Every week, The Friendship Files features a conversation between The Atlantic’s Julie Beck and two or more friends, exploring the history and significance of their relationship.
This week, she talks with three of the co-founders of the Upright Citizens Brigade sketch-comedy and improv troupe. Matt Besser, Matt Walsh, and Ian Roberts—along with Amy Poehler—took the group from the Chicago improv scene to New York, onto television with a sketch show in the ’90s, and turned it into the big business it is today. UCB now has theaters in New York City and Los Angeles, and also offers improv classes, whose alumni include many other famous comedians, such as Aubrey Plaza and Donald Glover. In this interview, Besser, Walsh, and Roberts discuss UCB’s origins, how the improv social scene has changed over time, and how the nature of improvisation makes friendship among performers necessary and inevitable.
Matt Besser, 51, an actor and a co-founder of the Upright Citizens Brigade who lives in Los Angeles. He hosts the comedy podcast Improv4humans With Matt Besser.
Ian Roberts, 53, an actor, a writer, and a co-founder of UCB who lives in Los Angeles. He served as the showrunner for the Comedy Central show Key and Peele and the TV Land show Teachers.
Matt Walsh, 54, an actor and a co-founder of UCB who lives in Los Angeles. He recently starred in the HBO show Veep.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Julie Beck: Let’s go back to the very beginning: When and how did you guys first meet?
Matt Besser: In Chicago. Even before I knew about improv, I was going to this place called the Roxy, which was a stand-up open mic where people would do sketches and stuff. Walsh, would you agree? Is that where we met? At the Roxy?