I’m Sorry, but your Baby is Ugly

I’m sorry, but your baby is ugly

photos by Liesa Cole

Ugly Baby was unplanned. Much like the improv we perform, the group started out as a random idea that just took on a life of its own.  Back in 2010 a few of us got together to practice some Chicago-style long-form improv as a creative exercise. It was never meant for public display, but a few friends suggested we try it out in in front of people. Bizarrely, the first time we did, the audience laughed.

“A friend asked me if we wanted to be a part of a test crowd for their new comedy group,” says  Tony Diliberto, an early fan. “Five of us squeezed into Lucy’s coffee shop and proceeded to laugh for the next hour or so. It is awesome to see the crowd grow from that little show to packing out Bottletree. I am proud to be one of the first fans of Ugly Baby.”

Encouraged by this, and desperate for the approval of others, Ugly Baby was born. Ask any of us how it all really happened and we’ve got nothing. But that’s kind of the point. Our shows depend on nothing.  Because when we walk out on stage, we bring nothing with us: no pre-conceived notions, no pre-planned bits, no punch lines. We just ask for a random audience suggestion (a word, a phrase, anything at all) and then combine that suggestion with our own warped sense of humor to try and make the audience laugh for 90 minutes. Do we always succeed?  Absolutely not.  But when it does work, it’s pretty amazing.  Since our debut, Ugly Baby has performed all over Birmingham in places like Bottletree Cafe, Avondale Brewing Company, and Urban Standard. We’ve even taken our show on the road, performing in Nashville, Atlanta, Chicago, and at the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York City.  And within the ranks of our group, you’ll find performers, weirdos, and oddballs of all shapes, sizes, and heights.  Many of us have performed improv in Birmingham for many years, and there’s even one guy who came to us by way of the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater in New York. But the one thing we all have in common is that we were born without the gene that makes us self-conscious in front of a crowd.  At any given show you’ll find us speaking in strange accents, making weird choices, and doing pretty much anything and everything we can to make the audience laugh.  And the one thing you’re guaranteed to see is something different every time.  It may not always be pretty, but that’s an Ugly Baby.

Arik Sokol brings sophistication, elegance, and grace to the stage with him at every Ugly Baby show, then strangles them into submission and leaves them for dead, vowing to destroy their ilk if they ever follow him on stage again.  Surprisingly, this is not the reason he has been called “The Most Dangerous Man in Birmingham Comedy,” although good taste and possible legal action prevent us from actually saying why he’s called that.  When he is not performing improv and/or showing abstract concepts who’s boss, Arik is an excellent photographer and expectant father.  Or vice versa.  –Mike Cunliffe

Billy Ray Brewton is a thesbian.  And while he claims that he makes everything up on the spot during our shows, being such a prolific playwright it’s pretty clear he’s lying.  Never one to sleep, he spends nearly every waking hour writing, directing, and/or acting, most often at Theatre Downtown, which he co-founded.  In addition, he’s gone bankrupt keeping up with his movie habit.  Seriously, he’s seen nearly every movie that’s come out in the last 20 years, and that includes all those weird, no-budget indie movies everyone else skips past at the speed of light on Netflix.  But, he still finds the time to bring his patented blend of wit and wisdom to the Ugly Baby stage, much to the audience’s delight and Tim’s discomfort. – Mike Cunliffe

Brian Barrett comes to Birmingham by way of the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater in New York City where he used to teach improv, which means he is way overqualified to be in this group.  But, we keep forcing him to show up in the hopes that his skill and experience will rub off on us, while at the same time we do all we can to bring him down to our level.  Quick-witted, subtle, and surprisingly nice, Brian brings a level of class to Ugly Baby that was once thought impossible, especially considering some of the other people he has to work with.  When he’s not elevating our game almost single-handedly, Brian enjoys spending time with his wife and their newborn baby girl, who is the prettiest Ugly Baby you’ve ever seen.   – Mike Cunliffe

We’re all in love with Callie Mauldin.  It’s not just because she’s gorgeous (she is!) or because she’s smart (like actual PhD level smart) but because she’s fearless and funny.  Her funny comes from an uncanny ability to observe people and build characters from those observations.  We all want to do scenes with her because she’s braver than the guys in the group and, if we’re lucky, some of that will rub off on us.   – Arik Sokol

J’mel Davidson (not pictured) scares me.  He’s too funny and too fast to be on stage with, and I remember psyching myself up the first time I did a scene with him.  It did not help, his comedy is a train that the rest of us are lucky to sit inside.  Like a samurai of slapstick, he can kill you in so many ways — joust you with jokes, slay you with specificity, trap you with trivia.  You leave the stage grinning and smarter, knowing that next time you’ll try your best, but he’ll be funnier.  And, you’re okay with that. – Arik Sokol

Nick Crawford is one of the few people in this world who can make literally anything he says funny, which is why he’s our go-to choice for delivering bad news. He’s also versatile, having graced Birmingham’s many stages as the lead in everything from Hamlet to A Tuna Christmas. He can make you laugh whether he’s playing a big character, a small one, or just being himself. He’s an insanely generous performer even though he could easily carry an entire show all by himself.  – Brian Barrett

Chris Davis stands alone as the most tan and oldest Baby — old enough even to be my father. And sometimes I wish he were, because Chris is so ridiculously friendly. In fact, if you are planning to go somewhere with Chris, there is a sacred improv formula that allows for how much extra time you will need waiting for him to talk to all the people he knows. Chris can be found manufacturing giggles around town performing stand-up and hosting his own Fresh Ground Comics. He is also a brilliant freelance artist and a first-class freelance friend to every person he meets. His charisma and magnetism is magnified on stage, making every scene with him crazy fun. I am a better person for knowing Chris and so are you. Because you know Chris. Everybody knows Chris. – Tim Childers

Mike Cunliffe is a tall and lean improvin’ machine. Lucky for Ugly Baby, with that kind of height, he can change our light bulbs and dust the ceiling fans regularly. Off the improv stage, his talent and wit extends to other creative activities, like screenwriting, directing, editing, and film and stage acting. And, you guessed it — he’s the guy you hear in the voice overs for the Black Jacket Symphony! Damn, he’s %$*& good. Somebody called him special in a theater review once, just sayin. He is also gainfully employed and loves kittens of all colors. – Callie Mauldin

Tim Childers might be the youngest member of the group but that doesn’t necessarily mean he hasn’t been around the block more times than the Good Humor man. Reared on the mean streets of Cullman, Tim learned to hustle and flow and found out along the way that he was particularly good at make’em-ups. He’s dabbled in some film, dabbled in some theater and even dabbled in some nude theater and spends quality time reading books in his swing whilst tossing feed to the ghosts of dead chickens that roam the lands of middle Alabama. He’s constantly being told — “Cut your hair, you look like a hipster!” — but refuses to comply; either because ‘ain’t no jive-ass sucka gonna tell him what to do’ or because he really is a hipster and is learning to play the banjo. In the future, he plans to be reincarnated as himself. – Billy Ray Brewton

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