In the comedy world there are few institutions that have defied the fickle tastes of fans and tragically cut short careers of top stars. The Upright Citizens Brigade, or UCB as everyone says these days, is arguably the leader of a pack that counts outfits like Groundlings, ACME and ImprovOlympic amongst its peers.
Its humble beginnings out of Chicago’s improv scene with young comedians—Matt Besser, Ian Roberts, Matt Walsh and Amy Poehler—deciding in 1990 to form a sketch comedy and improv theater, turned into a multi-city institution that would have its own TV show, comedy school and nightly sold-out shows.
Eventually the rise of internet video have a profound effect on rising comedians, and UCB started encouraging more of its rising talent to create short one-off sketches and eventually full web series through its video hub at UCBcomedy.com. We took note of a number of their early web series like The Jeannie Tate Show, Another Kind of Monster, Roommating and Mister Glasses, all of which help establish UCB as a creative force in online comedy, readily tapping its rising comedy stars like Bill Hader, Matt Walsh and Aziz Ansari.
But developing new comedic talent and developing a standalone comedy website are two very different animals. UCB opted to focus on the talent, rather than seek venture capital like Adam McKay and Will Ferrell’s comedy startup Funny or Die, which invested heavily in building out a high-traffic destination site.
With loyal fans turning to the UCBcomedy site, its reach was still limited at around 30,000 visitors a month. That’s where online network Babelgum, which reaches between 4 to 5 million monthly visitors, came calling with a proposition. The network would commissioning UCBcomedy to create original videos that will run each month exclusively on Babelgum’s Comedy Channel, giving it a much broader distribution footprint along with an ad sales team to sell spots against this new content.
The partnership kicked off this week at a special launch event hosted by Babelgum at Digital Hollywood. Amber J. Lawson, Babelgum’s Comedy Publisher brokered the deal and introduced the first sketch (above) to bow from the partnership. “It’s a big win for us,” said Lawson of the UCB deal. “The kickoff video, ‘Willful Ignorance’ is exactly our wheelhouse,” she added, “of satirical, political smart comedy that taps into what’s happening right now.”
“Babelgum Comedy offers us the best opportunity as we continue to move forward and create multi-platform content for global audiences,” said UCB’s Todd Bieber on the new partner.
Lawson also sees the partnership as reaching beyond just online sketches, noting that Babelgum is “aggressively looking to fund a live event, a UCB / Babelgum Comedy Festival,” which would sync up with UCB’s existing comedy fest.
As for the makeup of the content coming out of the deal, “it will be more one-off and sketches to being with,” said Lawson, “but as the partnership grows—which it is built to do—we will go whereever the path takes us.”
There are also plans, according to Lawson, to help facilitate brand-friendly custom video content for UCB. “We are helping supplement and hopefully more the needle forward on their branded entertainment and their custom content,” she added.
More news from Babelgum is due in the next week as it plans a significant site refresh following a trend of online video network upgrades like Crackle which re-tooled its site last week.