A Fool's Guide to the Del Close Marathon Improv Festival
Once a year the UCB4 (Amy Poehler, Matt Besser, Matt Walsh and Ian Roberts) put on a huge improv festival in New York City, bringing together comedy performers from all over the world to do 56 straight hours of improv and other funny things. This is a fools errand. No one on their right minds would get excited to be up for 3 days in a row to drive themselves crazy with waiting in line, sitting on the floor for 5 hours, laughing themselves insane and planning out the best strategy to see every celebrity possible. Yet, for the first time ever, I will be taking this task upon myself as I attend the 17th annual DCM next weekend.
Having never actually attended this festival before, I probably shouldn't be giving advice, but as I have become a straight up improv nerd over the last two months of my time in New York, I have come to fully understand and get involved with this legendary event. I was lucky enough to get a volunteer spot for this year, which means in exchange for working an 8-hour shift, I get into the festival for free and access to the performer's party space, which is where the improvisors get drunk on beer, eat sandwiches and can hang out, dance and talk with their peers.
So in order to enjoy this epic event, planning is a huge part of the process. How does one fully utilize their 56 hours running around New York trying to attend the best shows possible? After talking to many people and gathering the most information I could, I've found that there is no one perfect way of how to do this, but I can try to explain the way I'll be planning out the weekend.
The Del Close Marathon website is the best place to start. This is where you'll find out all the basic facts you need to know like where to buy your weekend pass and premium show tickets. If you go to the schedule page, you are likely to get overwhelmed! There are so many shows to chose from, but how do you decide what to see and when? A friend told me the best way to go about figuring out your own DCM schedule is to not check the schedule page first, but instead go to the performers link and scroll down the list until you see a name you want to see. Next to their name will be the shows they are performing in.
For example, I really want to see Ben Schwartz (best known as Jean Ralphio in Parks and Recreation). He is listed as performing in WUCB: Radio in the Dark, The Camping Trip, Middleditch + Schwartz, Hot Sauce, and Shitty Jobs DCM17 @SVA. I would write down all of these shows on my list of shows I want to see. After checking which of the performers are doing what shows, I would then go back to the schedule and see when these shows are so I can make my own calendar. I'm not even done setting my schedule yet, but here's an example of what my Friday will be.
Friday, June 26
- 5:30-6pm @ UCB Chelsea - Five Dudes
- 6-7:30pm - break to get in line for Broad City live
- 7:30-8:20pm @ FIT - Broad City Live
- 8:30-9pm @ UCB Chelsea - Middleditch + Schwartz
- 9pm-9:30 @ Magnet - Mantzoukas Brothers
- 9:30-10pm @ UCB Chelsea - The Stepfathers
- 10-11pm - break to travel to East Village
- 11-11:20 @ 4th Street Theatre - PETER
- 11:20-the night is done @ the Party Space
This schedule is actually a little overeager because it will mostly likely be impossible to get into a show at UCB Chelsea after Broad City live unless I've been outside standing in line for a few hours before the show, but it's always good to set a plan for the night with options. And if you can't get into a certain theatre, especially the more popular venues, there are still multiple other places to go see shows. They might not have celebrities in their shows, but you could find your new favorite improv troupe by checking out some of the indie teams.
So after you set your schedule, you're not even close to done. Next is mapping how your routes to each theatre, deciding how early in advance you're going to get in line, figuring out if it's worth it to spend the night outside and utilizing your wristband in the best way possible. The savvy attendee can attend the premium shows for free (which are usually $20) if they make sure they are within the first 10 people in the standby line. Once you enter most of the theatres (other than the premium show venues), you can stay inside until you get kicked out for the cleanings, which only happen a few times a day, which means if you wanted to get into a certain show that isn't until 11pm, but didn't want to stand in the line outside all day, you could go in at 6pm and just hang out all night.
The strategizing options are endless. There is no way to see it all, but you can certainly try if you plan right. More tips include making sure you have friends with you so you can leave the line to go to the bathroom or get food. Decide if you're looking to either get the most for your money by seeing as many shows as possible or just going for the big names because you could be outside in line all day just to get into a performance and only see one show per day that way, or you could instead go check out the indie teams and see dozens of shows in one day and not have to wait in a line. Either way, the weekend is going to be crazy, comedy people are insane, I am excited and it's just a time for us theatrical types to gather in the name of our patron improv saint Del Close and celebrate this art form of improv that he spent so much of his life trying to enhance.
So if you do decide to be a fool and attend this year's Del Close Marathon, godspeed to you. I wish us both luck in navigating this madness and am hoping for the best weekend possible. I'll definitely be recapping it at the end with all my observations and hopefully pick up some better tips for next year.