Sign in

Improvised Pain

The house lights dim and the announcers lean over their microphones. Bitter rivals in glittering costumes take to the ring. The crowd goes wild; beers crack open symphonically. The striped shirt of a referee is visible in the dimness; there’s a comedian inside. The match begins.

This is the UCBW, a comedy wrestling league that performs in the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. Shows and talent have drifted in and out of the UCB Theater’s current location on West 26th Street, but for the past 10 years, the 11 p.m. slot on Thursdays has been home to the UCBW.

They aren’t athletes. Some aren’t even wrestling fans, but every week they put on costumes, dish out puns, and comprehensively sweat to draw laughter from their audience.

UCBW started as a 3-4 minute interstitial between two acts of a competitive improv show called Cage Match; two teams would go head-to-head for the chance to perform again next week. Charlie Todd, who is best known for Improv Everywhere and the annual “no pants” subway ride, had been hosting Cage Match for a few years. He found he couldn’t leave the interstitial alone, or stop expanding it in detail and scope.

Adding a comedy wrestling match between teams distinguishes the show from the unrelenting blur of improv acts staged in the theater. “UCBW's first wrestler, Pu Kang Kang (Eugene Cordero) attacked [UCBW’s evil owner] Chuck McMahon (played by Todd) at a show, and the rest was history,” long-time wrestler and one-time referee Pat Baer tells me. And even though the improv is often captivating itself, the wrestling has earned its own loyal legion of fans. Now there are three "pay-per-view" shows a year that don’t involve improv.

Currently Baer is in charge of booking, but all character ideas are ultimately considered and approved by Todd. “They talk about their character's [premise], possible moves, and describe their costume,” Baer says. Characters like owner Chuck McMahon and announcer Uncle Eddie (played b...