Brandon Scott Jones remembers his first time watching the Upright Citizens Brigade improvisational troupe — and how much it scared him.
“I was watching (eventual “Saturday Night Live” cast members) Amy Poehler and Horatio Sanz and Rachel Dratch improvise stuff on the spot, and I thought I could never do that,” he recalled.
Within a year, he began studying with the group, whose shorthand is UCB.
“The best decision of my life,” Jones said in a telephone interview from his Brooklyn, N.Y., home.
Jones is now a member of UCB, performs in two weekly shows at UCB’s theater in New York City and is sometimes a cast member in its touring company, which stops Saturday night at Augustana College in Rock Island.
The Baltimore native studied at the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts and entered improvisation with a theater background.
“Comedy had always been something I’d really enjoyed, but stand-up was something that was not for me,” he said. “I was a little terrified with it.”
At UCB’s two theaters in New York and one in Los Angeles, there is a mixture of sketch and improv comedy. For the four-person road show, however, it’s all long-form improvisation.
At the top of the show, an audience member will be interviewed in front of the crowd, and that will be used as the inspiration for the 90-minute show.
“There’s a sustainability that we have to find — a who, what and where, and establishing relationships,” said Jones, 28. “At the end of it, you’ll feel more like you’ve been watching a play rather than people just making stuff up for laughs.”
Besides the future “SNL” cast members who Jones saw his first time, UCB has produced other comedy stars, including Ed Helms of “The Office,” Rob Corddry of “Children’s Hospital” and Rob Riggle, most recently the comic relief on “Fox NFL Sunday.” All three of those men are also veterans of “The Daily Show.”
“What’s great is all of the people who do get jobs out of it,” Jones said. “I’ve never done anything creative or collaborative like I’ve done here. Not only does everyone have those professional aspirations to take the next step and have that happen to them, but we all genuinely love it.
“It’s a great experience,” he added.