Upright Citizens Brigade Closing

When the coronavirus pandemic started shutting down various entertainment venues, the famed Upright Citizens Brigade improv and sketch comedy theater was quick to shutter their doors. But it also came with unfortunate layoffs for theater employees in Los Angeles and New York in order to save as much money as possible while there weren’t any shows to bring in revenue. However, it appears that wasn’t enough to stay afloat in New York, because UCB has announced the permanent closure of their theater in Hell’s Kitchen and their training center on Eighth Avenue.

The Upright Citizens Brigade sent out an e-mail announcing the closure of the two New York City locations they were using for improv and sketch comedy shows, as well as comedy classes. UCB founders Matt Besser, Amy Poehler, Ian Roberts, and Matt Walsh explained in the e-mail:

“Given the indefinite shutdown of all theaters and schools in both Los Angeles and New York City and the anticipated slow and uncertain return to normal when restrictions are lifted, we cannot afford to continue on in our New York City leases. Terminating the New York leases is not a cure-all for the financial health of the organization, but one of many changes we will need to make as we restructure our organization moving forward.”

This comes after UCB was already having trouble with their finances as they grew in size, especially in New York. In 2018, several staff members were laid off, including employees on the sales and marketing side of things. In 2019, UBC shut down the East Village theater location it occupied for eight years, apparently due to the high cost of rent, property taxes and more. It appears similar concerns have made it impossible for UCB to sustain their growth during these uncertain times.

The good news is that UCB isn’t abandoning New York, where so many talented comedians got their start and became household names. The e-mail sent out by UCB added:

“The UCB is not leaving New York City. The school and the theater will continue on in a pared-down form, which will be very similar to how we operated when we first started in NYC over 20 years ago.”

The reference to their roots in New York City is an important one, and they made sure to hit again later in the e-mail by reiterating:

“We understand that these decisions will have a negative impact on many people but paring down to the size we were when we started is our best chance for survival. It will allow us to continue to serve as much of the community as possible, rather than simply to shutter the NYC arm of the organization.”

When UCB first started, it felt like a makseshift comedy club, one that was driven by a pure passion for comedy. That passion never left, but clearly the success of the UCB name and their growth as a large comedy community made operating the theater much more complicated, and it sounds like it maybe wasn’t managed as carefully or thoughtfully as it could have been (you can read all about that in this breakdown by Vulture). Hopefully this return to UCB’s low budget roots, albeit unexpectedly, will keep the New York comedy scene from losing this important institution.

You can read the full e-mail that the UCB sent out to their community below.

***

Dear UCB Community,

It is with tremendous regret and sadness that we inform you that, due to the unforeseen disaster that is COVID-19, we have made the heart wrenching, but necessary, decision to close down the UCB Hell’s Kitchen Theater and the 8th Avenue UCB Training Center in New York City. This is devastating to us, but for some time now, even in a normal, robust economy, we have barely been able to pay the high rents in New York City for the Hell’s Kitchen Theater and the Training Center. Given the indefinite shutdown of all theaters and schools in both Los Angeles and New York City and the anticipated slow and uncertain return to normal when restrictions are lifted, we cannot afford to continue on in our New York City leases. Terminating the New York leases is not a cure-all for the financial health of the organization, but one of many changes we will need to make as we restructure our organization moving forward.

The UCB is not leaving New York City. The school and the theater will continue on in a pared-down form, which will be very similar to how we operated when we first started in NYC over 20 years ago.
We love our relationship with SubCulture, and we are working with them on a path forward to continuing our shows in New York City.

We will also continue to offer as many classes as we have students who are interested in taking them. However, they will be taught at various locations across the city that we will rent on a per-class basis.

We will continue to serve the New York City community to the fullest extent we can. We are open to the possibility of again having our own facilities in New York in the future if we can find an economically feasible way to do so.

We want you to know that our decisions regarding NYC were not made lightly or without careful consideration of the people affected by them. We understand that these decisions will have a negative impact on many people but paring down to the size we were when we started is our best chance for survival. It will allow us to continue to serve as much of the community as possible, rather than simply to shutter the NYC arm of the organization.

We realize that UCB Hell’s Kitchen was a special place for so many of you. For some, it was the first place you performed improv, for others, it was your home away from home. Throughout our over 20 years as theater owners, we have had to move on many occasions, and each time has been incredibly painful. We know that the UCB NYC community, in particular, has had to suffer several changes and moves in the past decade. If we have learned one thing throughout this process, it is that the space is only as good as the people who fill it. Moving forward, we are hopeful that we can slowly grow to offer space and opportunities to as many New Yorkers as we can.
The Hell’s Kitchen space was home to many amazing shows and performers. We thank the staff for their hard work and commitment, especially our artistic director Michael Hartney for his tireless dedication.

We understand that this email will bring up a lot of feelings and even more questions. We ask for your patience as we try to institute new policies. We will keep you informed as best we can along the way. The UCB4 has heard your feedback asking for better communication, and we are committed to doing a better job moving forward.
Thank you to everyone in the Upright Citizens Brigade community for your love of improv and passion for the art of comedy. Know that we are trying to continue to offer services and opportunities to as many people as we can. Our hearts go out to all the people who will be impacted by our downsizing. We wish everyone in the UCB community health, success, and artistic fulfillment.

Sincerely,

Matt Besser, Amy Poehler, Ian Roberts, Matt Walsh
Founders of the Upright Citizens Brigade

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