Posts from the Acting and Improv Category

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Improv attracts some very smart, very funny people, each with their own unique style. You can learn a lot just by studying how your fellow improvisers perform. Here are some of our faves:

The Chameleon

Most of us have a go-to on stage; some back-pocket character we can pull out if we start to panic.

Not Matt Folliott.

He’s equally comfortable being low or high status, male or female, hyperbolic or grounded and real. What’s more, Matt’s talent for accents is nothing short of astonishing. He does Southern, New York, Jamaican, Italian, Liverpudlian, German, Australian, Spanish, and dozens more so flawlessly, you’d swear he was born there.

The Magician

Kurt Smeaton finds something playful in everything, no matter how small or mundane. His ability to turn straightforward scenes into something Spielberg-ian is awe inspiring:

• He once played an entire village of people running from an exploding volcano. One character saved the day by stopping the lava with his bare hands, then rolling it up like a rug.

• His motorcycles sound like horses. He once rode one into a scene, kicked it and gave a “Yaarrr!” to send the bike on its way.

• After initiating with “The end of the world is nigh!” he mimed handing things out to passersby. What would have been flyers in someone else’s hands became “Frisbees! Get your end-of-the-world Frisbees here!”

The Shapeshifter

Mark Meer is the king of transformation. Watching him perform The Harold of Galactus is a master class in character and physicality.

His characters are always strongly defined; once he establishes them, they’re instantly recognizable later on. In one swift motion he transforms from a stiff-spined butler, to a hunchbacked gnome, to a drug-addled lunatic and back again.

The Clown

Jet Eveleth, Becky Johnson and Isaac Kessler all have strong elements of clown in their playing style.

There’s a fluidity, vulnerability, and openness to whatever is happening on stage that characterizes their performance. Nothing is off limits, no move is too risky. (That’s him as a ribbon-twirling gymnast in the photo.)

The Imp 

Sarah Hillier has a childlike, mischievous quality that makes every scene sparkle. Her playfulness is infectious: she has an ability to make scene partners corpse like no one we’ve seen.

If you’re the kind of improviser who likes rules and order, beware. The only thing predictable about Sarah’s performance is that it’ll be wicked funny. (Click here for a glimpse of her as Arya Stark.)

The Wild Card

The Wild Card comes out of nowhere and fucks with reality. Andy Daly, Rob Baker, Devon Hyland, and Cameron are all Wild Card players.

On his improvised podcast, Andy Daly and Matt Gourley played water-skiers, with Andy standing on Gourley’s shoulder to form the top of a human pyramid.

“I got your foot tattooed on my shoulder!” said Matt.

Without missing a beat, Andy replied, “Yeah, I had no idea you were gonna get that till I saw you.”

With one small move, he shifted time and smashed preconceptions. Suddenly Gourley’s character had to justify getting a foot tattooed on his shoulder before Andy’s character stood on it, which is hilarious. When the world you thought you were seeing is turned upside down, you’re watching a Wild Card.

The Everyman

Some performers stand out for their ability to blend in. While everyone else is larger-than-life, the Everyman quietly plays in the spaces between, often the scene’s voice of reason.

That doesn’t mean the Everyman is boring. Far from it. Because he (or she) plays so many roles with ease, they can do weird stuff like this and be totally believable.

Jim Annan, Jameson Kraemer, James Gangl and TJ Jagodowski are all superb Everyman performers.

The Kraken

We had to make a category for this rare, sometimes terrifying improviser. Jason Mantzoukas is one. So is Alex Tindal.

The Kraken is fearless, owning the stage the moment they set foot on it. Like the Clown, they don’t flinch from what’s happening, but rather, turn it up to eleven.

We witnessed Mantzoukas play a psychopath at the Friars Club Improv & Sketch Competition. His character took Ed Herbstman’s hostage, raped him (in real time), then shot an audience member in the head. If that doesn’t sound funny, it wasn’t. But it was electrifying, honest, and completely unforgettable.


The intent isn’t to mimic your favourite performers, but to find ways you can bring as much commitment and passion as they do to every set.

“If you say that you don’t want to learn how to act, it’s like saying you don’t want to learn how to do object work or learn how to do yes… and.

How many more father and son scenes can we see where the improvisers aren’t really emotionally invested in the relationship? Naming someone ‘Dad’ in a scene does not mean you have created a relationship that the audience cares about.

We’re doing theater, here, people. If we’re not acting, we’re just doing a parlor game, and a hacky one at that.” – Jimmy Carrane

Read the full post on Jimmy’s blog by clicking here.

Photo © Improv Nerd

Photo © Improv Nerd

We’ve written before about commitment to character, and how great acting really ramps up the comedy in a scene.

Nowhere is that more obvious than in the Hitler “Downfall” meme.

The juxtaposition of topical, satirical dialogue with the original film’s superb performances and direction creates guaranteed hilarity every time another version is created.

And while not every improv scene can reach these heights, honing your acting skills is something you can always work on at rehearsals and shows.

In the meantime, enjoy this latest iteration at Rob Ford’s (or should we say, the City of Toronto’s?) expense.


“I don’t like comedy. I like funny things. I don’t like comedy. Like, comedy movies are just, ‘Oh Jesus.'” – Louis C.K.

I know what he means. I’d rather sit through a bad drama than a B-grade comedy any day.

Cameron and I often “overdub” movies, Mystery Science Theatre 3000-style.

We’ve made fun of Tim Robbins in Arlington Road. Adrien Brody in Splice. Even Gene Hackman in Heist.

What makes it funny is the deadly seriousness of the actor on screen. (And really, nothing’s funnier than an Oscar-winning actor in something really bad.) The more dramatic the film is supposed to be, the greater the opportunity for comedy.

“Sometimes things are really funny if you’re absolutely earnest. If you’re really serious, it’s hilarious.” – Christopher Walken

The funniest people I know are great actors. They may be improvising on stage, but they are also acting. It requires a level of commitment to the scene most of us don’t even aim for.

That’s not to say I don’t enjoy goofy improv sets; I do. But for me the biggest laughs, the shows that really resonate, inevitably involve great acting.

One of my favourite movie scenes of all time is Walken as Diane Keaton’s psychotic brother in Annie Hall. (If you haven’t seen it, click here to watch.)

He plays the part like it’s Requiem For A Dream, not a quirky romantic comedy. It’s such a small role, but his commitment to character makes it unforgettable.

Note Woody’s performance, too. Even though he calls out Walken’s character as a freak, he does so in a way that’s understated.

Colbert, Carell, Razowsky, TJ and Dave, Jason Mantzoukas, Steve Coogan, Bob Odenkirk…these people get laughs precisely because they don’t play the scene for laughs.

Subtlety, emotion, and vulnerability, while seldom seen on stage, are all things that elevate good improv to great.

For more inspiration, check out Real Actors Read Yelp Reviews. So many great ones, but #3, read by award-winning actor Brian O’Neill, and #4 by Greg Hildreth are faves. (Canuck improvisers: how much does Hildreth remind you of Jameson Kraemer?!)