Saturday, July 13, 2024

Cult Improv Show “Cookin’ with GAS” Turns 30

Must read

“Cut!” yelled the director. “Are you all on drugs?

Tragedy had struck Tornadoes of Eden, a ’90s-era disaster flick. An extra had sabotaged the scene by sticking out his tongue. “Can you tuck your little tongue back in your mouth?” the director asked four times. And then peals of laughter offstage topped the action.

Turns out the movie wasn’t real. It was improvised on a Thursday night in early November by the Groundlings, L.A.’s famed comedy school and theater. Their snug 99-seat venue on Melrose brimmed at capacity for the 30th anniversary of Cookin’ with GAS, a cult show that’s seen things—and people—you wouldn’t believe.

Jennifer Coolidge

Graham became the show’s first director and established its structure: two acts, six to eight players. The first act opens and closes with an improvised song, with short scenes between. The second act is usually an extended improv. Audience suggestions fuel it all.

Paul Reubens

Early on, special guests were invited in. The challenge of playing with a celebrity you’ve never met, says alum and GAS mainstay Mindy Sterling, is a thrill. “We get up there, we don’t know who we’re gonna work with, and it’s, like, boom! Go!”

One of the first special guests was Mike Myers (who later used the Groundlings’ stage to work out his Austin Powers personae). “The Groundlings were character-based, which really spoke to me,” he says.

It was here that Myers met Sterling. He loved her so much that he wrote the part of Frau Farbissina for her.

Will Ferrell

Quentin Tarantino also performed in the 90s. “I remember him being really playful,” says GAS icon Karen Maruyama, who eventually got cast, along with Kathy Griffin and other Groundlings, in Pulp Fiction.

Big-name guests are usually won over by the Groundlings’ team-oriented approach. Paul Feig, a 2013 invitee felt nervous because he hadn’t done improv in two decades. “But they’d kind of clean up your mess,” Feig recalls, “if you shit the bed.”

Lisa Kudrow and Patrick Bristow

To this day, the unpredictability of improv, the proximity to Hollywood, and the mystery of the celebrity guest combine for an only-in-L.A. show that’s hard to pass up.

The Groundlings were character-based, which really spoke to me.

— Mike Myers

You never know what or whom you’ll see. Perhaps Minnie Driver embodying a WNBA player. Or Jordan Peele splitting his pants. Even during lockdown, Graham’s  brainchild united people who wouldn’t normally be together. Lisa Kudrow almost broke a Zoom show, as more than 200 people clamored to join.

Phil Hartman

Back in the theater, November’s anniversary show saw an electric blend of veterans and up-and-comers. As actor H Michael Croner tried to stay stone-faced while begging Julian Gant to tuck in his little tongue, it was easy to see GAS ’s appeal. The joy’s infectious.

Stay on top of the latest in L.A. news, food, and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.

More articles

Latest article