Nick Kanellis

A man, an improviser, an anus.

There’s a timidity in improviser Nick Kanellis that’s visible just before a show. But once his trio, Trike, takes a suggestion from the audience (“Love!”) and Kanellis steps on stage, all signs of hesitation evaporate. Coiling himself around a fellow player like an infatuated octopus, he becomes Carol, a wildly possessive girlfriend. In an environment in which cooperative playfulness is paramount, Kanellis, 25, stands out even more. He’ll do anything in the name of supporting his teammates, and displays an elegant confidence that makes his choices unassailable.

Most improvisers can’t help but remind an audience of the magic trick that is improv—Hey, look, aren’t I clever?!—but Kanellis, who’s performed on several teams at the Magnet Theater since moving to New York in 2007, never tries to score laughs with self-conscious winking. “Everything Nick says appears completely deliberate,” says Magnet artistic director Peter McNerney, who plays on Trike. “No matter how silly it gets, you’re not thinking about the improviser, you’re invested in what’s going on.”

Case in point: At a recent Trike performance, Kanellis played an emotionally grounded Mario (of the Mario Bros.), yet he never lost sight of the Nintendo mascot’s chipper demeanor. Even when his characters are incidental—e.g., the evil, riddle-spewing anus of an enormous beast; naturally, his sphincter had a British accent—he is always earnest and emotionally committed.

“He’s really, really sincere,” says Lee Overtree, the artistic director of children’s theater company the Story Pirates, with which Kanellis also plays. “Most comics come from a bitter, angry place. People like Nick, who infuse this generous spirit into their humor, are rare.”

Nick Kanellis plays with Hello Laser Thu 10 at Magnet Theater.

Nick Kanellis | Jeremy Beiler | Ali Waller

See more Three to watch

See more in Comedy