The closest America’s come to its own Monty Python

The late 1990s were a strange time for sketch comedy: The Kids in the Hall were gone, Saturday Night Live was in yet another funk, and the funniest thing about the pre-broadband Internet was the dot-com bubble. In the midst of this, Comedy Central gave an untested quartet (including future SNL star Amy Poehler) its own show, consisting of live pranks perpetrated on unknowing audiences, and skits that were decidedly not ready for prime time.

On the second season of Upright Citizens Brigade, the troupe continued to blend its cinema verité “experiments” (in which the actors pretend to be quarreling couples or relentless salespeople in crowded public spaces) and interstitial segments about its plans for global domination with just plain outrageous bits: A man discovers Jesus in a plate of spaghetti, a Godzilla-like monster battles a particularly gaseous foe, and the nation becomes hooked on a mind-altering powder called Supercool. UCB (which still exists and tours) never did conquer the world, but for a few uneasy years, it was good for some much-needed laughs.

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The closest America’s come to its own Monty Python