots.
JI: Do you guys ever bring some of the ideas that you practice onto the stage?
A: I wish I was that thoughtful when I’m on stage, but it really is just hearing the ideas that you’re generating as a group. Sometimes even if I go out and I’m like “this is definitely what I’m about to say” and the other person says something first, you just have to react to what they’re saying, otherwise it just devolves.
JI: Who inspires you?
A: Steve Martin is a huge deal for me. Mindy Kaling is really inspiring as someone who worked really hard and did the things she loved to do; that’s how she got discovered.
JI: Would you say the audience’s reaction shapes the show as it’s happening?
A: Oh yes, it’s hard because you really just want to do it for your teammates and for the sake of what you are generating in trying to perform, but if I hear laughter I’m like, “Okay, do that again.” Even if you’re doing stand up and you start on a row of jokes and no one reacts, you probably want to stop that row and just move on.
JI: When do you know something you’re performing feels overdone and you need to drop it?
A: As soon as the audience knows. I like performing at the theater a lot because you can’t see most of your audience. You can barely hear anything and sound travels differently when you’re on stage, but you can see the first two rows so clearly, their faces and how they react to what you’re doing on stage. My best bet is trying to ignore it, but if I see someone going “No! What are you doing?” I’m like “Okay, change course. Change course now!”
JI: How much longer do you see yourself doing UCB or comedy?
A: I set the arbitrary goal for myself that by the time I’m 29, I want to have a job that pays me to write comedy. But there’s no money in it now, and there’s no money at UCB, unless you’re on the touring company, which I’m not.
JI: Have any opportunities arisen from UCB?
A: I’ve gotten auditions just for performing…I got an audition for Girl Code just because an intern was in the audience, but I don’t have an agent or a manager. That comes with time.