In April of 1999, I decided to move to Chicago to pursue comedy. My move date was going to be May 2000. I spent that year hustling--I visited several times, lined up 2 jobs, registered for classes, found an apartment, made friends. Somewhere in there, my friend Jason Chin recommended me for a documentary that was being produced about 4 improvisors in various portions of their careers. Jason was one of them, as well as the lovely Rachael Mason and some guy named Jason Sudekis. And I was person #4--the newcomer. Since I didn't live in Chicago at the time, I conducted my casting interview over the phone. One of the producers, a guy named Steve, called me, and we had a hilarious chat about comedy, art, life and our shared love of the movie Waiting for Guffman.
Sadly, the project fell through a few months after my arrival, but I stayed in touch with Steve. He invited me to sit in with an improv group he was putting together. I did. That group (The RIngmasters) performed for just a little while, and then turned into a different group at the Playground Theater (Pastor of Muppets, which I didn't join at the beginning, but would later on). Steve was a brilliant thinker and would often put together a night of spectacle. One night, he put together a mystery improv team, Shuddupyaface--we were each given codename (of African American actors--I was Agent Jackson) and we were to show up to the theatre but not mention to anyone that we were performing. He called us one by one to the stage where we performed together for the first and last time. The only kicker was that there was almost no audience at the theatre that night, so if you weren't in one of the other 2 established teams performing, it was correctly assumed you were in the mystery team. It was a super fun night.
There were video projects and other one-offs here and there. Along the way, I met some other guys that Steve went to college with--other comedians with the same sensibilities. In October 2004, Pastor of Muppets famously signed up for a sketch show slot for 4 weeks, and then didn't write one. Steve and his buddy Paul threw together a concept for a gameshow that they would host along with another friend Bryan as timekeeper. They posted auditions for weirdo variety act style comedians, and I of course signed up. Shortly before auditions were to be held, Steve emailed me saying that all but 3 people canceled their audition slots and asked what my bits were going to be. I described them to him, and was cast. And just like that, we put on Don't Spit the Water. After a few limited run engagements, the show ran weekly for years, and took us to SC, NYC, LA and even on TV with our own half hour pilot.
With the start of that show, the official comedy group of Blewt! was formed. Among many other things, we've produced a prank web series (Silly Funny Goof Gang), a standup showcase (Blewtenanny), a weird conceptual show starting Jared Logan and Kumail (The Demon Who Never Appeared), a Kenyan-penned melodrama (The Nairobi Project), a call-in cable access talk show (Talkin' Funny), 8 seasons of a super amazing hit talent competition judged by hyper-intelligent apes from the future (Impress These Apes--season 8 just wrapped last night--crazy) and a performance showcase television show (Steve Gadlin's Star Makers). On the side, Steve launched a stick figure cat drawing company called I Want to Draw a Cat for You and went on to score a deal with billionaire Mark Cuban on the show Shark Tank. We've had numerous members of Blewt! over the years, all awesome. Some have moved onto LA, some have moved on to their own creative projects. At the core, though, is Steve, Paul, Bryan, Fuzzy and myself. We're a great team. We are constantly creating and putting more and more weird out into the world. TimeOut Chicago once called the creation of Blewt! one of the top 10 best moments in Chicago comedy in the 2000-2010 decade. Being in one of the biggest comedy cities in the world, that is a huge compliment.
With our 10 year DSTW anniversary approaching and the last season of Apes behind us, I've been thinking a lot about life and comedy and my life in the performing arts world. I have my hand in a lot of projects--I dance, I choreograph, I write, I perform, I direct. I am often full of anxiety and self-doubt. But these last 9 weeks of Apes has been something else--comforting. Being back with Steve, Paul, Bryan & of course Fuzzy is like going to a reunion of family or old friends. It's like going home. It is easy, and it is fun. I laugh so hard with those guys. Working with the same group of people is really a gift--we know how each other works and how to get the best product. We've laughed a lot lately with taking on this last Apes--we used to fight and argue over the smallest details, but now when someone makes a suggestion, the rest of us are like "yeah, that sounds good." As Steve said "We're all so old and agreeable now." Steve, Paul and Bryan are all fathers, and we all have different priorities in life, but we all love to create something stupid for the enjoyment of others--"Comedy to Delight and Confuse," as the Blewt! tagline says.
Sitting on the panel with the other Apes is one of my favorite things. There's no pressure to be stand-out funny up there--we just inhabit these characters and riff off of each other. A spectator last night told me that while the show is focused on the contestants and their performances, one of the joys of watching the show is watching the Apes interact with each other, because of our comfort level and camaraderie. I love that.
Every moment in our lives helps make us who we are today. We are a summation of experiences, and each person we meet enhances our lives in some way. I realize how amazing it is, when talking to people about Blewt! and our shows, to say "I've been working with Steve for over 14 years." I am grateful for all the crazy ideas he has come up with over the years and for all the opportunities I've had to work with him on those projects. I'm lucky to be able to say that he is one of my closest friends.
The world needs to laugh, and it's a gift that I get to help make that happen. I can't wait for what's next.