I never really talk about this stuff, but here are my thoughts on why the UCB is important to me. Not just the UCB, but theaters in general.
Growing up as a biracial child is extremely challenging. When I was a child, I was the only biracial kid in my school, other than my brother. I always felt isolated and alone because in my head, I didn’t make sense. I couldn’t understand why EVERYONE was different than me. I remember looking around; from class to class, and thinking that I didn’t belong. It was a scary place to be. I would go home and cry in my father’s arms every night while I tried to go to sleep. He would tell me that I am who I am and that is all that mattered, but to a small child, it didn’t really help. Honestly, I sometimes felt like I wasn’t a real person, because everyone seemed to not notice me. I would try to join in games, or engaged with groups of other children, and I would be ostracized. This happened from all races. The white kids wanted me to just leave, and the black kids threatened me with violence. This is not a joke or an exaggeration.
My first real friend was a mentally handicapped kid named Shane. I guess we bonded because neither of us found anyone else, but we found happiness in one another. We would find each other on the playground, and while kids would play around us, we were pretty happy with the connection that we had. It was also neat that both of us had Brown as a last night. So I didn’t have much, but I had someone, and that made school a little bit more tolerable. In 3rd grade, Shane’s Mother died and he left school to live and work with his father. I saw him again when we were both grown, and he seemed broken. It broke my heart.
After Shane left, I was lost for a long time. I kept failing all of my classes, and the teachers would tell my parents the same thing. “Corey is a very bright child, but it’s obvious that he doesn’t want to be here.” We were way too poor to afford any other kind of education. Both of my parents had to work 50-60 hour per week jobs just so we could get by. After school would end, I would go home and sit at home alone doing nothing. I would draw, and create stories in my head, or play Nintendo, but for the most I was always alone. My Brother was in band at this point in time, so he was gone all the time. He also got into pot, so he found a bunch of friends that way.
By the time highschool rolled around, I had no social skills. I had never been on a date because I didn’t know how to talk to women. I didn’t know how to connect with people (still don’t). I gave up crying because I realized it was a pointless thing that I kept doing and it made me mad at the world. I mastered the art of hiding my emotions and basically quit trying to impress people. I accepted that I was always going to be different
Everyone had their little circle of people, and I had nobody. Then I found the stage, and for some reason, it just felt right. Where everyone’s eyes were forced to be on me. I still couldn’t function in a social setting, unless it was with a roomful of my dad’s friends, but I could stand in front of people and feel more like myself than I had ever felt in my life. At first it was just chorus, and I would have my solos and feel so free. The second a show was over, I would run to my parents car and avoid everyone who saw me. On stage I was fearless, but off stage I didn’t know who I was. I was blank.
After school ended I finally found improv and started to finally create a little bit of a personality. I still had a tough time (STILL DO) making friends. I still felt pretty lost off stage. I was working for Verizon in an office full of old women who just wanted to touch my hair, but I was enjoying my new love. I was doing improv 5-6 nights a week in a tiny basement. I met the first girl I ever told that I loved.
But that theater, and all the theaters I was involved with, is nothing like the UCB.
The UCB to me is a few thousand different versions of myself. It’s a collection of people that didn’t fit in where they were their whole lives, and this is the place they ended up at. We have such a unique blend of people that I’m always amazed that it took so long for me to find this place. We have people like Don Fanelli who is basically a Jock, but he secretly wrote musicals for himself. We have the Gethards who are so full of anxiety that at any point they might just curl into a ball. We have our Shannons who seem like the toughest women in the world, but if you need them to be, they can switch into the most motherly people. We have actresses, we have stand ups, we have misfits and nerds. We have it all. It isn’t so much that the UCB changed me, but the UCB told me that I’m okay because we all are okay. I look into the audience every show and I see all of us. I don’t see an audience. I see a representation of something great, that I take extreme pride in. When I teach a class, I don’t have students, I have peers that I am working with to better ourselves. The UCB to me is who I am and was WELL before I found the place. The UCB has finally given me real friends without fear of judgment. Even if I’m not a performer, I will always be a part of the theater because I am the UCB, and it contains all of my favorite people.
Even if none of us can look each other directly in the eyes without panicking on the inside
(It’s also the best god damned comedy theater)