The Groundlings: comedy's proving ground

  • Photo 1 of 3
    - Daisy Palacios/Marketplace

  • Photo 2 of 3
    - Daisy Palacios/Marketplace

  • Photo 3 of 3
    - Daisy Palacios/Marketplace

Before Will Farrell, Kristen Wiig and Will Forte rose to Saturday Night Live stardom, they all got their start at The Groundlings comedy club in Los Angeles.

The Groundlings was founded by Gary Austin in 1974 and has launched comedy careers for some of the biggest acts in the industry. If you think we’re exaggerating, you should check out this list of 40 years of alumni.

Lisa Schurga and Ryan Gaul both took classes at The Groundlings about a decade ago. In 2007, Schurga became an official Groundling (or "Main Company," in their words.)

"It was why I moved here from Boston... was mainly to become a Groundling," she says. "Anything else on top of that is gravy, but this is what I wanted to do." 

Gaul, on the other hand, got some solid advice from a friend before joining The Groundlings: 

"Because somebody told me a long time ago, 'If you wanna do something in entertainment, find out where the best people do it and go there and copy them... So I have -- for the last ten years -- copied people." 

Schurga and Gaul both teach classes at The Groundlings, and say that it's enough to make a living. 

When Schurga thought about a performance that stuck out, one scene she did with Jill Sachoff came to mind.

"I hadn't seen her costume or what wig she's wearing… should've known but I hadn't seen it. And so, the lights came up and we're singing and I turn and look at her... and she's given herself a full mono-brow... she had that [curly] wig on but she had it on as far back as she could so it looked like she was kind of balding with this curly wig. And she was dancing really hard and singing... and I peed on the stage."


And as for Gaul… well, it’s probably better if you listen to it:

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.


I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...