The legendary improv comedy troupe The Upright Citizen Brigade (UCB) NY has a new artistic director, Michael Hartney.
A leader in the LGBTQ community, Hartney is working to bring even more queer comedy shows to the UCB lineup; shows like Here & Queer, The Best of Queerball, and We Will Slay Bells.
night night everyone I’m going to use Bradley Cooper’s flicking tongue during the “sha-la-la-la-la-la-lah-lalalalalalalalala-low” close-up as my pillow this eve— Michael Hartney (@MichaelHartney) February 25, 2019
Hartney co-created the Characters Welcome house team and has spent years on Harold Night, Lloyd Night, and Maude Night. Hartney is currently doing musical improv with Rumpleteaser, and in the past he’s directed running shows Pop Stars Are Dumb (But We Love Them) and Shkreli! Portrait of a Pharma Bro.
Hartney was one of 2016’s Comedy Central Comics to Watch, and did the 2018 NBC Late Night Writers Workshop, as well as performing in the New Faces – Characters showcase at the 2018 Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal.
Hartney’s TV credits include The Break With Michelle Wolf, 30 Rock, and The Who Was? Show. He was also a staff writer on TV Land’s late night show Throwing Shade.
Towleroad spoke to Hartney.
TLRD: How long have you been doing this? And when did you start?
MH: I’ve been the Artistic Director for just a few months. I started after Labor Day last year. I’ve been doing comedy in NYC for 16 years. I took my first UCB class in 2003, joined my first UCB house team in 2009, and started teaching at UCB in 2012.
How do you plan to shape the future of UCB?
This question is massive! To me, the UCB Theatre is like the Group Theatre in the 1930s and our training center is like the Strasberg Institute, only for comedy. We use a system, a method, that works. Everything we do here revolves around a concept called “The Game of the Scene,” and to me, that’s what sets us apart from the pack. Shows and performers come and go, but Game is our constant. So when I’m in front of my cauldron in my wizard hat, shaping the future of this place, that’s at the front of my mind. What I’m excited about for the future is the evolving makeup of our theatre. When I first began seeing shows and taking classes at UCB, there were literally two gay performers. Two. There were very few women and people of color on teams. And though we still have a long, long way to go, it also feels good to acknowledge that we’ve come a long way towards representing diverse voices at UCB. A cool thing that is happening right now is what I call “identity” shows: shows with all-queer, all-Asian, all-South Asian casts, etc. That’s exciting and it’s bringing new faces to our theatre both onstage and in the audience. Seven nights in a row of the same type of show is boring; seeing just how many different ways game can be played from so many different POVs is positively thrilling.
Why is improv important?
Studying and practicing improv keeps your mind sharp, your senses engaged, and your heart open. Watching it just makes you laugh. And I don’t know about you, but I need every reason to laugh I can find these days.
Watch Hartney on The Break with Michelle Wolf, below.
The Upright Citizens Brigade was founded and is currently owned by Amy Poehler, Matt Besser, Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh. With two theaters in New York and two theaters in Los Angeles, the UCB continues to offer the best and most innovative improv and sketch comedy every day of the week on both coasts. Performers who have gained success continue to lend their talents to the theater and accredited training centers in both New York and Los Angeles. Notable alumni include Abbi Jacobson, Ilana Glazer, Rob Corddry, Paul Scheer, Nick Kroll, Nicole Byer, and many more.