Every performance of Freestyle Love Supreme is different; every song in the show is entirely improvised. Over the past 15 years, the hip-hop improv group—formed by college friends Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton, In The Heights) and Anthony Veneziale, and directed by Thomas Kail (Hamilton, In The Heights, Fosse/Verdon)—has grown beyond its original three creators to include the likes of Tony Award–winning performers James Monroe Iglehart and Daveed Diggs, Pitch Perfect’s Utkarsh Ambudkar, and more. And now the group also offers eight-week freestyle classes thanks to Freestyle Love Supreme Academy.
For the nightly show, the cast takes cues from the audience to riff, rap, and cypher (freestyling in a group). Whether it’s a game like TRUE, where one word from the audience forces the cast to tell true personal stories based on that word, or Second Chance, where an audience member offers something they’d like to do over, get ready for a wild and unpredictable night.
Here, we get to know the regular cast—who will perform eight shows a week at Broadway’s Booth Theatre beginning September 13—and the roster of special guests who will surprise audiences throughout the 16-week run, as they answer our questions. How do they polish their improv skills? Where did those nicknames come from? What is the craziest thing that’s happened on stage?
Full-Tme Faculty AKA THE CAST
Utkarsh Ambudkar AKA UTK the INC.
How I first started improv: I started in improv by accident, I think. I did plays in high school, and when I would get a laugh the adrenaline from it would hit me so hard I think of kind of blacked out and would just go off script chasing more laughter. It probably wasn’t the best experience for my directors...I’m sorry!
How I practice freestyling: I live in L.A. and spend a lot of time in my car. I’ll put on instrumentals and rap for as long as I can, reading signs as I go. Anything to keep the basic muscles fit.
Where my Freestyle Love Supreme name comes from: Utkarsh the Incredible...UTK the INC. I’m not really sure, but Utkarsh shortens to UTK so maybe that’s why? Someone must have named me early on in the battle days. I want to credit my friend Archie Ekong, so I will. Archie did it!
Line I'll never forget: The very first show I did 10 years ago, James did a TRUE about his dad finding his brother’s dirty magazines that still sticks with me.
Favorite prompt to try on an audience: I love “Second Chance.” If we are open and vulnerable we create a safe space for our audience to do the same.
Go-to rhyming word: The guys will all answer this for me: melanin.
Motto: “You’re only funky as your last cut, focus on the past your ass’l be a has what.” —Andre3000
My advice to freestylers: Spit the truth. Content over Ego. Embrace failure. Mistakes are where the gold is. Plan nothing.
Andrew Bancroft AKA JELLY DONUT
How I first started improv: From a young age I was writing poetry, rhymes, and lyrics for rock bands I played in. But freshman year at Wesleyan, my buddy Jeff put on a cassette tape with an instrumental beat. Remember cassette tapes? We rhymed about every single thing in his tiny dorm room and it was the most fun game I'd ever played.
Where my Freestyle Love Supreme name comes from: My mom dubbed me Jelly Donut when I was a chubby baby. (My brother had red hair and was Pumpkin Pie.)
Most memorable freestyle: Nothing beats freestyling with FLS, but back in the day I entered rap battles in Oakland, California, dressed in a giant jelly donut costume. Hard to forget those.
Line I'll never forget: “Son you gonna rise, son you gonna fly, son you gonna reach the sun, moon, and the sky.” —UTK the INC
Favorite prompt to try on an audience: In Second Chance we ask the audience for something they wish they could do over, and the answers are pure entertainment. One bachelorette party sunk a houseboat. Another audience member was locked in a morgue as a child.
Go-to rhyming word: If I say the word “incredible” I can’t help but rhyme it with “edible.” On brand for a rhyming pastry.
Motto: “I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly. (Side note: You’re totally ready for this jelly.)”
My advice to freestylers: I tell our FLS Academy students that fear is when you don’t know what’s going to happen and think it may go terribly. The flip side of the same coin is excitement: when you don’t know what’s going to happen and think it might be amazing.
Aneesa Folds AKA YOUNG NEES
How I first started improv: I dabbled a bit in high school, and then again in college where I studied musical theatre. My first personal experience with freestyle improv in this structure was when I was introduced to the FLS Academy. I had been a fan of the group for years, so being able to use my skills in a setting like that was life-changing.
How I practice freestyling: My favorite way is cyphing with friends. Just getting a beat going and playing off of each other. I often test myself with random words. And classes are super fun, too. Check out the FLS Academy and you too can freestyle!
Most memorable freestyle: My first time getting to cyph with Chris Jackson, James Iglehart and Shockwave on the beat was pretty freaking magical.
Line I'll never forget: "I'm the BOSS Michael Scott, Y'all B*tches is just Phyllis." —Childish Gambino
Favorite prompt to try on an audience: It's always fun to ask something like favorite book you've never read, or show or movie you've never seen. People always come up with the strangest, most creative things.
Go-to rhyming word: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is a solid one.
Motto: "If you real and you know it clap your hands."
My advice to freestylers: Keep going! Rap with your friends, rap with a stranger, random street cyphs are super fun! And remember just because it doesn't rhyme doesn't mean it doesn't work. Just keep it moving and eventually you'll figure it out and probably surprise yourself!
Arthur Lewis AKA ARTHUR THE GENIUSES
How I first started improv: Honestly, I started with FLS. I played a little jazz here and there, but I didn't really get into improv until I met these goofballs. Freestyling is a pretty small part of my role in the show. I'm mostly on keys.
Where my Freestyle Love Supreme name comes from: Back when I did my first show with FLS, all that Anthony knew about me was that I was teaching Lego robotics, producing some music with Lin, and working at a Mac repair shop. When he was introducing me, he forgot my last name. What came out instead was: Arthur....the Genius...esss!
Most memorable freestyle: The one I always tell people about is when Anthony was acting out a visit to the ATM and accidentally gave out his actual PIN to the audience.
Line I'll never forget: 90 percent of the show is forgotten immediately after it happens. One line I was pretty proud of from the Off-Broadway run was in a story about Lin doing a fight scene based on Macbeth in elementary school, where a fake hand he was wearing flew off and hit the teacher in the face. My line was "You hit Ms. Fogler in the lip / when your hand was from your arm untimely ripped."
My advice to freestylers: To people who say things like, "I could never do that. How do you come up with rhymes so quickly?" Making words rhyme is the easy part. That's just practice, like learning scales or riding a bike. The deep work is in what you want to say with those words, where you want to go. That's where the magic happens.
Kaila Mullady AKA KAISER RÖZÉ
How I first started improv: I took a drama class in high school and fell in love with improv. Then from 2013–2017 I got to combine my passions when I become the main beatboxer for the hip-hop improv group Northcoast.
How I practice freestyling: Literally all day, every day. On the subway, in the park, in the shower. The beauty of the human instrument is that it is always with you!
Most memorable freestyle: When I first moved to New York City, my first job to pay the bills was for a tour bus company that put performers around the city with microphones. I used to have to stand outside of a Shake Shack and freestyle about people on the street. Only the people on the bus knew what I was doing and everyone else thought I was crazy!
Favorite prompt to try on an audience: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever been afraid of?
Go-to rhyming word: Constellations
Motto: “Once you get comfortable doing the uncomfortable, nothing can stop you!”
My advice to freestylers: All day. Every day. Twice a day.
Chris Sullivan AKA SHOCKWAVE
How I first started improv: In high school I was part of an improv group called "Kung Fu Improv," part of The UnCommon Theatre from the Boston Area. God Bless community theatre. In college, I joined MISSION:IMPROVable which still exists back at UMass Amherst, and now have their tour company and Westside Comedy Theatre in Chicago.
How I practice freestyling: If I'm practicing freestyling (which I do not do in the show, thank God), I like to establish a rhythm first then fill in the notes with words or sometimes scatting or gibberish. When we warm up backstage before shows, everyone in the cypher freestyles at some point and when it's my turn, I'm happy that my job is keeping time not the rhyme—oops I'm better than I thought!
Where my Freestyle Love Supreme name comes from: When I was in MISSION:IMPROVable, everyone had stage names and we used a microphone to introduce the cast and also do fun short-form improv games where the sound effects were improvised. One day, during rehearsal, I jumped on the mic and began messing around. I was bestowed "Shockwave" after the Decepticon from Transformers—they really meant "Soundwave," but now it's history.
Most memorable freestyle: When we were in Edinburgh on an evening stand-up variety show at a night club, for some reason there were a bunch of drunk people in the mezzanine dressed as tennis players. I actually don't remember what the freestyle was about but next thing you knew, tennis balls came a flyin' at the stage and, needless to say, Anthony got laquered in the tokies.
Line I'll never forget: "Son you're gonna be the one we're proud of, so, say your name even louder, sun rise!"
Favorite prompt to try on an audience: Repeat after me... "Boots Cuts Boots Cuts..."
Go-to rhyming word: Orange/ door hinge
Motto: “Invest, don't invent.”
My advice to freestylers: Tell the truth over a beat and let the rhymes come later.
Anthony Veneziale AKA TWO TOUCH
How I first started improv: After being cut from the soccer team, I was devastated but auditioned the next day for Gag Reflex, the comedy improv troupe at Wesleyan University. They accepted me and it forever changed my life.
How I practice freestyling: Lots of ways, but always out loud. You can't just do it inside your head. It helps to have other to react off of and trade stories with.
Where my Freestyle Love Supreme name comes from: My dear friend John Newman and I were in a troupe called The Pedestrians and in a scene he called me Two Milk and than after he started calling me Two Touch (because the format we used to perform was creating an alternate take to a song provided by the audience, giving it a second touch). Also, it's a soccer move and I still play to this day.
Most memorable freestyle: Tough one. There are three that stand out. Most recently, during our run at the Kennedy [Center] in D.C., Wayne Brady, Chris Jackson, and I were doing a TRUE and the words we got were "civil rights" and Chris did an amazing flip on the words asking his daughter to be civil with her friends. "We can be civil, right?" The next was a sort of farewell show at Ars Nova on August 14, 2006, before I moved to San Francisco. It was about one of my favorite chapters, "Monkey Rope," from Moby Dick. The final one that really stands out was almost exactly a year earlier during the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh when my partner proposed to me at the castle and I had to rap about it the next night, while also filling in the audience on the fertility awareness method.
Motto: “Make mistakes and keep going.”
My advice to freestylers: Make mistakes and keep going.
Adjunct professors AKA SPECIAL GUESTS
Lin-Manuel Miranda AKA LIN-MAN
How I first started improv: We have some incredible members who come from improv backgrounds, but my way in was through music and freestyle, which remains my favorite mode of communication.
How I practice freestyling: Get around a bunch of friends, grab some music, get a beat and talk about life. Years ago, things started with me and Anthony around a piano telling each other about how our days went.
Most memorable freestyle: Doing a show at Ars Nova years ago, the suggestion from the audience was “He-Man” and I happened to have He-Man underwear on that night… which led to one of the most revealing freestyles I’ve ever done!
Favorite prompt to try on an audience: Not sure about prompt, but I know the favorite game we play is TRUE. There’s nowhere to hide in it. It’s like we’re having a musical truth serum administered in front of an audience. I learn so much about everybody in the group that way. We share things in that game that we’d never talk about in regular conversation.
Motto: “Stay open. Stay listening.” I used to try to plan my rhymes out beforehand, but then I’d spit them and have nowhere to go. There’s greater reward in finding it as it comes.
My advice to freestylers: Resist the urge to plan punchlines. The best stuff you find is on stage as it’s going, usually by mistake!
Daveed Diggs AKA MR. DIGGS
How I first started improv: FLS was really the first improv I ever did. I met Anthony Veneziale while substitute teaching the same class and he invited me to come to a cypher. That was it.
How I practice freestyling: I don't. I prefer to just be constantly terrified of it.
Favorite prompt to try on an audience: I just like to rap. Not really concerned with the prompts. But I love our game TRUE because it slows things down and there is an element of sincerity to it. I feel like we learn the most about each other during that game.
My advice to freestylers: Do it out loud and in groups. You're way better in your head than you are when you try to actually do it.
Christopher Jackson AKA C-JACK
How I first started improv: I was first exposed to improv in college. It felt like an alien form of performance to me! I thought, “What is this!?! This is the scariest thing anyone’s asked me to do!”
How I practice freestyling: I’m constantly listening to music and have always been deep into hip hop and writing, from very early in my life’s musical exploration. I have hundreds of instrumental tracks that I practice to. Whether I’m in my car or playing golf, when we are gearing up for a performance, I try to create challenges for myself rhyming as many different things as I can. Sometimes, I’ll sit and write down random rhymes. It helps me much in the same way that an instrumentalist listens to other players... How they move and interpret their emotions and the moment they’re in.
Line I'll never forget: “White Chocolate” came from a TRUE song we were doing back in 2005 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I told a story about a conversation I had with my grandmother about race when I was 4 or 5.
Go-to rhyming word: I ain’t tellin'! (Trade secrets).
Motto: “Without Struggle, there can be no Progress” —Fredrick Douglass
My advice to freestylers: Be authentic. It’s cool to emulate someone’s style, but I think that hip hop is an expression of who you are and what you’re about. And most importantly, have fun! When you come to an FLS show, the one thing you will see instantly is that we perform with complete and utter joy! That’s what it’s all about!
James Monroe Iglehart AKA J-SOUL
How I first started improv: Unofficially at home with my dad. He would let me and my brother come up with wild scenarios and act them out. Officially: college. I had my first real improv class and I fell in love.
How I practice freestyling: I usually put a beat on my phone and freestyle to myself about my surroundings. Or, I will tell my friend to give me a word or subject and then I will begin to flow on that.
Where my Freestyle Love Supreme name comes from: Usually Anthony “Two-Touch” Veneziale names folks in our crew. I already had a name in mind and Anthony liked it and said go for it, and J-Soul was born.
Most memorable freestyle: The time I got to play a fish in one of our scenes. I was caught on a line and was jumping up and down as a fish outta water would do. I will never forget C-Jack’s laugh.
Line I'll never forget: “Ladies and Gentlemen, Caucasian and melanin.” —UTK the INC
Motto: “Work hard and dream big.”
My advice to freestylers: Let it all go and let it all come to you. Don’t think so hard, relax into the flow. It will come to you.
Wayne Brady AKA WAYNE BRADY
How I first started improv: Improv and I became friends in 1990 when I joined Sak Theatre in Orlando, Florida. After interning and taking class for a year, I helped start the Sak Comedy Lab and Orlando Theatresports Team.
How I practice freestyling: I practice with songs on the radio or in the shower. Basically, making stuff up like I did when I was 10.
Where my Freestyle Love Supreme name comes from: I don’t have an official FLS name yet, but I’m thinking “Mr. Make It Wayne.”
My advice to freestylers: Best advice to a budding freestyler is to read. Everything! Words are power!
Ashley Pérez Flanagan AKA REINA FIRE
How I first started improv: In elementary school when I created characters. It began with my first character, Auntie Marvelann, and then Joanna Wilcock. Don’t ask. I would create stories all the time on the spot and put on shows in my basement.
How I practice freestyling: As a warm-up, I practice freestyling backstage in my dressing room and encourage my castmates to join in. I also practice with different beats when I’m on Long Island with my brothers and friends.
Most memorable freestyle: When Jelly became the character Mordecai!
Line I'll never forget: When the guys had to do TRUE about tampons. All the women in the crowd were waiting to hear four dudes talk about tampons. It ended up being incredibly sentimental and comedic.
Favorite prompt to try on an audience: Pet peeves and second chance.
Go-to rhyming word: Baby!
My advice to freestylers: Find your own voice and use it. Embrace the uncomfortability and what makes you unique.
Bill Sherman AKA KING SHERMAN
How I first started improv: Freestyle Love Supreme, my first and only improv gig. I played the saxophone all my life and improv certainly came with it, but nothing like what we do on stage.
Where my Freestyle Love Supreme name comes from: I came to a gig one day, and Anthony started calling me that. It’s been King Sherman ever since.
Line I'll never forget: Chris singing about “white chocolate."
Favorite prompt to try on an audience: Current events always get interesting.
Motto: “Don’t take any shit from anybody.” —Billy Joel
My advice to freestylers: Practice, practice, practice.