ShawnMikael(s) is not a wrestler. Popular Science is not a magazine. And We're From Here is not from Charleston, but they can pretend they are. The three acts in this Improv Marathon may technically be liars, but at least they'll make you laugh while they fib in your face.
Shawn Michaels is a professional wrestler. He is six-foot-one. He retired in 2010.
ShawnMikael(s) is an improv comedy duo. The City Paper does not know exactly how tall either of the men — Shawn Westfall and Mikael Johnson — are, but they certainly are not retired.
The two met each other through various circles in the Washington, D.C. comedy community, eventually pairing up for their own brand of improv. At the top of a performance, ShawnMikael(s) establishes a setting and other details and go from there, each taking on multiple characters. They emphasize letting scenes play out honestly and organically. "I know it sounds actor-y in a way, but it's the most satisfying for the audience and for us," Johnson says. "If we're having fun and are invested, then the audience is having fun and invested."
That's easier than it sounds, but the pair has learned that it's in the mistakes where they succeed. "If one of us maybe isn't listening or wasn't paying attention, we'll use that, and it's those sort of justifications that are often better than anything we can come up with on our own," Johnson says. "We try to let it happen because the surprises are really where the good stuff is." A ShawnMikael(s) show has a definite beginning, middle, and end, something that you may not be able to find in traditional improv that jumps to something new as soon as the material starts running dry. "Everybody enjoys a good story, and they're following that story as we're discovering it. It's so much fun for us that I think the audience feeds off that, and it's a really unique experience."
Even if some female audience members might think Shawn Michaels is dreamier.
While L.A.'s Popular Science normally features nine performers in a show, only three members of the iO West Theater house Harold team will be in Charleston for Comedy Fest. But, "I guarantee you got the best, hottest, and most charming three from the team," promises Frank Moran, one of the lucky ones, along with Maggy Keegan and Muretta Moss. "I love playing with nine people for a Harold because it means that you can really pick your moments as an improviser and support," Keegan adds. "For Charleston, while there are only three of us, we're going to play like there's nine, which means Frank has to take seven times the responsibility. I have the utmost faith in him."
The group has performed together since 2010, bending and breaking the typical Harold structure to surprise the audience and themselves, but ultimately bringing everything back together in the end. That doesn't stop them from going off the rails, though — like the time they did a strip Harold show. The group made sure to layer up heavily first. "Luis and I were the only ones brave enough to strip down to our underwear," Moran explains. "Maggy had so many layers on you'd think she was heading off to Antarctica."
With so many people involved in Popular Science, you'd expect there to be some unnecessary tension, maybe some unspoken rivalries (nope) or secret romances (nuh-uh, except for the one guy on the team who's blatantly tried to woo all the women). "Frank and Maggy did the Vancouver Improv Festival together, and what happens in Vancouver ... is apparently just improv," Moss says.
"And frites," Moran continues. "Don't ever forget the frites."
The three women of We're From Here — Adrianne Gagnon, Erin Goldsmith, and Mandy Sellers — are from Toronto. They're also frequently from France. They've been from Tunisia twice, and the time they were from Australia, Gagnon started to sound more like a cowboy instead of an Aussie.
When their shows begin, one of the women will frenetically spin an imaginary globe in her hands until someone from the audience shouts out the country that We're From Here will be from. "Surprisingly, with so many places in the world, we tend to get a lot of repeats," Gagnon says. "It gets tricky because we truly want to grab the first suggestion we hear, but sometimes we get the same place back-to-back." Once they have their country, the women create a variety of characters in a variety of places and find a way to bring it all back together in the end. "We really like when people suggest places that they have actually been to instead of yelling out the most obscure place on the planet. There is more of a connection when the audience can relate to the characters and situations being played out."
Fortunately, the ladies are well traveled, whether from backpacking through Asia or hitting up some Caribbean islands. "Everything we know about the Middle East we learned from Team America: World Police," Gagnon says. "So, between the three of us, we've pretty much got this global thing on lock down."