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Volume 72, Issue 55, Monday, November 6, 2006

Life & Arts

'Brigade' attacks with raw humor

Essentials

Zach Lee 

Before Ned Arnel Mencia took on the name Carlos and rode to fame on the coattails of Dave Chapelle, Comedy Central was home to one of the most refreshing skit comedy shows on television: Upright Citizens Brigade. 

The show, which is based on the improvisational sketch comedy of its stars, Matt Besser, Amy Poehler, Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh, was based on skits that seemed completely unrelated but that were tied together in the end of each episode by some common thread. Some of the randomness of the sketches could be compared to Family Guy, though UCB was not animated.

Like so many of the best things in life, however, UCB was gone too quickly, only lasting for three seasons (1998-2000) before falling by the wayside in the cutthroat world of television comedy. And in another truly cruel sign that UCB still has not gotten the respect it deserves, only the first season has been released on DVD in 2003.

But that one season is a showcase of comic genius that should be in the collection of every true comedy connoisseur.

Those unfamiliar with the series should know that the main characters are secret agents "with no government ties and unlimited resources" who only want to cause chaos and upset the status quo. They try to do this through schemes that run the gamut from fermenting a children's revolution to changing the national currency to oak leaves.

There are points of the collection that some viewers might find to be base and sophomoric the second episode is titled "Poo Stick" but those viewers only need to examine the episode more carefully. It pokes fun at gun control with the episode's main prop (a stick with dog feces on the end), and one of the episode's sketches has a running theme making fun of Disney musicals and the ridiculous words anthropomorphic garden shears would or would not sing. Certain little-known Hollywood facts also pepper the dialogue. For example, in Star Wars, the Millennium Falcon was not a bird. 

Of course, if that kind of humor doesn't work for you, you could always laugh at the base and sophomoric stuff.

And even though UCB didn't tackle race in the same flamboyantly offensive way Mencia does, it definitely covered the topic, especially in "Saigon Suicide Show," in which agents of UCB are accused of being "No. 1 racists" after a show meant to bring people together goes awry. More than anything, the episode satirizes political correctness as something almost as racist as racism, though it does touch on one form of discrimination that Mencia or Chapelle has yet to discuss: discrimination against astronauts or "astro-nazis" as one closed-minded audience member shouts out.

That's the kind of humor that keeps Adult Swim open all night on Cartoon Network.

Explicit references to pop culture are few and far between, but several historical figures are part of the action in "Time Machine," an episode in which a character goes back in time to play poker with Jesus and Harry Truman. Even comedy snobs would find it hard to hold in a chuckle when faux-archive footage of Albert Einstein rolling around under a rug runs while a voice over of his recorder has him listing daily activities and continually asserting that he must stop masturbating.

Fans know that there are far too many gut-busting scenes to list one-by-one, and rumor has it that Comedy Central will only put the second and third seasons on DVD if sales of the first season meet certain expectations.

So go buy yourself a copy.

Send comments to dcshobiz@mail.uh.edu

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