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LA's Groundlings improv company celebrates 40 years of yucks

The Groundlings Main Company publicity shots, for show opening May 2008.
The Groundlings Main Company publicity shots, for show opening May 2008.
Shawn Bishop

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If you want to make it as an improv comedian, that phrase — "Yes, and..." — is your key to keep a scene's momentum going.

What started as a small improv company here in LA has kept its own momentum going for 40 years.

In 1974, The Groundlings started out performing in a tiny basement for audiences smaller than the size of its cast. Since that time, it's spawned some of the biggest stars in comedy, like Melissa McCarthy, Will Ferrell, Maya Rudolph, Phil Hartmann, Lisa Kudrow, and others.

Take Two visited to the Groundlings' theatre in West Hollywood, on Thursday, and took the stage to get a lesson in the group's history and a lesson in improvisational acting. 

Mitch Silpa is a teacher in the Groundlings' improv school and Edi Patterson's a cast member in its anniversary show, "40 is the New Groundlings." 

We first wanted to know if the company has a distinct style of comedy and if they can tell when someone's been a cast member. Patterson says there's definitely a very specific Groundlings style of improv.

"There's a big emphasis on specificity in character. If you come see some characters at The Groundlings, you're not going to just see some dude. You're going to see some dude who knows what he thinks about things, he has certain opinions, he looks a certain way," said Patterson. 

Silpa agrees.

"It's the difference between...playing "a corporate woman," and playing "that corporate woman" that has a specific name and the way they sit and mannerisms where you look and go, 'oh my God, I know that person, as opposed to a broad generalization of a character.'"