On a blank stage, four performers stood facing a panel of judges.
“Alright, we need one word,” someone from the group said.
One of the judges responded with “potatoes.” That’s all the group needed. With the suggestion, they took off, spontaneously creating a scene on stage.
The improv team The Best Best Friends — made up of juniors Clint Cannon, Drew Kohler and Jake Wallach, along with senior Eric Dude — won first place at the Heartland Regional College Improv Tournament on Jan. 25. The four will compete at the National Championships on March 1 in Chicago.
Having each participated in theater in high school, the four decided to continue performing through college.
They met in MU Improv and have been friends since. They say they feel their three-year relationship only enhances their performances.
“You know how when you're with your friends and you can kind of complete their sentences to a certain degree,” Cannon said. “Onstage, having that ability just keeps you another step ahead of the game. You're making it up as you go, and when I see Drew going one way, I can almost tell where he's going to end up. That just makes everything smoother.”
The Best Best Friends perform long-form improv, creating a 20-minute set out of judges’ one-word prompts.
While most teams use different formats and guidelines to help structure sets, the group prefers to “throw them all away,” instead relying on their chemistry as friends to help guide a scene, with each member bringing a different comedic element to a set.
“Say I want my character to get punched in the face,” Dude said. “I know in five seconds, (Drew’s) going to come over here and punch me right in the face because he knows exactly what I want him to do. That's when I know that we’ve really clicked.”
The name “The Best Best Friends” stems back to Kohler and Cannon’s freshman year, when nationally-acclaimed comedians T.J. Jagodowski and Dave Pasquesi performed at Memorial Union. In the middle of trying out for Comedy Wars, Kohler and Cannon were able to meet the comedians following their performance.
“We got to sit and talk to these guys who are looked at as the best improvisers, so it was like a jaw-dropping experience to sit at a table with the guys who are called the best two improvisors in the world, like, hands down,” Kohler said.
Kohler asked them if they were the “best of best friends,” expecting that to be the secret to their success. On the contrary, Jagodowski and Pasquesi only considered themselves to be “good” friends.
“Being good friends makes you better improvisors on stage because you know what's coming,” Cannon said. “We just assumed, ‘OK, they're the best improvisers; they must be the best friends,’ ... and they said they weren't, so we just kind of were like, ‘OK, then we are.’ ”
This year brought a change to The Best Best Friends, as the team decided to add Dude to become a four-man team. Cannon said Dude brings a new energy to the team and provides more versatility for the group.
After the rush of making Nationals last year, they have no where to go but up, setting their sights on the shiny gold trophy waiting in Chicago.
“It's hard to make improv tangible,” Wallach said. “You can't count jokes like you can count baskets or touchdowns. When we won the tournament we had something tangible to show everyone that we're actually good at this.”
Success aside, to Kohler, comedy offers a form of therapy, both for himself and audiences.
“Making people laugh equals happiness, which equals me being almost like a laughter therapist,” Kohler said. “Every Wednesday or Tuesday, they come out, and we'll do our best to try and make them laugh. It makes me feel good making people laugh. It's always been that way my whole life.”
Wallach credits his love of comedy to the bonds it creates between people.
"There’s this Judd Apatow quote I really like, ‘If you can make someone laugh, you may not know if they like you, but you know they don't hate you,’ ” Wallach said. “It allows me to know an entire audience doesn't hate me, and even likes me.”
The Best Best Friends are happiest when they’re making people laugh, and they don’t plan on stopping any time soon.
“Making people laugh is so enjoyable,” Wallach said. “Making people laugh is an addiction at this point.”