One of the biggest weekends in comedy got started in 1998 with a simple premise: Honor the complicated guru that championed a new art form and taught the improvisers who would become some of comedy’s biggest names in years to come.
Now, 19 years later, the Del Close Marathon (a three-day event with a weekend full of straight improv) has become one of the best places to catch stars like Amy Poehler and Veep‘s Matt Walsh back in the place they started — sweaty improv theaters.
“Del Close was the improv guru in Chicago that trained all of us that started the UCB,” Walsh, 52, told PEOPLE at the 2017 festival. “So when he passed away 19 years ago, we had a comedy marathon in his honor that was, like, 30 hours and it’s come back every year. It basically celebrates the art of improv, groups from all over the world come party for three wicked days in New York and drink beer and do great shows.”
Poehler and Walsh, along with Matt Besser and Ian Roberts, founded the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York City in the late ’90s and have since expanded to four stages in New York and Los Angeles, along the way helping launch the careers of megastars like Aziz Ansari, Kate McKinnon, Aubrey Plaza, Ellie Kemper, John Mulaney, Horatio Sanz and Jordan Peele.
“My biggest gamble was moving to New York City with the UCB back in the ’90s,” Poehler recently told reporters at the premiere of her new movie The House. “I was coming from Chicago with no money, no prospects. That was hard and exciting and I can’t believe I did it. It paid off.”
Horatio Sanz, Matt Besser, Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh during this year’s marathon press conference at UCB Chelsea
With the marathon spanning 10 stages and mounting more than 700 shows and panels this past year, the UCB 4 (as Poehler, Walsh, Besser and Roberts are known in the community for their OG status) are ready bringing the art form to a new level next year just in time to celebrate two decades of laughs. The opening show of the 2018 Marathon will take place June 28 at New York’s legendary Carnegie Hall.
“Twenty years ago we started doing improv in a bar where we could barely hear each other,” Poehler said in a statement. “Now we are going to do our show at Carnegie Hall where you can hear a pin drop. New York has been pretty good to us.”
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Adds Walsh, “It’s sort of a funny culmination for an art form that we did in Chicago for 50 people and now it’s at Carnegie Hall. It’s really a stamp of approval and it’s weird to mark 20 years with that. We’re very excited.”
Tickets for the show, as well as the festival’s 20th anniversary, will go on sale in late May through the Carnegie Hall box office and website.