Martin & Orloff
What happens if you take a tragic incidentlets
say, for instance, a suicideand try to make it funny?
Think its impossible? Well, think again, as the masters
of improvisational comedy, the Upright Citizens Brigade, have
pulled out all the stops with their new feature film, Martin
Ian Roberts, Martin and Orloffs star and founding
member of the Upright Citizens Brigade, took some time out
to talk to the press from his hotel in Los Angeles. Roberts
is most commonly known for his part as the hard-ass gay choreographer,
Sparky Polastri, in the teen cheer flick Bring it On.
The genesis of Martin and Orloff sprung from the idea
of taking a tragic movie and warping it scene-by-scene into
a comedy. Unfortunately for the funny bunch, that proved more
difficult than they anticipated. So, the writing trio of Matt
Walsh, Ian Roberts, and wife Katie switched gears.
"How about if we just start with a horrible imagesomething
that seems completely dramatic and tragicand then write
a comedy," Roberts said. "And the whole movie was
written from there linearly. We just started without knowing
what the movie was going to be."
In the opening scene, Martin Flam cleans up his own blood
from the white tiles of his bathroom floor. Martin slit his
wrists after feeling responsible for the death of a man wearing
the eyehole-less egg-roll suit he designed for a commercial
shoot. The film spirals from there and intersperses garish
gags into the already goofy plot.
"We would sit around in Katie and my studio apartment
with Matt, and we would just improvise the stuff. And we would
keep going until we liked the line," Roberts said. "The
whole movie was written by using improvisation."
In the movie, Ian Roberts plays Martin, an uptight promotional
costume designer who is buffeted around by his crazy psychiatrist,
Dr. Orloff (Matt Walsh). Orloff wrangles Martin into mad-cap
situations and has psychiatric "sessions" with him
in the oddest locales: a softball game, a city jail, and a
Roberts, who enjoys playing the more straight-laced characters
in comedy, respects mainstream comedian Ben Stiller,
who has often played the straight man in movies such as Theres
Something About Mary, Meet the Parents, and Zoolander.
"I play a lot of straight men, and I kind of like that,"
Roberts said. "I have no problem with the fact that seemingly
youre not the one getting the laughs. But I think its
a lot of fun to be the guy getting kicked around."
Some of the films tortuously funny gags are taken from
the actors everyday lives. For instance, Dr. Orloffs
friend Keith, a deranged Desert Storm veteran, leaves a little
present in the bathroom sink at every place the group goes,
including Martins mothers house.
"The shit in the sink used to be something that Matt
would joke about. We were both in this tour called Second
City," Roberts said. "When we were on the road,
he used to joke around and come out of a bathroom and say,
Come on, we got to get out of here. I just shit in the
In another scathingly amusing scene, a crane lifts out a
giant, drooping egg roll from the river. The actor wearing
Martins egg-roll costume drowned because the suit had
no eyeholes. The actors death sends Martin to the razors
"We just sort of thought of a ridiculously tragic thing.
Both Walsh and I have done singing telegrams. I had to do
things like dress up like a California raisin and go around
like a mummy at a rich persons Halloween party. Because
of being actors and having those struggling years where you
do ridiculous jobs, that was in our minds."
Martin and Orloff is technically not an Upright Citizens
Brigade movie, since all of the founding members did not write
the script. But all four Brigade members, Amy Poehler,
Matt Besser, Matt Walsh and Ian Roberts, star in the film.
Poehler is part of the "Saturday Night Live" cast,
and Walsh is a correspondent for Comedy Centrals "The
The Upright Citizens Brigade formed in 1990 as an improv
comedy group. Their outlandish improvised sketches have created
a loyal fan base. In 1998, Comedy Central picked up UCB for
three seasons. But to the surprise of many, the show was not
renewed in 2000.
Through the years, UCB has become a production group and
has spawned a theater in New York where many groups and comedians
perform in their theater. "Its become the best
place in New York to see non-stand-up comedy. Its gotten
to the point where were drawing the best stuff to us,
too, because they know its a good place to be seen.
And there is an audience guaranteed just by the fact that
you are performing under our auspices."
The popular comedy theaters extremely student-friendly
prices (weekdays: $5, weekends: $7) make it unique in a city
of over-priced Broadway shows.
The Upright Citizens Brigade has written a film script, but
unfortunately, no one has picked it up yet. Roberts finds
writing to be a task that is less than thrilling. "Although
I can write, it is not like falling out of bed for me. Its
kind of hard work. Even when I did the sketch show, I wrote
all the time. Its just not the most natural thing for
me. Whenever I think of sitting down and being disciplined
and getting down in front of a computer, Id rather be
sitting down watching a movie or taking a walk."
Roberts finds the improv and filmmaking processes wholly
different. The guffaws and chortles that Roberts hears throughout
his improv performances reward him for his talented, lightning-quick
witticisms. With the multiple takes involved in feature filmmaking
and its intrinsically slow process, Roberts sees the satisfaction
in the finished product instead of the process.
Roberts enjoys improv more than TV or film acting for another
reason. In film, the cinematographer and writer can take credit
for the laughs produced by the way the comedy was shot or
the way the script was written.
"I find improv very satisfying, because youre
getting to be a writer and performer at the same time. And
if people respond to it, it is all yours. In the moment, you
keep manipulating the audience. You figure out what they find
is funny, and you give them variations of it. And that is
very satisfying in the moment," Roberts said.
At the end of the film, Martin faces his demons with the
help of Orloffs quirky and unorthodox techniques. In
the end, laughter is the best medicine for Martins problems.
Roberts supremely enjoyed playing the anxious and malleable
"In general, the sort of dynamic I like is the premise
of a fairly normal person trapped in a crazy world,"
Roberts said. "That is what I find funny is somebody
basically being frustrated and driven crazy by something that
he is being subjected to."
According to the 80s synth-pop band Tears for Fears,
its a mad world. And actors like Ian Roberts only remind
us to laugh at ourselves and enjoy the ride.