Improvisation (improv) is a form of live theater in which the plot, characters and dialogue of the scene are made in the moment. Improv is a treasure in Des Moines that few people know about.
Des Moines has a few improv groups that do local performances at coffee shops, comedy clubs and theaters. Java Joe’s café is known to host these groups. Recently, a group named Alien Head Emoji performed, and the audience could not get enough of them.
Alien Head Emoji consists of Shawn and Robert from Des Moines and Clif from Texas. Robert and Clif originally got started in improv because of a competition happening near Central College where they were students. They decided to partner up and ended up winning.
Shaun, on the other hand, got an internship in New York City with Upright Citizens Brigade, which is a big improv group that Amy Poehler and other Saturday Night Live cast members founded. From there, he took some classes to better himself, then moved back to Iowa to finish up his college degree. He later got involved with the Last Laugh Theater in Des Moines, where he met Robert and Clif.
Although they are now known as the group Alien Head Emoji, that was not where Clif, Shaun and Robert started. They started off a part of a larger group, Platonic Friends with Benefits, which had nine members. But due to the size of the group, they found it difficult to find time to practice. So the three guys decided to form their own group.
Now you’re probably wondering, why the name Alien Head Emoji? In a Facebook messenger group chat, the guys tossed around name ideas. Clif ended up sending an alien head emoji to the group and Robert and Shaun thought it was cool; hence the name. When they ask each other if they are practicing on a given day, they will reply with an alien emoji, which means yes.
Improv is a big part of their lives, but they all have jobs outside of it. Robert does deposit banking, Clif works for a website called Right Stuf Anime and Shaun does audiovisual work for Conference Technologies.
The guys do plan on doing improv for a while.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Robert said. “It’s a good excuse to go do something for a couple of hours on Saturday, meet new people from all over and travel to new places.”
Without improv, these guys said they just wouldn’t be themselves, and they couldn’t bear the thought of giving it up. Clif said that improv allows him to be weird for a little bit, and Shawn said improv allows him to be creative and entertain people.
“When I started (improv) I was at a very low point of my life, very depressed,” Robert said. “Getting into improv gave me something to go do, It was a reason to get out of the house — a reason to not be at home drinking every night. It’s given me a place to go … to be with people who accept me, and I can laugh and have a good time.”
“I don’t think I could stay away from it for long,” Clif said. “The improv community in Des Moines is so close-knit. I feel like I would miss everybody too much.
Each of the guys had actors or comedians they looked up to. For Shaun, it was Ryan Stiles. Robert looked up to Jonathan Winters and Robin Williams. Will Ferrell was Clif’s role model. Each of the guys believe these people helped shape the way they improv today.
For first-time improv attendees, the guys offer some advice.
“Plan to have fun,” Robert said. “We would really love to get the audience involved and want to let everyone know the Des Moines improv community is very welcoming. If you’re not sure if you want to do it, you can come try it out.”
At their last show, there was hardly a moment the crowd was not engaged or laughing hysterically. Some of that audience was invited by the group members or friends, while others just so happened to be at Java Joe’s and decided to check out what was happening.
Many said they would attend another Alien Head Emoji show. For more information on the group’s upcoming performances, you can follow the group’s Facebook page Alien Head Emoji..