WKU improv group honors fallen alumnus

From left: Junior Jubilee Sneed from Glasgow, sophomore Morgan Stevens from Somerset, junior Ethan Corder from Charlestown, Ind., and sophomore Ethan Mitchell from Hendersonville, Tenn., play a game in which Sneed and Mitchell perform hand gestures for Stevens and Corder on Saturday in Gordon Wilson Hall. The game was part of the Happy Gas Improv special performance in honor of Ryan Kemp, a member who recently passed away.

Andrew Critchelow

Happy Gas Improv Troupe, a WKU-based comedic improvisation group, recently paid respects to a deceased member Saturday with a show in his honor. Titled “KempProv,” the show paid tribute to Ryan Kemp.

Kemp, a seven-year member of the Happy Gas cast, died in an automobile accident last month. All proceeds of Saturday’s performance went to the new Marshall Ryan Kemp Scholarship Fund, which benefits the Logan County School System. 

Stephen Korfhage, former member of Happy Gas, said Kemp was an integral performer in the group.

 “We divide our history into the Pre-Kempian Era, the Kempian Era, and the Post-Kempian Era,” Korfhage said. “No one ever cared more for Happy Gas than Kemp, and he has been greatly missed.”

Kemp was on the Happy Gas cast longer than any other member and often mentored newcomers in the art of improvisation. After his tenure with Happy Gas, Kemp would make time to attend the group’s rehearsals and performances to show his support. 

“Kemp was the most genuine, caring person you would know,” Korfhage said. “He would drive anywhere to watch one of his former troupe members perform improvised, scripted theatre, anything.”

Along with his love for improv, Kemp had a passion for “Ghostbusters,” attending conventions for the film and starting the Western Kentucky Ghostbusters in 2003. The group held several events that raised money for the Kentucky Children’s Hospital in Lexington while Kemp was CEO of the organization.

“After the wreck, there was a massive outpouring of support from all over the United States from people he met at conventions as a Ghostbuster,” Korfhage said. “Paul Feig, director of the upcoming ‘Ghostbusters’ movie, passed along his sympathy and condolences, having met Kemp at a convention.”

Founded in 1999, Happy Gas is the longest-running improv comedy troupe in Kentucky. Ethan Corder, a junior from Charlestown, Indiana, and current member of Happy Gas, said being a part of such a long-running establishment is a distinct honor.

Happy Gas has trained over 80 performers in its 15-year history; auditions for the troupe are held in the fall semester. Corder said the selection process is grounded more in performer ambition and dedication to the troupe than in traditional theater experience. 

“Most students don’t have any formal training in improv, and we don’t even look for that in auditions,” Corder said. “We’re just looking for people with open minds who are excited to learn improv and are willing to take chances on stage.”

Kirsten Kellersberger, a Salvisa senior and former member of Happy Gas, said her passion for improv was strongly influenced by her relationships with Happy Gas alumni. 

“It’s been around for 15 years and has gone through so many different styles and transitions,” she said. “When you get to be surrounded by founding members of those from previous years, you realize you’re a part of something that’s been institutional to providing this campus with comic relief from the stress of college for over a decade, and that sense of camaraderie is amazing.”

Kellersberger said Kemp had a lasting influence on her life that goes beyond just comedic improv.

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned from him, it’s that you should spend your life doing what you love,” she said. “If you have something you’re passionate about, then you should devote every moment you can to doing it. Life is too short to think otherwise.”