Dave Ebert on working with MTV, doing improv with UCB and getting kids into news

Dave Ebert is more than an improviser. He also does standup, writes, draws, and raps. He lives in New York so he has to stay busy. While he’s not performing with the Upright Citizens Brigade Maude sketch team One Idiot, Ebert is out telling jokes and honing his craft as a comedian or acting. He has even been in several commercials but you probably know him best from Bud Light’s Lime-a-Rita campaign. He’s currently one of many staples on MTV networks, being featured in shows like Joking Off and Guy Code.

Now, Ebert is getting his own show (he’s really sharing it with a couple of others but that’s semantics) on MTV2 called Not Exactly News, a news show in the vein of Web Soup meets The Daily Show. He takes on the role of field correspondent as he tries to portray internet news in the best way possible with his cohorts Julia Kelly, Damien Lemon, and Matthew Broussard. I recently had a telephone conversation with Ebert about his blossoming career.

I noticed while I was dialing this number that it’s a New York number. Are you based in New York?

Yeah. I am based in New York. The number is western New York, which is where I’m from – like Buffalo area. But I am from New York City.

Where did you go to school?

I went to a SUNY school which is a state school in New York, called SUNY (State University of New York). It’s a very small school that nobody else of any sort of note or fame came from.

[Laughs]. But you’ll be the first person of note to actually come from there so that’s nice.

Yeah. I’m speaking mostly to comedy. There’s not any famous comedians that come from there. There’s some Broadway people, like people on Broadway, that went to that school. But otherwise, not really anybody.

So you left that school and you stayed in New York. You perform at Upright Citizens Brigade with One Idiot. How long have you been doing that?

One Idiot is part of Maude night. Maude night is a sketch program there and so I’ve been on Maude night – this August will be my second year. But I’ve been a part of UCB since 2010.

What did you do with them before One Idiot and the Maude program?

Maude is my first house team with them. There’s Harold’s program which is their improv program. Harold is the house team and then there is a sketch house team. Before that, I just took classes there. I moved to New York just to take classes at UCB. So I took classes in improv and sketch and then I performed basically at any one off show I could. So there’s all these little bit shows they’re not anything that’s recurring but I’ve been performing there a long time.

You’re really into improv. I also noticed on your YouTube channel you had a few standup videos. Do you like standup more than you like improv?

I came up in improv. When I was in college, I ran the improv troop at my school. I realized that you don’t make a ton of money doing improv. And as far as developing your own voice as a comedian, you gotta do some standup. So I started doing standup in the last couple of years. I enjoy it a lot though.

Do you basically perform standup wherever you can? Whenever you get a chance?

Yeah, that’s kind of the deal. Now that I’ve been on a couple of TV shows, it’s easier to get on the bill. But whoever lets me do it, I do it.

Do you have any standup heroes that you look up to?

Oh man. There’s all sorts of comedians. Of course like Louis C.K. is my biggest influence. But I also like the style of Bo Burnham. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Bo Burnham standup but he does a lot of [self-referential] material.

On his last thing, what was it called? .what on Netflix he had this entire entrance that was fifteen minutes long of prerecorded material that he had to react to which I really enjoyed.

Yeah I remember that bit.

You do standup, you do improve and you also freestyle rap. I saw the [trying to pronounce] Quizackitucullus dinosaur rap video.

[Laughs]. It’s Quetzalcoatlus! But I don’t blame you at all for not being able to pronounce it.

That was a really well produced video. And pretty well rapped too.

Oh thanks man. That was a spoof of somebody wanting to make a video and having no money but having one day. So we shot form like 6 am to 2 am. Banged the whole thing out in a day and it came out good.

That’s amazing. Now do you actually still do a little bit of rapping?

Oh yeah, whenever I can. The reason I do it anyway is that I did it for a job. I worked for this company which was a performance entertainment tour bus that when through New York. And the seats on the bus faced the street – they were turned sideways. And I had this whole rig of microphones and headsets. When they come by me, I’d freestyle rap about whatever was around me and they could hear me on the bus. I did like fourteen of those a day for about two years. I kind of learned how to rap on the job because I had just done it for fun at parties. But then it was my job so I would have to do it better. I still do stuff.

The last thing I did was a music video called Hulk Hands which is about two businessmen that never take off their novelty toy green Hulk gloves. It was pretty great actually. We shot the music video down in BOCA RITON. We spent about $5,000 to make it which in life terms is a lot of money but in music video terms, it’s nothing. It got about 50,000 views. No, not even. It got about 40,000 but it got seen by Jorma Taccone from the Lonely Island. And he brought me in to audition for this commercial he was casting which was the mayor of whatever for Bud Light. It was great to audition. I didn’t get the part. [I] was hurt. It was down to me and one other guy. And then I got a call about a week after that from the people at Bud Light to come and audition for this Lime-a-Rita campaign, which I got. It’s worth it.

Yeah! I’ve seen all of those commercials. I’m happy for you that you got that. Is that your biggest part besides your MTV stuff?

Yeah. As far as the commercial work goes, that’s as big as it gets. Commercial actors dream of a job where you just shoot a couple of commercials a year and they run throughout. You only have to work three or four days but then you can get a paycheck for the rest of the year.

With your freestyle rapping, I noticed that freestyling and improving are almost kind of the same thing. Do you also translate your improv and standup into anything you do with an acting gig? Like for MTV’s Joking Off or The Guy Code?

Oh yeah. The majority of the time I’m brought on as an improviser with the understanding that even though the stuff I’m getting is scripted or slightly scripted, I’ll bring something to it that wasn’t expected. I did a whole campaign for TD Bank where essentially they were like we want you to create a copy – we want you to create a script by improvising. What you see a lot of the stuff I do on Joking Off is actually improvised. That’s the way I work. I do of course write jokes. I think it’s part of the job because you don’t want to go out there completely unprepared. I’m more into the spontaneity of things. The idea for me is that I figure it out while I’m on the floor.

That makes sense.

When it’s spontaneous like that nobody knows what’s going to happen. It catches the other actors off guard. I think that’s more fun for the people at home to see.

Are you able to stretch your improv limbs with Not Exactly News at all?

A little bit. Not Exactly News is the most scripted thing I’ve ever done…not in my life ever done but as far as MTV stuff goes. Guy Code and Joking Off kind of let me write my own script or do all my own material. And then they wrote material for me but then they let me punch it up however I wanted and they let me like kind of go a little loose when we were shooting – again, to catch the other performers off guard a little bit and get some authentic reactions which is fun. And then you do that once and they go “That’s great. Let’s go back to the script.”

[Laughs]. This is a huge position. How’d you end up getting that?

About a year ago, around this time last year, I was working with a kind of agent. He was just dipping her toe in the water about how to be an agent. And one of her friends was casting this new show – pilot, it wasn’t a new show. It was a pilot. Kind of a pitch to make their show called Joking Off. I didn’t get to audition; they said I was too old. They didn’t let me come in. I was very sad about that. It sounded perfect for me. It was a lot of improv sort of stuff. Then there were these workshops that were being held. The descriptions for the workshops sounded like the audition for the show. And I was like “I’d like to do these workshops. I think they’re related to the show.” And my manager was like “I don’t think they are.” And I was like “I am positive it’s the same thing!” So I went in and it was the same thing and I did very well in the workshop.

So they asked me to come on for the pilot. I got that pilot and that’s how I got on MTV2’s radar which is why I was suggested for Guy Code to audition for that. So then I wrote my own material for Guy Code then auditioned there. I talked about butts and farts and penises for two hours and they liked it. So then I was like kind of hot, at the moment, for MTV. So then they asked me to test for this new show. I went in and I read for the main anchor part. I never heard anything again for months and months and months. I thought it just wasn’t being made. Then I got a call with an offer to be the correspondent for a show I thought I hadn’t auditioned for. I was like “Oh, I didn’t even go in!” and I had months before. A lot of it is because you do everything you can the best you can because you never know how it’s going to come back to maybe be a job later in this kind of business.

What is Not Exactly News about? It’s coming on tonight (Wednesday, June 17) for the first time and I haven’t seen it yet. Is it sort of -- what I’m getting is a version of The Daily Show on MTV.

Yes. I’m sure they’re going to give me talking points at some point how I should describe the show but I think I’ve got it pretty good when I say that it’s the format of The Daily Show in that you have an anchor and his correspondents and all that. But the content is much closer to Tosh.0. Because it’s not actually – it’s not exactly news. None of it is actual news stories of any variety. It’s all internet clips that are funny and then we put them in the framework of being a news show. So I might do a news story where I’m on a twenty four hour cross watch of a turtle humping a croc shoe. I mean I definitely am doing that story.

I was about to say! Because that sounded really, really specific.

Yeah, I pitch out what I think is a future episode storyline. It’s just pure silliness put in the backdrop of the news. I think this is kind of like…in my mind, I like to think [of the show] as a gateway drug for kids to be more familiar with and interested in the satire that is presented on The Daily Show. Because When I was growing up – Chad, I don’t know how old you are – you might have watched the news when you were a kid. And now I can’t think of the last time I watched the evening news. I kind of like to think of this show as serving the function of showing kids what the news is so that a). They might be more interested in the actual news and b). The satire of the news like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

The way you’re attacking this show makes you appear as if you know more than the average comedian, more than the average improviser. Which is good because if you’re diving this deep into the process of comedy, then you’re just coming off way funnier and smarter than everybody else.

[Laughs]. Well I appreciate that. I certainly hope I’m not sounding like a douche bag. I do sometimes. The MTV stuff is fun to do. It’s low commitment. They know how fun it is to do. They make it very fun. When I say fun, I mean the stakes aren’t very high. They don’t have the budgets of a big network which means they can take risks and they can let their actors bring more to the material than like NBC or CBS could. If you love comedy, MTV loves letting you do that. They kind of think of themselves as an incubator for new talent. I reap and bleed this stuff. Even if it doesn’t always make it to the cut on an MTV thing, it’s in my mind what we’re doing.

I totally agree with you on the MTV as an incubator thing. Now MTV, IFC and to some extent Comedy Central and a few other places are allowing improvisers to have their own shows. People who wouldn’t be leading [actors] like ten years ago are ruling the comedy landscape. Would you ever want to do your own type of show?

Oh yeah. Of course. I’m still new to television. This is just my first year of doing shows and stuff. I’m still learning about how to conduct myself. I’m watching people run shows. I’m starting to think about what kind of show I want to do. Part of the expectation of a young performer or a young comedian is to have your own pilot. Right? There you go. You’ve written your won pilot; it’s ready to go whenever somebody calls on you. So I do have one. I don’t think I’m experienced enough to run a show. But I would like to do that someday.

Not Exactly News airs tonight on MTV2 at 11:30 PM. Follow Dave on Twitter.