These four far-reaching groups recognize the importance of friendship — if they weren't so close with their teammates, they wouldn't be so darn funny. Whether they're washed-up rock stars who survived the '70s together or a posse of fairy tale-loving camp kids, these improv acts obviously have a lot of fun on stage.
Mañez is a duo created by Canadian funny ladies Mandy Sellers and Paloma Nuñez. The two met during an improv class in Toronto in 2005, but they didn't exactly plan on joining forces. "The first time we performed together was in New York, and it was the Del Close Marathon, which is done by the Upright Citizens Brigade. My duo partner couldn't make it, so I asked Paloma, 'Hey, do you want to fill in?'" Sellers says. They ended up having what they both call "their best show ever," and Mañez was born.
One of Mañez's trademarks is "ghosting," a technique inspired by the work of iconic long-form improvisors TJ and Dave. Since the scenes that arise from Mañez's improvisations often require more than two characters, Sellers and Nuñez will change characters multiple times, even playing each other's, which, if you're not an improv comedian, seems like it would make something that's already incredibly difficult even more so. But for these enthusiastic players, it's one of the things that makes improv so much fun. "There's no such thing as mistakes, because everything is a beautiful opportunity," Nuñez says.
The self-described "cutest improv group in the world," the Day Camp Kids perform their fairy-tale-inspired improv all over New York City. The team consists of founders Iliana Inocencio and Charla Lauriston, Rob Gilbert, Monique Moses, Alex Haynes, and Nicole Pasquale. The six share a playfulness and love of outsized characters that lend themselves perfectly to the fairy-tale frame: On stage, Lauriston says, "We're all really playful, and our stuff is fast, fun ... The big characters that you get in fairy tales really matched our big personalities."
"Once upon a time" isn't the only lead-in you'll hear at a Day Camp Kids performance, however. According to Lauriston, the team embraces many forms of long-form improv. The fairy-tale format is something they like to pull out for special occasions — the Charleston Comedy Festival being one.
The Kids are a tight-knit group and share the kind of deep trust and commitment to supporting each other that strong improv requires. "There is that massive trust element, where I know that when I'm up on stage, there are five people who've got my back," Gilbert says. Pasquale agrees: "Other aspects of comedy and acting are tough, cutthroat — improv is just nicer."
Local comedy fans are probably familiar with this duo, who combine intense character work with rock 'n' roll musical improv. Doppelganger is Clive Neilsen (lead singer, also known as Lee Lewis) and Johnny Dregg (guitarist, otherwise known as Jason Cooper), and the two have been performing Doppelganger's biggest hits and lesser-known gems in Charleston since 2007.
The show is set up like VH1 Storytellers, which is one piece of the Doppelganger creation story. The other piece, believe it or not, comes from one of the most popular romantic comedies of the early 2000s: "One of my favorite movies is Love Actually, and that character Billy Mack — I thought, how great would it be for that guy to do a VH1 Storytellers show? He's fallen so far down the ladder that he'll say or do anything to get a response out of people," Lewis says. Using that as a basis, Lewis and Cooper created what Lewis calls "a washed-up, heavy metal, operatic musical act."
Now that the pair has been doing the show for several years, they've established certain elements of Doppelganger's hardcore rockin' history. It helps, Lewis says, that Cooper is not only a professional musician, but "a true metalhead by nature ... He's taught me a lot, and we've been able to feed off the stories that are in the mythology of heavy metal." Lewis' musical background, which includes doing musical theater, isn't quite the same. "I was into heavy metal, but I was more of a hair band kind of guy, and when I sang, I was probably more into jazz than anything else." And while there haven't been any jazz hands at a Doppelganger show yet, you never know. There might be a few skeletons in that closet yet.