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Upright Citizens Improv Course a Success

Sixteen Emerson College Los Angeles (ELA) students will hit the stage to perform improvisational sketch comedy on Wednesday, December 2, at 8:00 pm to showcase everything they have learned from taking the first-ever Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) course at ELA.

The showcase caps weeks of training the students have completed, learning fundamentals of long-form improvisation such as agreement, active listening, and playing characters. The course was co-taught by Assistant Professor Brad Lemack and UCB veteran Drew DiFonzo Marks ’05.

“I have a lot of faith in these kids,” said DiFonzo Marks. “I even invited my girlfriend to this show—and I never do that.”

Drew DiFonzo Marks '05 says he loved the comedy culture when he was a student at Emerson College. 

ELA began talking with UCB about developing the academic course in summer 2014. Lemack worked with UCB to develop the syllabus, adapting the successful UCB level-one class to meet academic standards and requirements for a 14-week, semester-long college class.

“Drew and I are both thrilled with the journey the class has taken in its inaugural semester,” said Lemack.

The course has been so successful that two sections will be offered during the spring 2016 semester. For students enrolled in the course, spending 3 hours and 45 minutes learning and performing improv each week has been both fun and rewarding.

“UCB is such a crazy important part of comedy and to have the opportunity to take this class, I jumped at it,” said Lauren White ’16, a Visual and Media Arts major. “Improv is such a good skill to have.”

Lauren White '16 performs a monologue as her classmates watch. 

Justin Cordua ’16, a Writing for Film and Television major, has been performing comedy since he was a senior in high school in San Diego. He says taking the class has helped improve his comedy writing, taught him new skills, and inspired him to do more improv. 

“Improv is like the gym for comedy,” said Cordua. “When you do improv, you’re building muscles and strengthening your skills.”

At Emerson, Cordua is part of the improv troupe This Is Pathetic, which DiFonzo Marks was a member of when he was a student. DiFonzo Marks says one of the things he loved most about his time at Emerson College was its comedy culture. To this day, he remains friends with some of the people he met through the College’s comedy social scene and even works with some of his former classmates in Los Angeles.

ELA students perform an improv exercise. From left: David Foley II '16, Will Taylor '16, Alex Zakon '16, John Lemelman '16, Christina Catucci '16, and Justin Cordua '16

Though he has taught comedy at UCB for about eight years, DiFonzo Marks says teaching at his alma mater is special. Not only has he been able to teach improv to the students, but he’s also helped them learn about LA and shared insight on things that there is no class for—such as where to get tacos and how to navigate the industry.

“I love teaching and I have the Emerson connection,” said DiFonzo Marks. “These students are so good. I’m quite confident that some of them will be successful in the field of comedy.”


If you would like to watch the ELA-UCB improv show on Wednesday, December 2, at 8:00 pm, you must RSVP by emailing valena_berke@emerson.edu.