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Great Escape: Laugh Until You Cry (Happy Tears) With The Groundlings

At 37 years old, this legendary theater group has still got some hilarious game.

This past weekend I laughed so hard that tears came to my eyes—and to me, that is one of the best feelings imaginable. The source of those laughing tears was The Groundlings on Melrose Avenue. I hadn't seen a show in a number of years, but now that I've been back, I won't let so much time go. Talk about a ""— it's a couple of hours where the demands of daily life immediately depart from your brain.

The Groundlings is an improvisation and sketch comedy theatre that's  trained some of the biggest names in comedy since 1974. A “Groundling” is one of the 30 company members who write and perform in the theater’s shows and teach classes at The Groundlings School. 

The shows are divided into those performed by the Main Company (those who have gone through the Groundings School, The Sunday  Show and have auditioned and been voted in by Groundlings members) and The Sunday Company (the first tier where those who have initially gone through the school and are voted in by the Main Company).

The Groundlings alumni is legendary and includes: Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig, Lisa Kudrow, Paul Reubens, Cheryl Hines, Jon Lovitz, Larraine Newman, Will Forte, Maya Rudolph, Michael McDonald, Kathy Griffin, Phil LaMarr, Cheri Oteri, Chris Kattan, Julia Sweeney, Chris Parnell, Ana Gasteyer, Melissa McCarthy, Rachael Harris and the later Phil Hartman. The School and Sunday Comany alumni includes: Conan O'Brien, Jimmy Fallon, Rita Wilson, Darryl Hannah and Tyra Banks.

It's the first stop for casting agents looking for comedy talent. Saturday Night Live has filled its rotating roster with Groundlings alum.  Most of the starring players in current box office hit "Bridesmaids"  are Groundlings.  If you watch Curb Your Enthusiasm, you'll seeing Groundlings members coming and going.

I attended The Completely Different Late Show, which is billed as an "all-star sketch and improv extravaganza of the Main Company."  It is a Friday show at 10 p.m. and one in a series of different rotating shows daily and weekly. The featured main shows are Fridays at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. and have a specific run date. The Late Show is different and changes the cast and sketches weekly.

On this particular evening, there were five actors who performed sketches and improv sets. Director Jim Rash told the audience that that they were testing out the line up for an upcoming show starting July 22 called "Totally Nude Groundlings" (no, it's not what you are thinking!).

All the sketches were funny, some more hilarious than others. What was most remarkable was that Saturday Night Live currently pales in comparison to the consistency of The Groundlings work. 

Make it a Melrose night and grab a bite at the nearby Angeli Caffe (Evan Kleiman's Italian Melrose mainstay), M Cafe (gourmet macrobiotic by the Chaya group), Frankie's (New York Italian), Lala's (Argentinian), Johnny Rockets (burgers), Village Idiot (English pub) or Kamin Thai Fusion.

Tickets are $15 at through the box office.  Check out Goldstar and get them for less. No one under 16 admitted. Arrive 20 to 30 minutes before showtime to insure your party sits together. There is no assigned seating. Parking: Valet 0n Pointsettia ($7), metered on street or side street.

The Groundlings, 7307 Melrose Ave Los Angeles, CA 90046, (323) 934-4747 www.groundlings.com

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