One of my closest friends, Jason Chin, passed away on Thursday, January 8th, 2015.
I can't even believe it.
He was only 46.
I've had a lot of death in my life. Several friends and aquaintances over the years. Oodles of family. Even super close family--my dad. Jason was my closest non-family death. But really, Jason was family. I loved him so so much.
I don't really even have anything cohesive to say, but I want to get some of these things out of my head, so forgive the randomness.
Jason was my very first friend in Chicago. I met him in April of 1999--almost 16 years ago. We met at the CIF that year, and performed together with 2 others from my MS group and 4 others in Chicago. Charna put us all together. When we got back to town, I found Jason's blog review of our show, and he mentioned that it was my birthday that weekend and he only said great things about us. I reached out to him, and our epic friendship was created. We emailed tons, and talked on the phone nearly every night for a while. I had decided after that festival weekend that I was moving to Chicago in 2000, so I visited several times to get a feel for it and interview for jobs, etc. I always stayed with Jason. He introduced me to all his people and teammates and went with me to job interviews.
The first pic of us together, after the CIF 99 show in the upstairs IO Greenroom, where I will later take several more photos with him. Jason, Sara, Mulhern, Cindy and me.
He came to Jackson and stayed with Christopher and I one weekend.
He hosted Erica, Sara and me for CIF 2000, and I have a million photos of us in his apartment and pics that he took from that weekend. When the 3 of us all lived together, we hung out with Jason a lot.
Sara, Erica, Mulhern, me, Jason at Nookies on Halsted.
I have a memory of me having to rush out to get to my CCI call time at The Living Room in downtown Jackson, and Parker had gotten out. I was running late cause of having to chase her down, and Jason was going to go to the show with Christopher, who wasn't yet home. Jason hated cats, but I remember him awkwardly and begrudgingly holding her under the arms as I looked back while rushing out the door. It was hilarious. Last January, when Parker died, I texted him to tell him the news. He said she and I were always a good team.
Piero, Mulhern, Parker, Jason, Erica and me.
Jason was such a mainstay in the improv community that I can't believe I met him only FOUR YEARS after his arrival in Chicago. Insane. Talking with Rich Sohn the other night, I told him that the Pat Shay Dancers were my very first friends in Chicago due to Jason, and he said "you've been here that long?" Yeah. 15 and 16 years is a freaking long time. Insane.
Jason showing Mom the Del Close wall at the old IO.
Jason found me my first apartment. The sister building to the one he lived in. I was 739 W Belmont, he was 711 W. Belmont. I spent a lot of time at his place, and he at mine.
Jason introduced me to Jeff Gandy this way: "you are both from Mississippi, you should be friends." And so we did, and we've worked together choreographing shows and things for years.
Jason and me with salt shaker, lipstick, and Dad's baseball cap.
Before I moved here, there was a documentary that was being made by some improvisors that was to follow around 4 improvisors in different stages of their careers. The people were Rachael Mason, Jason Sudeikis, Jason Chin, and myself. Jason recommended me to be the newcomer. I interviewed on the phone with one of the filmmakers, and we hit it off immediately, bonding over our love of Waiting for Guffman. That person was Steve Gadlin, the person I've worked the most with in the last 10 years. Crazy.
I used to accidentally double expose my film all the time. Here is Jason Chin over Jason Sudeikis.
The constant refrain last week when we found out the news was "Jason introduced us" or "Jason introduced me to____."
Jason essentially kickstarted my career.
Memaw Reid, me, Mom, Sara, Christopher and Jason, from a time that my whole family came up for a visit. Dad took the photo.
Jason was my emergency contact in Chicago for the longest time. He took me to the ER when my throat swelled shut. He took care of me after I had my surgery.
John Ostendorf reminded me the other night about his helping me move shortly after he moved to Chicago. Jason, John O and John Mulhern were a trio of college pals, and I hung with them a LOT back in the day. They helped Sara and I move from the studio to our 2 bedroom across from IO on Clark. When he said this, I remembered this awesome story: I have this singing chicken alarm clock that I love. My brother HATES it. I got it in high school or something and it broke once, but dad fixed it and added a lever so you could just turn it on and leave it singing its little song forever. So Jason and the Johns were helping me move. I rented a Uhaul--one that had the gate thing behind the drivers seats so you could load stuff safely without it spilling to the front. Jason had apparently found the chicken, flipped the switch, put it in a box and loaded it FIRST into the truck. And of course, boxes were quickly placed around it blocking it in. I noticed that it was playing and was like "WHO DID THIS?" Jason was giggling. So it played the ENTIRE move. RIGHT behind the drivers seat. First box in, last box out. FOREVER. Amazing.
I found a program of the Thriller Theater from 1999. I saw a rehearsal of it. Jason autographed my program. Guess who was in that show? Fuzzy Gerdes. Beautiful.
I did 3 Thriller Theaters with Jason, performing in the first 2 (or all 3?) and choreographing the last 2. I also choreographed 2 other Halloween shows after that--Free Candy (I think it was called) and Friday the Halloweenth. I choreographed the Stir Friday Night show he directed (Horry Cow, That's Lacist) and his Breakfast Club the musical--the last 3 of those with Jeff. Our friends Seth and Michele were the musicians for the Breakfast Club musical. I was in a REALLY bad place when we did that show, so I really bit it with my choreography. I phoned it in, fought with the cast, barely rehearsed them and never saw the show. A few years later, I was finally at a place where I could recognize that and properly confess it and apologize to Jason about it (at Salt & Pepper, where we went all the time back in the day). He was so great about it and essentially was like "that's ok, the show wasn't that good" or "no one came to see it." or something. But it took a huge weight off my shoulders.
Jason at Salt & Pepper. I have a lot of photos from the bleached hair days.
Our song was "When Doves Cry."
Jason and I sort of fell out of constant communication when I started dating Fuzzy. This is to be expected--it happens with any friends when one is in a new relationship, and especially considering Jason and Fuzzy were both men, there was potential for things to be weird. I always hung out with Jason's girlfriends when he had them, and he knew about the people that I was dating when I did (which was very rarely.) But things with Fuzzy were so perfect and so right from the get-go, that I think we both sensed that and started only seeing each other or talking every few months. Plus, I wasn't at IO all the time and my career was taking a different turn, and then of course all the dad health stuff. So our friendship sort of took a hit. He was supportive, but didn't come to our wedding (he rarely went to weddings) and wasn't around a whole lot but neither was I. In the last couple of years, we made an effort to connect periodically, and when we did, it was amazing. We could sit and talk for hours, just like old times.
He mentioned me in his blog twice last summer. Here and here.
Pics from the night we bleached his and Piero's hair, as referenced in his blog post above. We did it at the theatre. Note that Jason's drip apron is an old WCHS T-shirt of mine. Go Vikes.
He lived on Belmont, then above the L&L (he took headshots of me in my Belmont Apt and also on the balcony of the L&L apartment), then above Mia Francescas, then on Sheffield (I never saw that place), then last summer he moved near me at Bryn Mawr and Winthrop. I was excited to have him in the neighborhood and we met at a diner nearby and I told him about all the good shops and restaurants in the area. We reminisced about old shows and I laughed my ass off.
And then he just fucking died.
IO moved from the old Clark Street building to a new shiny place off North Avenue last summer. I am so grateful that I can't go into the old building ever again--that building WAS Jason.
He LOVED the new IO. He was so excited about it. On Friday evening, there was a gathering for Jason--a toast in his memory. I was so nervous going--there were going to be so many new improvisors there and I had never been there and I didn't know what to expect. At first, it was so crowded, people were spilling out the door. But it dispersed, and the people remaining were all our old friends. People I hadn't seen in 10 years. It was wonderful and amazing. We all just hugged and kissed and held each other and cried. And laughed. I was amazed at how many people remembered me, and I heard over and over "I haven't seen you in YEARS!" It was magical.
Saturday, I went over with a small group of close friends and helped clean out his apartment. More old friends, more tears.
So many tears.
I gathered a handful of things that I feel that I needed. On this upcoming Sunday, Piero and I are sorting through all of his old scripts, show posters and photos to divvy up and scan and mail to the people that would want them.
Seth, Jason & another Chicago Comics employee at C2E2 in 2013.
Monday night was a memorial roast in Jason's honor. I laughed a lot more than I cried, and I cried a lot. More old friends. So many happy and wonderful memories.
Yesterday I picked up a box of some of his old props from John O's house. In it were some old headshots (some of him and some of friends--there were 2 of me) and scripts and this red corduroy jacket from Halloween 2000. I think I will keep that for myself.
On Wednesday last week, I listened to this old CD of our friends (Seth and Michele--as mentioned before) punk band. It was SO nostalgic. Jason and I would see them frequently, including once at the Fireside Bowl and once at this bar that had free baskets of bacon. I thought about texting him. I didn't. I really wish I had.
I don't really know what else to say about it. I don't think it has completely sunk in, even with all the crying and not being able to do anything. I don't really know if it ever will.
Jason was so loved in the community, and this past week has been an outpouring of stories and photos and ways that Jason has touched people's lives. He was an amazing man, that I am SO blessed to have known. He meant more to me than I could ever really say.
Things will never be the same.
Press about Jason's Death:
The Comic's Comic
This amazing video is the epitome of everything wonderful about Improv. He was the best.