Pierce Anderson

I'M NOT SURE if there's an official formula that improv groups use to come up with a name. The dominant model seems to be "wacky noun + seemingly unrelated modifier," so it's nice, every so often, to see some variety. The new group J Names made it pretty straightforward: "We are all great improvisers," they said to each other. "And we all have names that start with J!"

And so, J Names was born. Improvisers from Portland's theaters and groups came together in a self-proclaimed supergroup. These performers are the real thing. Jed Arkley, John Breen, Jay Flewelling, Justin Himes, Jenn Hunter, Jess Lee, Jake Michels, and Janet Scanlon are indeed some of the best improvisers in Portland. They understand the core improv values of listening, collaborating, and creating a scene. They get that truly gifted improvisers don't just troll for a laugh—a mistake many new performers make—but work to develop and understand their craft. They know that a scene really shines—and the laughs come organically—when performers listen to what's happening onstage and build a world that lifts everyone up. In their work with other groups, each of the J Names is a leader. They know the craft of improvising, which means that seeing them perform together should be absolutely fantastic.

Another point in the group's favor: At Thursday's show (which is only $5 with the promo code JPOWER), J Names won't just run through a bunch of improv games. Their shows have longer scenes with more complicated stories and intellectual jokes, all from some of the top performers in Portland improv. (No offense to the other great performers whose names don't start with J. Especially the Katies!)