There’s an improviser out there in Chicago somewhere, doing her fourth show of the week.
One or more she DEFINITELY slayed. One or more was DEFINITELY a shitshow.
She’s been at it for a year. Two years. Five years. Fifteen years.
She waits tables at a hellhole Wrigleyville dump. She temps at call centers and carves her initials under desks. She has a high-powered corporate job that sucks the marrow from her bones. She lives off her parents while trying to get her Etsy page dedicated to Ribbon Bracelets to take off.
She just scrolled through her Facebook feed and saw someone who has been here for half the time she has get an opportunity ten times bigger than anything she’s ever been offered. The person even time-stamped their post “Wow! I can’t believe after being in Chicago for six tenths of a second, I’m performing on the Second City Mainstage/got a recurring role on Chicago Fire/got SNL!!!!”
She kind of wants to die reading it but she hearts it and comments “OMG GIRL GET IT!!!”
She checks her email. Nothing. Still no word if that important producer/agent/manager is coming to her Tuesday night improv show at The Playground/one-woman show about growing up in a scuba diving family/sketch show she wrote with her classmates, half of who flaked during the process.
She stays at it for another year/two years/five years/fifteen years. She ages out of most opportunities, because the bigwigs have decided they only want to cast literal fetuses on their stages. She watches as a just-released sperm with a YouTube channel gets SNL and an egg that literally JUST entered the fallopian tube gets his own TV show.
She wonders if no one sees her because she’s too old. Too queer. Too esoteric. Too loud. Too quiet. Maybe she references Rocko’s Modern Life too much in her improv scenes. Or maybe she doesn’t reference Rocko’s Modern Life enough?
She starts teaching improv/interning at the box office/coaching an improv team to make a little extra cash/get some stage time/get discounted classes.
Her agent calls and yells at her for booking out wrong. She can never seem to do it right. She’s only gotten cast in one thing in her time there, a small role in a short film, and her part was cut.
On weekends she holds court at bars near the improv theaters that rejected her and laughs and tells stories of her miraculous bad luck and says “FUCK YOU!!” to the people who wronged her before taking another shot of Malort/Malort shot/it’s always a Malort shot at this juncture/swig of Malort. Then she goes home to her studio apartment in Lincoln Square/Roger’s Park/Bronzeville/Logan Square and cries with her cat/old dog/bowl of three-day-old Thai food because she can’t seem to escape this endless cycle of rejection/get people to notice her/remember how to love performing comedy/recognize the pain she’s inflicting on herself by continuing to pursue dreams that seemed electric when she started at 22 but now seems juvenile.
The pain she feels in her chest is the pain of realizing, slowly over her year/two years/five years/fifteen years, that wanting something is much different than deserving it. And deserving something means nothing if you remain invisible to those who can give it to you.
She has four more shows next week. And six the week after. And then a little break. And she’ll hate herself for being so busy and hate herself for having that little break. And she’ll hate herself most when she has a moderate amount of shows/rehearsals because it’s clearly not enough/it’s clearly too much and fuck her for not being able to control it.
More crying. More Malort. More three-day-old Pad Thai.
And then, one day, after yet another three-person audience/packed house/bad review/standing ovation, something will click into place inside of her. She has to move to LA. Suddenly, her stress and sadness will melt away because she’s reclaiming the power to define herself, something she’d ceded to outside forces for years.
This improviser exists all over the place. Sometimes she’s a he. Sometimes she’s a she. Sometimes she’s a they/zi/figuring it out. She is prolific and unique and rough around the edges and brilliant and deeply flawed and a mess. She has the audacity not to be a Shiny Object Everyone Notices, or just isn’t that good at self-promotion, or doesn’t stay out past 10 because she has kids/a stressful job/a dog/just likes sleep.
The Chicago comedy world is a land of abundance filled with people who operate in perpetual scarcity mode. We fear the success of others and see our comedy careers as ladders instead of ball pits. We work the system to benefit ourselves instead of raise each other up.
If 11 years in Chicago taught me one thing, it’s to notice those around you. The ones falling through the cracks. The ones putting in the work but not getting the opportunities. And recognize you have the power to create opportunities for each other and change each other’s fortunes.
I was ignored. I was overlooked. It hurt. And it’s been hard not to be angry about it. But I found abundance in Chicago, in amazing friends and collaborators. And I tried my best to create my own ball pit (well, let’s be honest, a wig pit). And it was the greatest experience of my life, until the day comes that Judith Light buys me Panera.
I’m sad for what I didn’t achieve, for what I gave up on, for the emails that never came, but also I’m sad for the people who didn’t give me a chance, because they didn’t get to see what I could do for them.
There’s an improviser out there in the Chicago somewhere, doing four shows a week. And she’s desperate for a fucking chance.
Give her the outstretched hand you’re waiting so impatiently for someone else to give you. Make space for her. Create something for her, or with her. Let her sit in with your group. Cast her in that JonBenet Ramsey show you’re writing, or the sketch show about butts you’re creating with classmates. Put her in your web series about zany bro roommates that you’re shooting on your iPhone. Invite her to your variety show. Put on a variety show with her. Notice her at the end bar, swimming in her phone, waiting for emails/opportunities that will never come. Buy her a Malort shot (but like, for fuck’s sake don’t be creepy about it).
Because if you keep ignoring her, she’ll quit. And her comedic voice will be silenced prematurely.
Or she’ll let the bitterness overtake her and become something she isn’t.
Or she’ll say fuck this and move to LA and become a showrunner on a wildly successful HBO show about huffy older women waiting in line at Lord & Taylor called Gentlemen Prefer Blazers.
There was an improviser out there in Chicago somewhere, doing four shows a week. Some she slayed, some were shitshows. Now she’s in a car on her way to LA. It’s been tough, but I think she’ll be okay.