Sitting down and trying to record with the Louisville Improvisors for an interview is like trying to step into the same river twice. The guys, Chris Anger, Josh Lane, and Alec Volz, have been working together for three years, and as they readily admit, it’s chemistry that makes comedy work. Anger and Volz should know, they’ve been working together for almost a decade. Lane’s a relative newcomer but he fits right in to the authentic, spur of the moment comedy that has made the Louisville Improvisors a local landmark.
On September 5 and 6 at Walden Theatre (1123 Payne St.), the Louisville Improvisors are performing with Los Angeles comedic institution, The Groundlings as a part of the Irish Hill Improv Festival The performances are at 8 pm and cost $20. For more info, please visit www.louisvilleimprov.com. Bodeco and The Instruction will play at the Irish Hill Improv Festival Inaugural Ball on Sept. 5 at the Fox’s Den (formerly Coyotes).
I tried to do a riff off of James Lipton’s Inside the Actor’s Studio questions. But honestly, I’m not as funny as these guys were in conversation.
How did the Louisville Improvisors get their start?
Chris Anger: Alec and I were in a different improv group.
Alec Volz: What was the name of that group?
Chris Anger: I forgot.
Alec Volz: It was the barenaked…
Chris Anger: It was the Barenaked Ladies.
Alec Volz: No it was naked. It was something naked. I swear to God.
Chris Anger: Naked?
Alec Volz: It was the Naked Improvisors or something. And we would play every Tuesday night at Twice Told Coffee Shop which we did for at least 2 years.
Chris Anger: So anyway, we were in that group and it wasn’t very good.
Alec Volz: It sucked.
Chris Anger: And the guy who started it was a very nice guy. He just didn’t know what he was doing.
Alec Volz: The thing about it was we wanted out of the group, so we all quit his group and formed the Louisville Improvisors without him.
Chris Anger: Well, Alec makes it seem like it was actually a plot. And it wasn’t. I’ll tell you exactly how this happened. The interview’s going to be longer than you think. We’re in this group and it doesn’t matter what the name of the group was and it doesn’t matter about the guy. He was a nice guy. I just said to Alec: “I’m leaving the group.” And Alec said “Well, so am I.” That’s exactly what happened. And I said to Carrie, there were four of us in the group, “I’m leaving the group.” And Alec said, “So am I” and she said: “Well, I don’t know I want to leave but I don’t want to hurt yayayayaya.” She avoided conflict with a vengeance. So, we had one more show to go which was probably one of the weirder improv shows I’ve ever done, because we did our show and then we were like: “Allright, buddy. We’ll see ya.” And Carrie comes up and she’s crying, “I can’t do it. I can’t do it!” Fuck it, Alec and I are doing it. About a month and a half later she joined us. And then we probably started doing shows a couple months after that. And this was 1999.
How did you develop your style of improv?
Alec Volz: A lot of rehearsal.
Chris Anger: Yeah. That’s the one thing about improv. A lot of people say, “How do you rehearse improv?” And you don’t really. But you have to get used to each other so you can trust each other and develop chemistry. And that’s the cornerstone of any improv: the chemistry. …We ended up doing stuff that I knew from San Francisco and the Bay Area.
Alec Volz: There were five of us then and we all brought in different stuff and we’d rehearse and play around and make up our own games. Variations on other games. Which we still do. Like “Heaven and Hell” which we still do and we’ve been doing for years. We pretty much developed that ourselves. The other one is “A Day in the Life,” which we end every show with, that was one of the first things we ever did. … We were improvising before “Whose Line is it Anyway?,” but that wasn’t the stuff we wanted to do. We were all pretty much theatrically trained. And we wanted to do theater as opposed to “bar-prov,” which is what we call it.
What made you want to bring other improv groups to Louisville?
Chris Anger: The original idea was coming back from Chicago. When we first started, no one really knew what improv was, and we were doing these shows weekly, which were at the old Twice Told Coffee Shop.
Alec Volz: Which seated 20 and we were getting around 50. I think the biggest we had was 60.
Chris Anger: We had 80 people in there one time. People were getting nervous and kinda angry.
Alec Volz: I was! I was nervous as shit! I was thinking here I am and the fire exit is 25 feet and 80 people away.
Chris Anger: So we were doing good. And we went to the Chicago Improv Festival and thought we should do that here to showcase us and bring in groups from out of town and make it more of an event.
Alec Volz: That way we can see the best improvisors in the country and we don’t have to leave town.
Chris Anger: The first Improvapalooza [in 2000] we did two nights at the Mex Theater in the Kentucky Center and we sold out.
What makes a great improv show?
Chris Anger: Josh is here.
Josh Lane: I like it when
Chris Anger: Josh is the new guy even though he’s been in the group for 3 years.
Josh Lane: I like seeing people in the seats that we haven’t invited.