Eugene Cordero is an improviser, actor and comedian who developed his skills in the comedy laboratory of the Upright Citizens Brigade theater. He's appeared in films like Kings of Summer and Furry Vengeance, had a recurring role on the Showtime series House of Lies, and also done bits on Comedy Central's Kroll Show and Key & Peele. Westword caught up with Cordero for a phone interview before he joins the 65 other comics descending on Denver for this weekend's High Plains Comedy Festival to discuss following the cues of soused storytellers on Drunk History and going to high school with HPCF co-owner Andy Juett.
Westword: So, apparently you went to school with Andy Juett? Did you guys know each other?
Eugene Cordero: Yeah, we did. We went to high school together and we knew each other well. We were good buddies.
So did you guys both perform back then, or were you just buddies?
In high school we were just buddies. It was weird; it wasn't like anybody necessarily had the comedy bug. Like that's what they'd wanted to do career-wise. I mean, everyone was making a fool of themselves, but that's because it was an all-guys private school. So all of us were trying to be, like, individuals, so I guess all of us were trying to be funny, but it didn't seem like any of us would go into comedy.
There's a lot to overcompensate for when there are no girls around. But right on, that's a cool connection.
Yeah, we were in the same class and everything. I did a lot of the plays and stuff and I think Andy was around. He might've been in one of the acting classes, but we're really still just buddies from high school.
How long had you been involved in sketch and improv before you started doing standup?
Standup is still a relatively new side of comedy for me. But I've been doing a lot of sketch and improv for like the last, I've got to say, for the better part of the last fifteen years. The stuff that I'm going to be doing this weekend are like character bits in the middle of the shows. In a way, it'll be like characterized standup rather then me doing a straight-up set.
Okay. I was looking for some standup clips online and couldn't find any of those, but there were so many from, like, Comedy Bang Bang , so I'd been wondering how that would all shake down.
Yeah, because I do a lot of bits on shows like Comedy Bang Bang and Kroll Show. And I usually come in to do character bits, so that's what I'll be doing within the shows out there.
You're on the Sexpot show, right?
I think so, yeah.
So, do you get the opportunity to do much straight standup?
I have done straight standup, for the past three or four years I've been mixing it in. Since I've found out what the venues would be like at High Plains, and since it's all standups at a standup-type festival, it seemed like it would be more fun to throw in a weird thing and see how it goes over. So it's more of a "let's see how this goes" mentality for me, too, you know?
I think in a setting like this -- with Denver's caliber of comedy nerd in particular -- people will be excited to see something new.
You were in the sketch group Buffoons with Charlie Sanders and Bobby Moynihan? How did you guys form that group, and do you ever get the chance to perform together these days?
The group started at the Upright Citizens Brigade theater in New York, I would say in about 2002 or 2003. We're all just kind of going through the UCB system together. Bobby and Charlie especially were in classes together. I knew Charlie from a different short-form improv group called Chicago City Limits where we performed together. Then we started all doing sketches together at UCB, and we went to the Montreal Just For Laughs Comedy Festival and performed pretty consistently for about five years. Then Bobby got onto SNL, and started doing that. So any time he's out in L.A. or I'm back in New York, we try to do shows together when we can. Charlie and I are both out here in L.A., so we do shows together pretty regularly.
You're still really plugged into the UCB, right? You do shows there a couple times week?
Yeah, I do a show called the Smokes on Monday and ASSSCAT! on Saturday or Sunday.
How has your experience with them been?
I love it. It's my favorite thing about comedy. Improv is my favorite form of comedy. I love to perform with a group, especially those two guys, but even the groups that I'm in regularly at UCB are full of my favorite people. I like jumping up onstage with a bunch of really good friends with similar mentalities about what "funny" is. Riffing off of each other and having fun together is pretty easy. There's a bunch of people on this festival that I've played around with and have that kind of rapport with too, like Kumail, Jonah and T.J. and even Pete. It's that kind of community.
So, your imdb page is pretty long. Do you call upon those skills often in a professional setting?
Uh, yeah. Probably 100 percent of the time. Just as far as the listening stuff and making sure to turn it on when it's my time to perform. It's that same kind of skill -- turning it on like that -- that you have in standup. But I think being able to go with whatever's going to happen makes it easier when you're auditioning and makes it easier when you're on set when you're dealing with different types of actors -- not comedic actors, just straight-up actors -- or when you're dealing with comedians who are ready to do bits and play off of you and riff with you. It's a completely different feeling, but it's using the same skills. Doing a movie with Nick Offerman, who's like ready to play and wanting to go off-script, is one way to work, another is with action people, like in a Hawaii 5-0 episode, they're like "Okay, just stick to the script. Make sure the gunshot looks real, and then let's go home."
You're on House of Lies with Ben Schwartz, too, who's another UCB alum. There are so many UCB people scattered through the industry.
Yeah, it's crazy. It's amazing. The cool thing is that a lot of the UCB community is still a community, and a lot of them still believe in looking out for each other and making each other look great. There's still that mentality left from improv. So yeah, Ben's on House of Lies, Rob Riggle is everywhere now, Matt Walsh is on Veep and all of that, but they take the time to make sure that the people that they came up with or the people that they play with can at least get seen by casting people because they believe in their friend's talent. Especially for House of Lies. We got to do like four episodes where it was all me and Ben Schwartz, and he and I still do shows together at UCB all the time. So it was great to get paid to work with a good friend of mine.
Keep reading for more from Eugene Cordero.
You were in a recent episode of Drunk History. I was always curious how it worked on the costumed performers' end. Do you have to sync up with the audio of the drunken storyteller?
Yeah, maybe one or two days before Derek will send us the edited-down version of the story, scripted as well as they can while still following the same script. So then you try to memorize it the best you can; you watch the video and hear the audio pretty often. They had an ipad and headphones to watch before the shoot, and on the set there were these huge speakers blaring the story. There's an audio guy. It's definitely a different energy than just regular acting because you have to stick to the cadence of the storyteller while still trying to get the story across.
It looks almost like you're acting for a silent movie. There's lots of big emoting involved.
Yeah. It felt that way, too. It feels like a silent movie thing. The big difference, though, is syncing with the audio. But it was just a fun experience. Ken Marino was in the one I was in, so I got to play off him. It was cool.
It's funny to hear about how much trouble they go through behind the scenes on that show, where a full cast of actors ad technicians all scramble to follow somebody's drunken historical ramblings.
I know. It's so funny to hear the story, it's so hard not to laugh when you hear words said a certain way. It's like, "Okay, we've got to stay committed to this."
Anything in particular you want to mention before we wrap up?
No, not really. I'm excited to be out in Denver for a couple of days and enjoy just going to watch some of those guys perform. I love that Andy's running a comedy festival out there. I'm excited that this is the second one and that I'm a part of it.
Eugene Cordero is performing twice on Friday, August 22, crisscrossing from the Sexpot comedy showcase that kicks off at 9 p.m. at 3 Kings Tavern over to the Mutiny Information Cafe for a 10 p.m. show. Sexpot tickets are $15 and the Mutiny show is $10; buy them on the High Plains Comedy Festival's website.
Follow Byron Graham on twitter @ByronFG for more mildly amusing sequences of words.
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