Tribute today to the late Gary Austin (1941-2017), founder of the L.A. improv and sketch comedy company and school known as The Groundlings.
Oklahoma-born Austin was a member of the San Francisco-based improv troupe The Committee, itself a spinoff of Second City in Chicago. In 1972, Austin moved to Los Angeles, initially performing at The Comedy Store. He started the Groundlings in 1974. “Groundlings” is an Elizabethan term for the undriscriminating rabble in the cheap seats of a theatre audience, referenced by Shakespeare in Hamlet’s speech to the Player King.
The first Groundlings alumna to achieve wider fame was Laraine Newman, recruited by Lorne Michaels for the original cast of Saturday Night Live in 1975. Other early folks to emerge from the company include Cassandra Peterson (Elvira, Mistress of the Dark), Paul Reubens (Peewee Herman), Phil Hartman, Edie McClurg, Craig T. Nelson, Jon Lovitz and Jan Hooks. Other successul alum include Lisa Kudrow, Julia Sweeney, Will Ferrell, Jennifer Coolidge, Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig, and Melissa McCarthy.
To learn more about comedy history, please check out Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube