If laughter is the best medicine, then humor is definitely the cure for infirmity. A band of comical troubadours proving that sentiment right here in Park City is the Utah-based improv group Hot Toddy (facebook.com/HotToddyImprov), launched two years ago by Park City transplant Tom Shannon. “Improv is often thought of as a kids’ game, with most performers in their early 20s,” he says. “Hot Toddy is mostly made up of some older folks, almost all of us in our late 30s to late 40s, each with 10 to 20 years of improv experience. There is a level of trust and confidence that comes when you know your fellow players can handle anything you come up with and make it gold. It shows when we play together.”
Shannon, a Los Angeles native, found his way to improv in an almost cliché way: a friend recommended he work as a movie extra while looking for a real job. “At the same time, everyone kept insisting I also audition for commercial work,” Shannon remembers. “But for that I needed training, which led me to improv.” So, he joined every legitimate group he could find, including iO West, Second City, and bang. But rather than retreating back into more lucrative commercial work (or giving up showbiz altogether as countless performers typically do at that point), Shannon jumped into comedy with both feet, working his way up the food chain at Second City and completing its entire training program. Before long, he had morphed into a certified improv junkie, performing regularly all over Los Angeles.
Enter Nicole Marcks, an acting graduate from Juilliard and an alumna of the legendary Groundlings, LA’s premier improv group. Even though their paths should’ve crossed organically, Tom and Nicole met online. When, on their first date, Marcks casually commented, “Improv is my birth mother,” Shannon’s heart was forever lost to this funny lady. He eventually sealed the deal by proposing to her while performing. Fortunately for all involved, she said yes.
After Marcks and Shannon relocated to Park City (“LA’s great,” says Shannon, “but we wanted our daughter to grow up surrounded by extended family in a smaller community”), they decided to start their own Second City–esque improv training group here in Utah, from which they selected a lovely bunch of coconuts that eventually evolved into Hot Toddy. In addition to Marcks and Shannon, Hot Toddy’s performers are Nate Sears, Amber Hansen, Jack Diamond, Lisa Anderson, Michael Haycock, Katrina Kmak, and Chase Dickerson. The group now performs at venues statewide, including Ogden’s Ziegfeld Theatre, The Midvale Main Street Theatre, The Sandy Station, and, of course, Park City’s Egyptian Theatre (328 Main St, 435.649.9371, egyptiantheatrecompany.org).
To keep their comedy chops sharp, Hot Toddy players rehearse together on a regular basis. They also work out every other Wednesday with any other players who wish to join them. In addition, Marcks and Shannon occasionally leverage their LA connections and bring in improv heavyweights like Dave Razowsky to teach workshops. Hot Toddy meets currently at the Beau Broadview Entertainment Arts University in Salt Lake City, where Shannon leads the group for three solid hours of improv games. “Anyone is welcome to join us,” he offers. “Improv experience is helpful, but not required.” That’s because players are able to pick up the gist of a game if they pay close attention—a must in improv. Whether you choose to shout out suggestions from the audience or muster up the nerve to step on stage and participate as a player, it’s just plain fun.
Judging from the 15 or so players who consistently show up on Wednesdays, word has spread that improv comedy is alive and well in Park City and Salt Lake. Which comes as no surprise to Shannon. “I think doing improv makes you a better person,” he reasons. “It teaches you to listen as well as think on your feet.”