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."
The four members of The HITMEN met while taking classes at iO Chicago, the theater that, along with its counterpart in L.A., has graduated comedy greats like Mike Myers, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler. Justin Drogos, Colin Espinales, Brendan Hannigan, and Thiago Lima were instant friends who shared comedic influences like Saturday Night Live, Conan O'Brien, and Chicago's improv greats, like the Cook County Social Club. Goofy and fun-loving in their friendship, doing improv together came naturally. As Espinales says, "We're pretty much being friends with each other in front of people."
Their closeness has allowed them to tap into the mythic "group mind" that improv greats laud — that state where the ideas and the scenes belong not to just one member of the team, but to the whole group. But then, according to the HITMEN, there's really nothing mythic about the group mind at all. Hannigan and Lima agree that it comes simply from being good friends and working as a team so much. "The group mind grows over time," Espinales says. "We know each other's tendencies, know what we all like or hate to do. And we use all of it." That could mean setting up one teammate in a dreaded musical number, or segueing into another's favorite type of character. Whatever the scene, the HITMEN know that they can count on each other to make the most of it. "In improv, you rely on your team," Drogos says. "Whatever we come up with is always going to be fine as long as we all go with it."