About five years ago, I took an informal poll of improvisational actors in Chicago and Los Angeles by asking them, "Who's the greatest living improv actor?"
The overwhelming answer was a Los Angeles group called Beer Shark Mice at ImprovOlympic West, starring Dave Koechner, Neil Flynn (of "Scrubs" and "The Middle") and a few other improv greats.
Koechner is in Las Vegas to perform stand-up today through Saturday at Paris Las Vegas' Empire Comedy room. So I asked him what made Beer Shark Mice revered.
"We've known each other for 20 years, so that chemistry is automatic," he said.
Sure, that's certainly true. But individually, the Beer Shark Mice guys are also brilliant and known for thinking fast on their feet in movies and TV shows.
Koechner is one of the most successful improv actors in films. He was Champ Kind in the improvisational-rich "Anchorman," boasting this line:
"I'm all about having fun. You know, get a couple cocktails in me, start a fire in someone's kitchen. Maybe go to SeaWorld, take my pants off."
He was the bold gun lobbyist in "Thank You For Smoking"; a bite victim in "Snakes on a Plane"; and extroverted characters in "Talladega Nights," "Get Smart," "Reno 911!: The Movie," "The Office" and other comedies.
He started doing stand-up two years ago to strike out on his own onstage, bringing a mix of characters, traditional stand-up and comedy stories.
"It's a way I can still do live (theater), make a little money, come back home, and I don't have to rely on a group of people to do it," Koechner said.
"I do lines from the movies because I know people want to hear that. I learned that right away. I didn't use to, and I found a lot of disappointment."
A large part of his act features stories about his actress wife, Leigh, and five kids. (His kids' names are tattooed on one of his arms.)
I asked him what he's trying to prove by having five kids.
"I'm just trying to push past the limited natural resources" of the Earth, he joked.
Whenever I get the chance to talk to someone of Koechner's comedic stature, I have to ask this question: Who is the funniest famous person he has ever known?
"There's a difference between being funny and being 'on,' " he prefaced.
"Will Ferrell is just profoundly funny -- and Steve Carell. They're very funny without trying.
"But I guess no one was funnier than Chris Farley. Chris was always looking to have fun and make you laugh."
A couple of comedians also make him laugh very hard: Dana Gould and Harland Williams. "He is just sublimely abstract and absurd."
Koechner is insanely busy. He went out of his way to make time to for this interview while he was on the set of "Smart Ass," a spoof of paranormal Activity-type horror films.
Here are other movies he will be in this year:
The animated "Hotel Transylvania" co-starring Adam Sandler and Selena Gomez; "Outrun" with Kristen Bell and Bradley Cooper; and "Wedding Day" with C. Thomas Howell.
He's also filming a TV show, "Friday Night Dinner."
He's prepping to do another season of his online celebrity interview show, "Always Open," through dumbdumb productions, owned by Will Arnett and Jason Bateman.
"We come up with really weird questions to reveal yourself in a different way, like, 'What did your childhood smell like?' "
And he is co-starring in the April release "Piranha 3DD" (which you can refer to as "Piranha double-D") with Christopher Lloyd, Ving Rhames and lady parts.
"It's a raw movie. They went all the way to the extreme for that picture," Koechner said. "If you like to get shocked, you will be shocked. I certainly was."
Does that mean lady parts will be poking at our eyes in 3-D?
"Uh, something," he answered coyly. "Everyone will have strong feelings leaving the theater."
Doug Elfman's column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Email him at email@example.com. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.