What I Like About You: 6 Improvisers I Admire

Working with great improvisers is exciting and fun, and usually I ended up learning a lot from them.

Over the years I have been fortunate enough to get to play with some of the best improvisers out there, and because I am still doing Jimmy and Johnnie on Zoom, I still get to do so.

Here are six improvisers (believe me, there are tons more), that I have learned from and the traits of theirs that I would love to have.

  1. Kevin Dorff
    Back in the ’90s, before the “the game of the scene” was even a term, Kevin was living it. Maybe it was because he was such a great chess player, but you couldn’t do a scene with him without him finding “the game” in a nanosecond. He made it look so easy, and made it easy for me to the find it as well.
    What Kevin Taught Me: The game is enough to sustain a scene
    Trait I Would Like to Have from Kevin: Finding the game
  2. Susan Messing
    I have known Susan for over 30 years. We first met when we were in our 20s back at the ImprovOlympic. Besides having instant chemistry with her, I feel when I play with her, I always I follow her lead. She is fearless and plays some of the most unusual, out-there characters.
    What Susan Taught Me: “If I am not having fun, I am the asshole.”
    Trait I Would Like to Have from Susan: Her fearlessness
  3. Joe Bill
    I have known Joe almost as long as Susan, and what makes Joe such fun to work with is his proficiency in all styles of improv. Joe has tremendous range as an improviser and he’s easy to work with because he always meets you where you’re at.
    What Joe Taught Me: It’s not about me
    Trait I Would I Like to Have From Joe: His agility
  4. John Hildreth
    When it comes to finding a character’s point of view organically, John is a genius. I mean this, he is a genius. John can find a unique point of view for his character in the first couple lines of a scene. It’s amazing because he can do it so effortlessly, and his characters always generate huge laughs. And he does it by getting it all off of his scene partner.
    What John Taught Me: To pay even more attention to my partner at the top of the scene.
    Trait I Would Like to Have From John: Finding my character’s point of view
  5. Jay Sukow
    When it comes to improvising, Jay is all about fun. He is Dr. Fun, Mr. Positivity, and The Duke of Yes, And. When I play with Jay, the fun is contagious and even a sourpuss like myself can’t resist joining in.
    What Jay Taught Me: Be positive and say Yes, And more often.
    Trait I Would Like to Have From Jay: Joy
  6. Michelle Gilliam
    Recently, I played with Michelle on Zoom and I was blown away by her patience in building a character and scene line by line. She takes her time, and because of that, her relationships and scenes have real substance. She brings a strong acting background to her improvising, too, which means she is not afraid to access her emotions or vulnerability.
    What Michelle Taught Me: To slow down even more and trust your partner even more.
    Trait I Would Like to Have From Michelle: Patience

Who are some of your favorite improvisers, and what do you admire about them? Tell us in the comments below.


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202: Joe Bill

Joe Bill is an international improv teacher and performer. He is a co-founder of the Annoyance Theater and tours with Mark Sutton in Bassprov. He has taught at Second City, The Annoyance and iO Chicago and continues to teach around the world. Jimmy sat down with him in this live episode to talk about The Annoyance, the day he quit stand-up, and his unique psychological approach to improv.