A place for the in-jokesters

The comedy nerds arrived first, confident that they'd have first choice of the 92 seats in the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre on Franklin Avenue in Hollywood. They would wait over an hour to get in. And that in itself is a status thing, because this tiny black-box theater houses the nucleus of the nation's alternative comedy scene, a place where Dane Cook is always a punch line.

"The style of comedy just appeals to our sensibility," waiting fan Eric Wickersham, 25, said recently. His girlfriend, Jayme Burrows, 28, added, "I'm very specific about the friends I tell, because once you have seen this, everything else is disappointing."

For a while, UCB felt like their little secret. For $5, anybody can see a couple of hours of some of the best improv, sketch or stand-up comedy in the country. But now, the L.A. theater -- an offshoot of the original UCB in New York, both founded by Amy Poehler, Matt Besser, Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh -- is a regular clubhouse for celebrity comics.

Here, Judd Apatow tested material for "Funny People." "The Hangover's" Ed Helms has a regular puppet show on Saturday nights. The guys from MTV's "Human Giant" host a show on Monday nights. And the Tuesday night known as "Comedy Death-Ray," run by screenwriters and comics Scott Aukerman and B.J. Porter, has become one of the most prestigious nights of stand-up in the country, breaking unknowns and showcasing the likes of Zach Galifianakis one night and Demetri Martin another. It's not unusual to have audience members such as "The Hangover" producer Scot Armstrong or "Superbad" casting director Allison Jones.

Yet somehow, UCB still preserves some grit.

"It's hot," said comic Sarah Silverman, who found fame and fortune here. "It smells. People are sitting on the stage. There's a bong backstage. The bathroom's dirty. Those are all things that fill my heart. It's the way it's supposed to be."

-- Gina Piccalo

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