Friday, I have my last show at 3541. It’s with Revolver. I love them. They are family.
This is the last weekend that iO Theater will have shows at its location at 3541 N. Clark St. It’s moving to bigger, fancier gigs as they turn Wrigleyville into a stripmall frathouse. Facebook has been filled up with many remembrances and memories from dozens, if not more, improvisers. iO is the home of longform improv, and it’s been located at 3541 for about 20 years.
So this is a mishmash of thoughts I have. My story is similar to so many and like so many unique its own little way. Also, this is really boring. Sorry.
I like to say iO saved my life. I was 26 and living in Lawrence, Kansas after dropping out of my fourth college. I’d been hospitalized twice for depression. I did improv and theater at a community theater in Topeka, Kansas, and I loved doing that. I also felt I was god awful at improv. I didn’t discover Chicago’s comedy scene until a couple of years before. My best friend had moved there. I went up to visit and had seen a Second City show or two. I wanted to move there, but was unsure it was the right thing to do.
October 2001, I went to Chicago to run the Chicago Marathon. After I completed it on that Sunday, I extended my trip a couple of days so I could check out the improv theaters. I went to Second City and asked to sit in on classes, and they told me I couldn’t because they wanted their improv students to feel safe and that I would ruin that ability for them to perform fearlessly in the classroom. I thought that was a fucking joke. They asked me if I did longform or shortform, and I had no idea what they’re were talking about and they sighed.
I think the next day I showed up to iO around 3pm, randomly right when a class started. I just kind of followed people as they walked up the stairs to the Del Close Theater. I asked the teacher (I think it was Jeff Griggs, but I can’t recall anymore) if I could sit in on the class. He said I could. I loved every minute of it. Three hours flew by. At the end of the class, the teacher invited me to play “Freeze” with the rest of the class.
The teacher told the class to show up that night to see a bunch of Second City Mainstage vets play with a bunch of students. He said I should check it out. I walked over by myself at 1030pm. Got a seat. It was Tuesday night. The place was packed. I watched “The Lottery” in the downstairs Cabaret Theater, where veterans played with students that were picked out of the house. The show was funny. But what made a big impression, was the theater was packed and full of energy on a Tuesday night at 10:30pm. It immediately clicked. This was where I was supposed to be. I moved in February of 2002. I originally signed up for a writing class at Second City because I thought I was too bad an improviser to move to improvise. After a couple of months, my jones for performing and improvising kicked in and I signed up for classes at iO.
These are some of the teachers and coaches I’ve had in Chicago at iO, Annoyance, The Playground, and independent teams, and random workshops: Jeff Griggs, John Lutz, Craig Cackowski, Peter Gwinn, Joe Canale, TJ Jagodowski, Paul Grondy, Noah Gregoropoulos, Mike Enriquez, Jet Evelyth, Lillie Frances, Susan Messing, Rebecca Sohn, Mark Sutton, Mick Napier, Sheldon Patinkin, Joe Bill, Miles Stroth, Dan Bakkedahl, Jean Villepique, Liz Allen, and Brendan Dowling.
The first day of classes, I walked in (I was late), and Liz Allen was addressing my class. She ran the training center, coached Valhalla, and was considered one of the best, if not the best improv teacher there and anywhere. She said, “Look around you. Some of the people you are going to get to know better than anyone else in your life. I’m not talking about hooking up with them at Mullen’s. I’m saying they’re going to be your best friends for life.” I don’t know if any of those classmates I’m still in contact with. I can’t remember who was in that class. But that can be said for people I’ve gotten to perform with.
If you know anything about Chicago improv, you know that I’m lucky to have been able to learn from these folks.
I started watching shows the year TJ and Dave started performing. I saw the first Four Square shows which featured John Lutz, Peter Grosz, Dan Bakkedahl, and Rob Janas. Both, I attended frequently and were huge influences on me. The first summer of Four Square shows were sparsely attended. I used to work at the Second City Box Office on Sunday nights. Take the train up to iO. Get a steak burrito from a great Mexican place that was located inside a car wash across the street and watch from the corner. I went to Edinburgh that August, and told everyone that Four Square was the funniest show in Chicago. When I came back a month later, the shows were packed. After the show, they’d ask you to throw money on the stage if you liked a show. A dollar or two. I remember having such satisfaction throwing a dollar, or if the show just blew me away, several dollars on the stage.
Scott Brady and I took classes together and would watch shows there late at night. After the lottery on Tuesday nights, John Lutz used to do midnight shows for like 5 to 10 people, whoever was left, with Jim Carlson. When he wasn’t there it was a rotation of female improvisers like Abby Sher and Meagan O’Brien. I loved those shows. The owner made him stop doing them, because she thought the shows drove people out of the bar and she made less drink revenue. I loved those shows so much.
I wasn’t a good improviser at first. I didn’t get put on a team after completing the training program. I went back and took classes. I went through Annoyances program twice. But I loved it. I grew as a person, and an artist.
As I transition to playwriting, pretty much everything I learned about writing a scene comes from my 12 years as an improviser. Rhythm. Setting up a joke. Having the characters listen and respond to the last thing said. Being able to balance more than one thread in a play at a time.
These things that are important to me and that are boring.
The most important things are all friends I made and still have. I got put on a team named “Revolver.” All my closest friends are on it. We’ve been playing Friday nights downstairs at 10:30pm for several years. Adal, Louie, Farrell, Jorin, Rob, Kyle, Jill, Sarah, Kyle, Vanessa, and our coaches Mike Enriquez, and Pat Raynor.
I’m just gonna list things now.
Pudding Thank You
Close Quarters run upstairs for two years.
Close Quarters opening for Four Square upstairs for the Just For Laughs festival.
Weddings and funerals.
Berka and Amatuzio.
Cesar, Mike Johnson.
Late night dance parties to Katy Perry until four in the morning.
Dancing upstairs with friends at various holiday parties.
Wednesday night shows.
Coaching the groups BUTCHMAX and DOGS
Calling iO and getting Katie Rich in the box office. Katie helping my dad get tickets to a sold out TJ and Dave show.
My dad choosing to go a TJ and Dave show rather than watch me in a show at the same time upstairs.
Having a guy come up to us on the street after the show and thanking us for making him laugh for the first time all day.
My friends and I have been performing and teaching workshops, performing and coaching at Ohio State and Ohio University. They are starting to move and perform and kick ass here in Chicago. Hoping that we set a good example of caring about doing good work and treating people well and with respect. (Nobody’s perfect.)
Most of all, my friends have been there for me when I’ve gone through difficult times. The 100s of times when a two hour improv rehearsal has made me laugh so much it would lift me out of a several day funk.
3541 N Clark is just a building. My life is completely intertwined with the people that have made it their artistic home. I cannot separate the two.
It’s late, and I have too much to do on these other projects so this isn’t a pretty or well thought essay.
I have a full length reading of a play on Tuesday called Moraine that I’ve been working for a year. Basically, it was inspired by the passing of Revolver’s coach Mike Enriquez a few years ago. It’s about how a group of strangers come together in Chicago, and become so intertwined they have stronger ties to each other than the family they grew up with. Someday I hope to make this play good enough that people actually want to pay to watch it. ‘Cause that mean I’ll have told the story well.
I love the people I’ve gotten to know there. I love the shows I’ve seen. I love that we’ve been able to make people laugh. We did it all because we like this really weird, highly imperfect comedy delivery system called longform improv.
That’s it I guess. This Friday is my last show there. 12 years after I moved to Chicago. My friend Louie from Revolver is sitting next to me with his girlfriend, Traycie. It’s 2am. They’re eating popcorn and watching a cartoon called “Adventure Time” which I’ve never watched. He’s letting me live with him this summer for a ridiculously cheap amount of rent. It’s the only way I can afford to live in Chicago, and work on playwriting projects before my 2nd year of grad school. He and Traycie are allowing me to be up in their business, because they are kind.
How do you end things?