Improv comics bring craft to local theater

By From page B1 | January 24, 2014

FAIRFIELD — The fourth of five children, Fran Gillespie learned early on that making people laugh got her attention.

“When you have that many siblings, you have to do something to stand out,” she said.

Gillespie is one of four members of the Upright Citizens Brigade, which will stop in Vacaville for an all-improv show Thursday.

The premise is simple. Gillespie and her fellow comics will choose someone from the audience, interview them for inspiration, then tackle the answers in comic situations.

“We’ll get a word and go,” said Gillespie, a 10-year member of the Upright Citizens Brigade. “It’s all made up on the spot.”

Honesty from the interviewee is key, she said. Humans love to hear about other people’s day-to-day lives.

While some people feel they don’t have much to share, Gillespie said they do. She has yet to meet someone with a boring life.

The Chicago native moved to New York after high school to be part of the theater group started by Amy Poehler and other comics. Family didn’t understand why she didn’t stay in Chicago and join up with The Second City comedy group. After all, her mother was a classmate of Bill Murray.

After her first show with the Upright Citizens Brigade, Gillespie said she was hooked. And there was no Plan B.

“It seems like this is what I feel competent doing,” she said. “It’s something I have a knack for.”

It’s not alway easy, she said. The competition is tough for the jobs. Burnout can happen. Keeping material fresh is a must.

When Gillespie feels she’s not doing her best, she’ll step away briefly until she feels on top of her game again, she said.

Working with comics trained through the Upright Citizens Brigade training center makes the work much easier, she said. Particularly when it comes to improv.

“Everybody is working with the same vocabulary, the same tools,” Gillespie said. “It doesn’t take long to adjust to other people’s style of play.”

About a year ago, Gillespie said goodbye to New York and moved to Los Angeles. She teaches classes for the Upright Citizens Brigade as well as being part of the touring company and performing at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Hollywood.

Gillespie can only guess at what she’d be doing if she weren’t in comedy.

“I really like kids,” she said. “Maybe I would be a teacher. But I think I’d still feel there was something I needed to do.”

She grew up in the era of Jim Carrey, obsessed with the “Ace Ventura” movies. When Gillespie could stay up late enough, she’d catch episodes of “Saturday Night Live.”

Today, it’s Tina Fey, Poehler, Louis CK and David Sedaris. Gillespie sees Poehler at the theater and training center.

“She is very involved,” she said. “She’s one of the nicest people. She’s everything you want her to be.”

Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.


Upright Citizens Brigade Touring Company

  • 8 p.m. Thursday
  • Vacaville Performing Arts Theatre, 1010 Ulatis Drive
  • 469-4013
  • www.vpat.net
Amy Maginnis-Honey

Amy Maginnis-Honey

Amy Maginnis-Honey joined the staff of the Daily Republic in 1980. She’ll tell you she was only 3 at the time. Over the past three decades she’s done a variety of jobs in the newsroom. Today, she covers arts and entertainment and writes for the Living and news pages.

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