Tracking the laughs

Improv’s Upright Citizens Brigade is quick on its feet

Special to the Union Leader
September 26. 2018 12:37PM
Upright Citizens Brigade has served as a proving ground for comedians who later found success on TV sketch comedy shows like “Saturday Night Live” and “MadTV.” 
If you go...
WHAT: Upright Citizens Brigade Touring Company

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday

WHERE: Redfern Arts Center at Keene State College

COST: $25; $7 for KSC students
Info: 358-2168 or

Improv requires being quick of foot and mind.

Lily Du, a cast member of the Upright Citizens Brigade Touring Company, talked about the constant juggling act on stage.

“I’m keeping track of time, and trying to remember comedic ideas from the audience,” she said. “I’m tracking what’s happening in the current scene, (and) bigger picture places I want to take the scene and show.”

The Brooklyn-based performer also pays attention to how the audience is reacting to the material. Occasionally her mind wanders and she thinks “stray thoughts here and there.”

For example, out of nowhere she might think about what she had for lunch or how she feels about comedian Pete Davidson’s engagement to pop star Ariana Grande.

The reference to “Saturday Night Live” reference isn’t as random as it might sound: Davidson is a SNL cast member, while alumnae Amy Poehler was one of the four driving forces behind the early days of the Upright Citizen’s Brigade, which has served as a proving ground for sitcom and sketch comedy artists.

The Brigade will visit the Redfern Arts Center at Keene State College at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

For Du, who joined the group in 2016, one of the main joys of improv stems from its collaborative nature.

“We’re only able to create our shows by building off our teammates, so it’s a delight to see what our combined minds can mix up,” she said.

There are challenges, too, with her biggest being “staying present and trying to leave (the) day’s feelings, fears and insecurities off the stage,” she said.

“What I bring onto the stage with me mentally and emotionally is what I’m going to be improvising with,” she said. “I’m the one most likely to get in my own way at that point.”

In preparing for a show, Du said she tries to stay hydrated and dress in clothes that make it easy to move. A half hour before the show, she and her cast mates often warm up as a group, although that does not always go as planned.

“Sometimes we’re crammed for time and we’ll just do a verbal game on our walk to the stage,” she said. “We all know each other really well … We’ve probably just spent hours on the road together leading up to the show, so we’re all pretty keyed into each other.”

Born in Montreal and raised in Rockville, Md., Du “watched a lot of comedy, including the Upright Citizens Brigade show on Comedy Central,” she said.

After college she moved to New York City for a finance job, but soon became “panicked” at the prospect of that career for the rest of her life.

“I figured I’d need some hobbies so I signed up for an improv class at night, figuring I’d love it or hate it,” she said. “I loved it, and it kept on going from there.”

Du said she looks forward to performing for New Hampshire audiences.

“They could see us do a whole scene based on a story or text that they themselves share with us,” she said. “Each show is completely different.

“I want them to laugh a lot and be amazed we made it all up on the spot,” she added. “I want them to think, ‘How did they do that?’ followed by, ‘I want to learn how to do that.’”

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