The Groundlings: L.A.'s Boot Camp for Funny People

Funny people don't just happen, they're made.

By , Contributor

After seeing Bridesmaids last week (which has now grossed over $107 million), my bladder suffered from not pissing myself with shakes of uncontrollable laughter. Unlike most summer blockbusters, there were no explosions, robots or aliens, and Will Smith never appeared walking diligently in slow-mo with a gun and no shirt.

Sans special effects, the cast MADE this movie. The cast included a number of well-known Saturday Night Live alumni, but an even greater head count graduated from a different comedy group, The Groundlings. I had to investigate this comedy think tank, which spits out hilarious members of comedic royalty.

Hours after the movie ended, I jetted over to Melrose Avenue and caught that evening's show at The Groundlings Theatre. The theater, founded in 1974 by Gary Austin, remains a non-profit organization with the ability to teach and launch oh-so-many peoples' careers in showbiz.

Oh, so the show: Lisa Schurga, a current Groundling, directed the series of sketches and improv sessions titled "Et Tu, Sunday?" Now, I only snort when something is so funny it's art, and I snorted a lot during the show. During a particularly risky sketch, I actually had to look away because I was scared to see what raw comedic height was about to be reached (let's just say I'm pretty sure the audience saw an exposed penis).

The road to becobridesmaids-movie-2011.jpgming a part of the cast is not an easy one. The Groundlings program has several levels. When an actor is starting out, they take the school's numerous classes discovering the world of sketch comedy and writing. After graduating from the highest level course, a student may be invited to the Sunday Company (which is a very high honor), before joining the Main Company that performs nightly.

Shortly after the attending the show, I got to pick several of the castmates' brains about their love for laughter and how the Groundlings became to be a superdome for comedians and actors throughout the decades. groundlings pic2.jpg

"I chose to train here for a number of reasons: their alumni, their reputation for being an SNL farm system of sorts but mostly to give me the knowledge and skills I felt I was lacking in, which for me which was doing big, committed characters versus, more cerebral dry kind of comedy that I already felt I was good at," said Mike Truesdale, a Sunday Company member.

After talking to these class clowns, I saw an infectious trend to their decision to become a part of the theater. Tony Cavalero, a castmate who claims he lives in the building and washes with a rag in the bathroom, had this to say about his move to the Groundlings. "I always loved to do accents and funny voices when I was growing up and 'the Groundlings' style emphasizes characters more than the other schools in LA, so it just worked best. Plus, its reputation is amaze balls."

Groundlings pic1.jpgI was especially impressed with female cast members. They were fearless when it came to delivering original characters and stepping over physical lines for the sake of the craft. Danielle Weeks produced a character in the final sketch that can best be described as a disfigured troll creature with a violent sexuality. It was brilliant.

When I mentioned Wiig's new film, Weeks attested that former alums success fortifies her work. "There's nothing more inspiring to me than being a part of something from the ground up. Most of the women in comedy that I've admired have been a part of creating their own material."

Creating new material each week is what the theatre company does best. The writing on sketches starts on Monday, and the cast writes an estimated 50-60 during a couple of days until the director picks a scene list with new and recurring sketches. All of the castmates I spoke with agreed that they learn everything from each other, and figures out together what works and doesn't work.

If it weren't for great institutes of entertainment, like the Groundlings, funny people with potential might not get the formal training they need to be successful actors.

Truesdale agreed with that assessment. "The first way I discovered I could be funny was mimicking someone else. But I would do impressions for the ladies in my mom's nail salon at around age five. It was that early praise that did it I guess, if it had been different you'd be asking me questions about my life as a manicurist."

If it weren't for a magical place like the Groundlings, the world might have one more over-qualified nail technician.

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Mychelle Vasvary is a writer and serious gin advocate. She tutors English at Notre Dame College and dreams in a Sylvia Plath lens. She covers celebrity and entertainment trends in our astonishingly media-driven society. She currently resides in the Los Angeles area.

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