Solvang, our ebelskiver-loving neighbor to the north, gets the honor of hosting what is perhaps the greatest assembly of sketch comedians ever in Santa Barbara County. On Saturday, October 10, the Solvang Festival Theater hosts the Ultimate Comedy Bash, a festival showcasing the Chicago-born Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) comedy troupe.
The line-up - a jaw-dropper in any city - includes the cast of the UCB TV series (Matt Besser, Ian Roberts, Matt Walsh, and Amy Poehler), as well as Aziz Ansari (Parks & Recreation), Paul F. Tompkins (Best Week Ever), Thomas Lennon (Reno 911), and Casey Wilson, who recently spoke with the Independent about the fest.
Wilson made headlines in September when she was booted from the cast of Saturday Night Live. The news of her departure came as surprise to those who enjoyed her work. New York’s loss is Santa Barbara’s gain, however, when she takes the stage alongside her fellow UCBers. “The quality of the performers that are making a mass pilgrimage up to Solvang is kind of astounding,” Wilson said. “I think it’s hard to get that kind of line-up even [in] LA: It’s an opportunity - one show packed with so much talent.”
When asked who among the lesser-known performers she thought audiences should be excited about, Wilson named Josh Fadem, who’s appearing in a “Fresh Faces” show on Friday, October 9 at Maverick Saloon, and Paul Rust, who will be joining Wilson on stage at the Saturday show. (It should also be noted that Wilson quickly followed for recommendation with “Full disclosure: Paul Rust is my boyfriend.”) “They’re really physical comedians - almost from a different era in that way,” she said of Fadem and Rust. “They on the front of a new wave of talented comedians.”
Upon being asked how often UCB members end up coupling off, Wilson explained that it’s not all that uncommon. “I guess funny people are attracted to funny people, and then you get comedy marriages. There’s a lot of UCB babies now, but they’re not very good at comedy yet,” she said, noting that her writing partner, June Diane Raphael recently married UCB member Paul Scheer.
“The alternative comedy scene is actually pretty small, I guess,” Wilson said of the tendency for performers to date. But the success of Upright Citizens Brigade has been so great that it could arguably make the troupe lose its “alternative” status, even if it continues doing nontraditional sketch comedy. “I guess it’s alternative comedy that’s found its way to the mainstream,” said Wilson. “There are a lot of people who have laboring and writing for years, and now it’s blown up in a great way. I’ll go to the movies to see a comedy now and I see five or six of my peers on the screen.”
Wilson said she took her departure from SNL in stride. “My mindset is good. I did it for a year and I half. I don’t think it will ultimately define my career. And it wasn’t the best fit for me,” she said. Whether she thought it suited her or not, Wilson’s work on the show won her fans - including some from Santa Barbara with her spot-on send-up of locally bred popster Katy Perry. Perhaps one of Wilson’s final moments on SNL was taking Dusty Velvet, a quadriplegic stripper character she invented years before, for off-camera performances, and bringing her before the cameras. The result showcased Wilson’s talent as a physical comedian in her own right. She explained the character originated when she and some friends went to a strip club and were appalled by one particularly lazy dancer. “We were like ‘Give it a little emotion!” she recalled. “I mean, I’m lazy too, but laziness is just not a good thing when it comes to stripping. Then I started to think about it and it made me kind of laugh, the idea of this paralyzed stripper who still had a positive attitude. Her spirit refused to be paralyzed.”
Wilson also noted that regardless of where her future career takes her, SNL has left its mark on her in one particular way: her name. Previous to appearing on the show, she performed as Casey Rose Wilson. “When I got on SNL, Lorne [Michaels] told me I had to change it. I think he likes shorter names: So now I’m not on the show anymore, but here I am with my short name,” she said in a way that showed she could see some humor in the matter.
Indeed, Wilson seems to be able to laugh at the adversity she’s encountered so far. Aside from her UCB work, she also posts videos on FunnyorDie.com. In May, she put up “Casey Wilson Reads Internet Comments,” a dramatization of her real-life experience reading trashtalk about her online. “I got on SNL and went Googling, expecting to see everyone writing about how I’m funny and cute. And that was so not what I found. I was taken aback by it,” she recalled. Wilson noted that the criticisms that appear in the clip - which include “Casey Wilson looks like Mike Myers in drag” and “Casey Wilson looks like Patton Oswalt swallowed a couch” - are actual comments on imdb.com messageboards.
As for brighter prospects, Wilson is co-starring in the upcoming Katherine Heigl picture Killers. And Wilson and Raphael - who together wrote the Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson film Bride Wars - are again collaborating, this time on an independent film titled Ass Backwards. In addition to writing the script, Wilson and Raphael will also star as friends who go on a road trip. “It’s about friendship - these two friends who are delusional and codependent. That’s kind of our mission: to write a comedy about women,” Wilson said. The film is a female-led comedy that’s not a romantic comedy - a rarity, in company with the likes of Baby Mama and Spring Breakdown. “Frankly, Bride Wars got made because movies with women need to be about weddings and love,” explained Wilson, who promised that the final product would be funny and feature cameos from friends like Hudson, David Cross, and Kristen Wiig.
For the meantime, Casey Wilson is coming to where we live - in person and in good company. In addition to earnestly wishing that fans of UCB and good comedy in general make the trek up to Solvang, Wilson made one more request: “Bring us wine.” Since she says funny things for a living, there’s a chance that this request could be a joke. However, there’s also a good chance that if her fans show up with free wine in hand, she’ll gladly accept it, even if she was joking. So why not make the funny lady happy?
Casey Wilson and her Upright Citizens Brigade comrades bring the Ultimate Comedy Bash to Solvang Festival Theatre (420 2nd St.) this Saturday, October 10 at noon and 3 p.m. UCB will also host “Fresh Faces” on Friday, October 9 at the Maverick Saloon (3687 Sagunto St.). For tickets and info, visit ultimatecomedybash.com.