Eight weeks of coaching is all it takes to perform at the Los Angeles Improv. Under Susanna Spies’ tutelage, hundreds of young cut-ups from ages 10 to 18 have trained in improvisation and standup comedy, culminating in a showcase at the famed establishment.
It wasn’t always so glamorous. When Spies launched the program from her house in 2002, her first students performed on what she calls “a Murphy stage,” essentially a homemade wooden platform accented with curtains. Eventually, more students poured in, and so did support from noted comics around town. Spies has even been able to expand into inner-city neighborhoods with the charitable arm of her organization, Laugh Links.
The process involves activities and exercises that not only dissect the structure and delivery of jokes but also encourage individuals’ points of view. “I’m really not teaching the kids how to be funny, because they do that themselves,” Spies insists. “I’m encouraging them to share who they are through comedy.”