Sheldon Patinkin RIP

A couple of hours ago, I glanced at the Chicago Tribune’s weekly obituaries and noticed that of Theodore J. Flicker. I thought to myself “Not many of the founding fathers of improv are left. Thank goodness we still have Sheldon…”

And now, we don’t.

If one were making a list of the most beloved figures in Chicago improv, Sheldon would be right up there, and deservedly so. His lineage goes way back to the Playwright’s Theatre Club, which was the forerunner of the Compass Players, which was the forerunner of Second City.

I’ll leave it to others to tell about his lengthy history and contributions to Chicago theatre (which included authoring The Second City book). Instead, I’ll tell a little about my first experience with Sheldon.

I was writing my biography of Del Close, The Funniest One in the Room, a while back, interviewing everyone I could find. But I hadn’t interviewed Sheldon. Everyone had warned me that the two of them hadn’t…well, they hadn’t been the best of friends. I was reluctant to look him up because I didn’t want to hear a lot of Del bashing. But finally, after dozens of people had told me to “Call Sheldon!”, I relented.

We set up a time to talk, and I prepared for the inevitable Del-bashing. Which never came.

Sheldon couldn’t have possibly been nicer. It’s true, he told me, Del never liked him, but he never knew why. And he went on to tell me story after story of his experiences with the man–possibly the only person in Chicago–who didn’t like him. In fact, at one point it was Sheldon’s job to haul Del from what the latter called “the nut house” to Second City, and back again. Yet he couldn’t have been nicer about it. By the time he had finished, I was horrified and embarrassed that Del had abused this wonderful gentleman so badly.

And after that, I was a first-class fan of Sheldon. We didn’t see each other often, but I’m tickled to say that he was a fan of my writing, and even turned up at a Columbia College panel on Del a couple of years ago. He was looking forward to my book on The Committee, and I am further horrified to note that I still haven’t finished it. But I will. Somewhere, Sheldon is waiting to read it.

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