Tag Archives: iO improv

At Last the 1948 Show!

1948 Show photo Ant

Another great rehearsal today for At Last the 1948 Show! Lauren Pizzi and Bill Russell are going to kill with “The Wonderful World of the Ant.” We’ll be opening on September 8th at the iO Chicago, featuring the lovely and talented Camilla Cleese–you won’t want to miss it. Nuff said!

1948 Show poster


Happy Birthday Del

Del Book coverDel BlobDel Close would have been 83 years old today.

I think he’d be pretty happy.

The new iO theatre building is attracting students and audiences from all over the world, and Charna is continuing to carry on his work.

Long form improvisation is still growing in popularity every year, and has become accepted as a legitimate entertainment in its own right, and more than just a way to develop sketches (which was always his goal).

There’s even a movie under way loosely based on his life.

So happy birthday, my friend. You are indeed a gift that keeps on giving.



It could have been a disastrous afternoon.

I was going to be teaching the very first PythonProv workshop at the iO Chicago, at the intersection of Monty Python and improvisation. I’m sure I was more nervous than my students. After all, how do you teach someone to improvise in the style of Monty Python?

I had a few reasons for optimism. If you can improvise Shakespeare, surely you can improvise Monty Python, and Improvised Shakespeare is one of the iO’s most successful shows. And, all modesty aside, I don’t know anyone who knows more about Monty Python and improvisation. (The glorious results of a misspent youth.)

But then, even the Pythons don’t improvise. They are meticulous writers, but the only improvisation they do is in the writing room.

So I had to wonder if I had bitten off more than I could chew, promising these students I could teach them how to improvise in the style of Monty Python.

And as I headed to the theatre this morning, I further realized that these students were part of the iO’s annual summer intensive, so I would be facing students from all across the country who had never improvised together before.

But when they started to arrive, I realized that I was wrong. True, they had never improvised together. But they were not from around the country. They were from around the world. So in addition to students from Pittsburgh and San Diego and Savannah, there were also students from England and Norway and Australia and Scotland. One of my students helped start the first improv group in Bulgaria!

But then we got down to it. It reminded me of one of my early classes with my pal Del Close. Del didn’t always know how things were going to work, but with the Baron’s Barracudas and his other students as his lab rats, he managed to figure it out. And, more often than not, he was right.

This time, I had a whole group of international lab rats to help me find our way through the process. We didn’t succeed with every scene, but more often than not, we managed to figure it out and learn how to keep improving. Even the students who weren’t as familiar with Monty Python were happy with the techniques they learned that could be applied to their more mainstream improvisation.

And by the end of the three hours, they were doing some excellent work, and I was starting to see the pathway to developing real PythonProv for performance.

And so, PythonProv is a thing, and not a disaster. Keep watching for more–I’ll be scheduling some full-length 8-week classes soon with the iO Chicago.

This is the beginning.

For those of you who have been asking what some of my incredibly talented classes have been up to: well, this is what some of my incredibly talented classes have been up to.

Yes, the next step for my Python Process class at the iO Chicago appears to be videos, specifically, writing sketches and then recording them. My class is called Sketch to Video, and signup is about to begin. Get ready…

If you’re in the Chicago area, and love sketch comedy, your options used to be limited. Very limited. Like, say, Second City and the occasional group that had found an empty stage to play on. That’s changed over the years. Now, the newest theatre has opened their second revue, and you do not want to miss it.


It’s called Undressed, by the same people who brought you Trap¬†at The Mission Theatre, which is part of the iO Chicago theatre complex. I really enjoyed Trap. Undressed is even better. The seven-person ensemble has now been working together nearly nine months, and it shows. They have become very comfortable working with each other, and with their directors, David Pasquesi and TJ Jagodowski. Full disclosure: I have been lucky enough to know TJ for several years, and David for several decades. But even if I hadn’t, I’d still be recommending this show. So go. Now.You’re welcome.
#io #improv

Theodore J. Flicker, R.I.P.

…Not many people who are improvising today know of the importance of Theodore J. Flicker, which is a shame. In fact, among his other many accomplishments, he was the director of the St. Louis Compass Players, directing Del Close, Mike Nichols, Elaine May, Nancy Ponder, and the rest of the cast.

How important was he? Well, it was he and Elaine May who devised what are now known as the legendary Westminster Place Kitchen Rules, developed separately from Viola Spolin’s improv rules but just as important and influential.

After each performance of the St. Louis Compass, Ted and Elaine would sit down to analyze what worked, what didn’t, and how it could be improved. Then the group would rehearse and put the rules into action each night in front of an audience. The rules that Del taught, from “Yes and…” on down, all came about from the work of Ted and Elaine.

The list of his credits is very long (he co-created Barney Miller, for one). If you have a minute, imdb him and be impressed.

And now Theodore J. Flicker (as Del always referred to him) is gone. If you improvise, you owe him more than you probably know.

iO again! …

iO alums

Although I wasn’t at the grand opening of the brand new iO theatre (at 1501 N. Kingsbury in Chicago), it was not through lack of desire, and more because we have a new house of our own that we’re gradually getting ready to move into. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check it out. I got an eyeful last weekend at the grand opening of the Mission Theatre, and it’s an amazing place, with more improvisation going on in one building than there was in the entire country when I first started doing this. Don’t believe me? Take a look here…

Goodbio iO

Time out from Python for more comedy.

io Old sign

This is the last week of the iO Theatre at its North Clark Street location, before it opens in August at its new-and-improved four-stages-no-waiting location by North Avenue and Clybourn.

It’s hard for me to be too pained by its passing (particularly because the new one is going to be so cool).

I already lost my first iO, though we called it the Improv Olympic back then, and I hardly even noticed at the time.

Crosscurrents Cabaret was just north of Belmont on Wilton, and that’s where it all started. When the Baron’s Barracudas wound up their run, I didn’t see as much of it for a while. But the iO has always wandered a bit, even when I was taking classes at Crosscurrents. It’s now been on North Clark for decades, where it has housed classrooms, stages featuring some of the best improvisation anywhere, and well as the earthly remains of Del Close. In recent years I’ve reconnected and begun teaching again, and I can see why so many are so sad to be losing it.

A few years back, I remember Dave Pasquesi pointing out a huge construction site on Wilton near Belmont. It was all gone, every scrap, and I was surprised at how little affected I was.

So I can only tell you this–I’ve lost the iO before, and it’s not about the location, it’s about the work. The iO always comes back bigger and better than before, and I have every confidence that this will be the case this time. Good work, Charna. See you at the new digs, Del.

iO Python Process Class Part 2

The final session of my first iO writing class wrapped up last night with a staged reading of a half-hour show we cobbled together from the various sketches the students have been writing and co-writing in the same process that the Pythons used to put together their shows. It went even better than I had hoped, especially considering the degree of difficulty involved.

It occurred to me that we managed to do in four three-hour sessions what would normally require twice as many sessions. But despite the breakneck pace, they acquitted themselves very well. Although it would have been nice to have a bit more time for polish, they were amazing, especially considering that four weeks ago, none of them knew each other, but managed to collaborate enough to produce a half-hour program.

But even the short schedule, I think, was beneficial. As I told them last night, most writers have virtually their whole life to come up with and polish their first portfolio of sketches or their first TV spec script. But if they get hired, they often have one week to produce their second one. There’s not a lot of ways to train for that. Hopefully, my students are a little better equipped than they were four weeks ago.

We even had time to watch the very first episode ever filmed of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, to give them some ideas about sequencing sketches, so I decided to post one that got a lot of laughs. Enjoy.