The Groundlings are an improvisational and sketch comedy troupe and school based in Los Angeles, California. The troupe was formed by Gary Austin in 1974 and uses an improv format influenced by Viola Spolin, whose improvisational theater techniques were used by Del Close and other members of the Second City, located in Chicago and later St. Louis. They used these techniques to produce sketches and improvised scenes. Its name is taken from Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act III, Scene II: "...to split the ears of the groundlings, who for the most part are capable of nothing but inexplicable dumbshows and noise." In 1975 the troupe purchased and moved into its current location on Melrose Avenue.
The Groundlings School holds new sessions every six weeks with over 300 students per session, with more than 2,000 students per year going through the program. The competitive program, with admission by audition, consists of five levels. Participants must satisfy instructors in order to advance.