Two of the biggest stars in improv wing it every time | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Two of the biggest stars in improv wing it every time

Howie Nave

Back for the second time this year, Gust and Kim – otherwise known as The Stagebenders – bring their improvisational format to The Improv at Harveys, where the audience dictates what their show will be like.

How they take suggestions from the audience and then turn them into bits is just amazing. It’s an interesting experience to just go with the flow of the crowd as the Stagebenders become what the audience wants them to be. They pull it off well and it’s very funny.

I love introducing The Stagebenders. I usually call them 700 pounds of Las Vegas showgirls rolled up into two, bald, fat chubby guys who are the funniest comedy team on the planet!

Gust and Kim hail from the Midwest (they’re now based in Southern California) and weren’t always a team. They both did stand-up well as solo artists, but since both have an extensive background in theater, they eventually realized that two heads indeed are better than one. Apparently others concur, as they have opened for Bobcat Goldthwaite, Pauly Shore, The Kinks and Kansas.

Often compared to a contemporary Abbott and Costello, Kim Thomassen and Gust Alexander were junior high school buddies from Minneapolis who liked to make each other laugh. Now that’s a relationship that has stood the test of time. After 16 years together their act has been honed to perfection; a nonstop, fast-paced hurricane of interactive comedy that has to be experienced to be believed.

Over the years The ‘benders have developed a die-hard fan base that includes actress Geena Davis and Budd Friedman, who is my boss and founder of The Improv. So that’s how they got booked here, eh? TV and film appearances include “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” ABC’s “America’s Funniest People,” “MTV’s The Jenny McCarthy Show,” filmmaker Roger Nygard’s “Trekkies 2” and the Coen Brothers’ “The Naked Man.”

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They have been featured in national publications such as Esquire and, believe it or not, Mechanical Engineering. Currently they’re working on a project called “The Stagebenders TV Show” which is a scripted, half-hour sitcom. If it leaves the audience anywhere near as frenzied as their stage show they could be in for a long series run. Enjoy them now here in a ‘live’ setting.

Suli McCullough

Appearing with The Stagebenders all this week through Sunday is Suli McCullough, who brings with him years of experience – first as a talented writer, which later would lead to stand-up. In high school Suli won the State Championship in speech as a senior and later graduated from UCLA, where he majored in political science. The comedy was a side gig that he started during his college days. It wasn’t until he opened one night for Jerry Seinfeld that his career was laid out in front of him.

Suli not only had a good night but wound up signing with Seinfeld’s management company. He would later go on to appear on television late night shows “An Evening At The Improv,” “The Arsenio Hall Show,” “MTV’s Half Hour Comedy Hour,” VH-1’s Stand Up Spotlight” and “Comic Strip Live.” That would later lead to TV series on “Married With Children,” “In Living Color” and “The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air.”

In addition to his comedic skills Suli made the graceful transition from the small screen to the big screen with numerous movies. His best known character was that of “Crazylegs” in the spoof movie, “Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood” with Keenan Wayans. Other film credits include “Terminal Velocity” with Charlie Sheen, “The Fence,” “What’s Love Got To Do With It” and “The Ernest Green Story” for Disney. Things came full circle when Suli was recognized for his writing, becoming a lead writer for “The Jamie Foxx Show,” and was the head writer for the past ESPN “Espy” Awards. He also co-authored the very humorous book, “150 Ways to tell if you’re Ghetto.”

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