Chicago’s Funniest Roommates (And Their 9 Other Friends)

Ever feel like you can’t do something you really want to do because it’s slightly inconvenient? Don’t want to hang out with your friend because it’s raining? Can’t make it to the concert because The Real World is on? Can’t pursue your comedy career because Chicago is half way across the country, or maybe even on a different continent?

What’s that? That last one didn’t stop these two guys?

Enough questions, let’s start using some new punctuation.

Meet Matt Slater and Dino Spezzini, two guys who dropped everything back home to try to make Chicagoans laugh. After seeing them at the Latino Fest Committee’s annual comedy show, I was able to speak with them. A couple of weeks later I followed them down to Jokes & Notes to watch their improv/sketch group perform. After the show they were kind enough to let me ask them a few questions – take a look.

Dino (left) and Matt (right) // Photo by Brian Speer for The Runt

So let’s get down to the Matt and Dino Show here. How long have you guys lived together?

Matt: Since June. Before that, though, I moved in with Dino for like two months because I lived with a roommate who was a complete fucking maniac. He tried to kill me and shit. It sucked. So I moved in with Dino. He was kind enough to let me sleep on his air mattress for a very long time.

Dino: And that’s when I had a studio apartment.

Wow. That is very nice. Two months of that? That is very kind of you Dino!

M: Yeah, Dino and his girlfriend would have sex and I’d watch (laughs).

But then you guys got an apartment back in June?

D: Yeah. Now our place is almost like a little hotel of comedians.

Moving here, both of you said you didn’t really have friends, but I’m assuming now that you do they’re probably all people you’ve met through doing comedy stuff, right?

M: Yeah, I only know comedians.

I just watched you guys and your improv group, The Freshmen. How did that get started?

M: That started when me and Dino met at Second City about a year and a half ago, around May I think. At that time I was doing stand-up. I didn’t even really talk to Dino that much in class, but in the last class I said, “Yeah, I’m doing stand-up. Come do some stand-up with me.” We started doing stand-up all the time. Then we wanted to do improv shit more so we started just having open rehearsals for a group. It started slow and after a little while it started to really build momentum. Then we did our first show and it went very, very well. At that point people were like, “Oh what’s this? What are you guys doing? I want to be a part of it.”

You guys have eleven people in the group right now, right? Did it start that large? That is large for an improv group, right?

M: Yeah, huge.

D: Well, originally it was kind of like people from the class, so like once or twice there were about eighteen people. This was just when we were meeting, before we were putting on any shows. We just wanted to do more improv.

Dino on stage with The Freshmen // Photo by Brian Speer

So you both took the improv class at Second City?

M: Yeah.

Alright, so this is the origin story of Matt and Dino. (To Matt) You’re from Seattle, right?

M: Yeah, I’m from north of Seattle. A town called Bellingham. I came here like a year and a half ago to do comedy. The town I went to school in, Ryan Stiles (the tall guy from Whose Line) lives there and started a comedy club there. I started getting involved and doing that when I was in school. I did it for a little while after I graduated. I loved it, did a tour, came to Chicago, did a show, loved Chicago, then moved here about two months after that.

Dino. Give us Dino 101.

D: So I was born and raised in Paraguay. My mom’s American. She went down there for the Peace Corps, met my dad, and ended up staying there for twenty-five or twenty-seven years. It was always the plan that I would come to the US for college and I was always interested in comedy. So I took theater in college. I moved to the US just like that. I basically dropped all my friends and everything from Paraguay when I was eighteen. The good thing was my parents also moved, so they were about an hour away from where I went to school.

Where did you go to school?

D: University of Montevallo. My mom teaches at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, so they live in Birmingham. When I finished college I just needed to get out. I knew I was going to go to New York, LA, or Chicago. I’d seen a little bit of LA and I’d visited New York, but I just decided to come to Chicago on a whim without ever even seeing it. I knew Second City was here. I knew it was a place for comedy, basically the comedy Mecca. And then, of course, my girlfriend was also going into library sciences and she got accepted into Dominican University. But I’d never been here before but I just decided to come up and do comedy.

You just started looking for open mics, then?

D: Yeah. When I started talking to Matt and he was like, “Come out and do stand-up,” I was kind of unsure. I wanted to do more political and bicultural jokes.

Dino waits for the bus // Photo by Brian Speer

So you did the same thing, Matt? Just started looking for open mics to get your feet wet right away?

M: Yeah. That’s one of the things I kind of like about comedy. The only way to do it and get better at it is to just dive into it, you know? There’s so much shit to do here. I always wanted to do stand-up. The town I lived in before had a bar that would have comics come out every Sunday. I’d go every Sunday and ask if I could go up and do some time. They’d maybe let me do five minutes. It was like nothing. But here, if you want to, you can do like two or three mics a night depending on where you go. If you want to get into it here, you can get into it.

How often would you say you go out and perform now?

D: I think we’ve slowed down now compared to before.

M: Yeah. Right now we’re slowing down because we’re doing a lot of stuff with The Freshmen. We’re rehearsing basically like four or five nights a week. Tonight we were doing a show, but if we weren’t doing that show we would have been rehearsing. [We] don’t really have enough time to go out and do another open mic.

Was there ever a point where you were doing a shit ton of nights a week? Five nights a week? Six nights a week?

M: Oh yeah. There were several months when we would do like eight mics a week. I mean, you can do three in a night. There’s that idea that, “Oh I did three last night, maybe I can just do one tonight and do two the next night.”

When you’re doing all these open mics, like when you do eight a week, do you feel like it’s more for your own practice to get better or to spread your name?

M: I think it’s a little bit of both. Spreading your name is more like networking. I don’t know how many open mics you’ve gone out to, but a lot of the times it’s just other comics there.

Yeah, a lot of times you’ll see the same people at them.

M: Yeah, which is cool. That’s just the scene. There are a lot of people that want to do comedy so we’ll go anywhere and do comedy for anybody. You can feel it when you go out all the time. You know when you’re on and you just get that confidence. No matter what, you have to bomb over and over and over.

Have either of you guys had any fucking awful nights? Any dry spells or bumps in the road?

D: I think it helps when you actually have an audience. There were nights, especially when you’re doing two or three mics in one night, you end up going up after midnight at a place. You end up going up number thirty. It’s just you and the bartender. There have been times when I’ve been on the mic and it’s just Matt and the bartender while everyone else went outside to smoke or down to the lower bar to drink. So what do you do? “No, I don’t want to go up.” No, you just go up and try to (laughs) work the audience.

That’s the thing, you get the big highs where you can go a week and you feel invincible where everything new that you’re trying hits in dingy bars or whatever and you just feel invincible and everything is going, like, perfect. And then you get in this rut. You get in ruts where it’s hard for you to even come up with new jokes. Sometimes it feels like maybe for like a week or even more you just don’t feel funny. It’s like nothing you even try is working. But that’s usually the case that artists or performers or whatever are usually the hardest on themselves. Being perfectionists.

Does it get easier to take it when people don’t necessarily react the way you hope they do?

M: I think that’s the benefit of doing a lot of open mics.

Does it numb you to any potential failure?

M: Yeah, a little bit. You get used to not doing well and doing well with the same jokes. It’s like, “Why?” When I started doing it a lot I would memorize everything. I knew exactly what I was going to say and how I was going to say it. When it wasn’t going that well I stopped doing that and would just have ideas, like, “Oh, I’m going to talk about this idea for a while,” and that worked better. The only way to find that stuff is to go out and do it. Does it work better for you if you memorize shit all day and then do it? Or does it work better if you just kind of riff on it a little bit?

Do you feel like you get an idea and just be yourself, or do you think about things like your timing and your delivery?

M: Yeah. It’s all about the way you say it.

Dino, you said earlier that you try to write two or three new jokes a day. So how often do you actually try out the new jokes at open mics and stuff?

D: Now I’m getting antsy because we haven’t been going out. Usually, if I like one joke, I’ll try it, but then I’ll try two new ones alongside that one. I’ll try to build the one I really like. For me, especially starting off, I couldn’t actually write. I’d write concepts or ideas, or even have a punchline in my head, and I’ll have that down. But then I don’t write everything. I’m more of an on-my-feet, coming out of my mind sort of “riffing,” if you will.

So what’s it take for either of you guys to scrap a joke that you’re trying?

D: The worst is when you try a joke and it works that first time you do it, but then you try it again and it doesn’t work and you’re like, “Ok I’ll just try it again.” Then you try it again. In your mind you’re like, “I’ve done this and it worked! I’ve just got to find the way that it works again!” So you’re going to kind of, I love this example, I’ve been using it a lot, it’s like a bad relationship. The sex is great but the actual relationship is really, really bad.

The sex is the only thing holding it together?

D: Yeah, and you try to keep looking for that. The great sex that only happened once.

Even though the shit that matters isn’t really there. So did you rehearse your stand-up acts at all before you did an open mic or anything? Or did you just write shit down and jump right in? Did you try it for your friends or anything first?

M: I don’t feel like I really did that (rehearse) when I got here because I didn’t really have any friends (laughs).

Do you have friends now?

M: Now I have friends!

Matt giving his best for the camera // Photo by Brian Speer

Good. I’ll make sure that part gets in. How hard it is for you to let go of a joke? Are there any jokes that you’ve just given up on?

D: No, I actually want to have more time to bring them back. When you’re actually on the mic and you start a joke, and it might be a long joke, and people don’t laugh, it becomes fight or flight. Do you just drop the joke and move on to another one? I don’t know if it’s because I’m just fucking stubborn, but I won’t get any response and I’ll just think, “I’m still telling this joke whether people like it or not.” I’ll usually go through the joke and I end up getting more laughs just because I won’t stop, I won’t give up on that joke. (It’s that) versus you just decide to move on to another one, I feel like sometimes an audience will be like, “Why are you giving up on yourself already? If you’re giving up on yourself, why should I even listen?”

Do you feel like there’s a line between an audience respecting you for trying it and just thinking that you suck?

D: Oh yeah, totally. That’s why you’ve got to try at as many different places as you can. Get out of your safe zone. There are a lot of comedians that will just feel comfortable at just that one open mic where people know them. If you just stick there people might get tired of you quickly. I feel that you’ve got to spread yourself out. You can’t just stay in one bar and do the same jokes.

M: I think that’s one thing about doing open mics that are just a lot of comics. You’re doing jokes for people that all they do is jokes. They think you suck until you write a good joke. That’s the grind of it, you’re writing jokes for joke-tellers. If you make them chuckle a little bit, an audience of people will probably explode. I think a lot of Chicago comics do respect the art of it, they do want to hear smart jokes – good jokes.

Is there anything else you want to say? Any final words?

M: My penis is huge.

I’ll get pictures of it later (laughter). Does The Freshmen have a website or anything?

M: FreshmenComedy.com!

Any other final things you want to say?

D: Support live comedy!

M: Yeah, so jerks like us don’t have to listen to our own jokes over and over again.

Dino and Matt perform improv at Jokes and Notes // Photo by Brian Speer

With the short amount of time I’ve spent with these guys, it’s safe to say that they’re a couple of the nicest dudes I’ve met since I’ve started talking to more comedians. Kind as hell and humble as can be, these guys (and the rest of their improv troupe) are worth keeping an eye on.

Check them out with the rest of The Freshmen this upcoming weekend, December 10th and 11th, at the Gorilla Tango Theatre (BUY TICKETS HERE!). Make sure to keep your eyes peeled this January as The Freshmen perform in Sketchfest 2011. And don’t forget to check out FreshmenComedy.com!

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New Home Chicago

Hey! Remember me? I’m the one that was totally new to comedy when we started The Runt. Going to comedy clubs and having a few laughs has taught me a lot about the comedians from the personal stories they tell. From all of this it’s become clear that Chicago really is the place to be, and it’s definitely the place to do the comedy thang.

Many people flock to the comedy clubs to watch these comedians, but little did I know that these comedians flock to Chicago to get their shot at stand-up and improv. Some comedians that I’ve met have even come from other continents, let alone states in the U.S. Just from being a part of The Runt I’ve met Jamie Campbell (Oklahoma), Alex Orozco (Aurora, IL), Matt Slater (Bellingham, WA), Dino Spezzini (Paraguay), and Luisa Omielan (United Kingdom), all obviously hailing from all over the place just to get a slice of the Chicago comedy pie.  These guys and gal took a chance to move to Chicago in the hopes of moving on to bigger and better things.

It was surprising to see that not all comedians stick to only one specific type of comedy. Many often venture off into different types of comedy or comedic projects to try new things. The comedians mentioned above all do stand-up, while some even do a little improv. They each have their own style and specific topics they like to stick to. When watching these comedians perform, their individual style and personalities come out through their jokes and scenarios/stories they tell. Of course their personalities show that they’re not only hilarious, but also what is important to them or what they’ve gone through.

Most of the comedians use their life experiences as a way to start their stand-up; you know, get the crowd warmed up to their type of jokes. Anyone can agree that we all have had some funny experiences or incidents that are worth telling others because we know it’ll make them laugh. Same thing goes for these comedians, but they’re a lot better at sharing these stories than the average Joe. When they’re getting up on stage the only thing they want is to get some laughs out of the audience.

Getting up on stage isn’t easy either. I get stage fright, so I can’t even imagine the courage it can take for some of these people to put themselves out there the ways that they do. To make matters worse, they’re sharing personal stories with people they don’t even know with a microphone in a comedy club. Sharing their stories with complete strangers is worth it for the reward they get – making these strangers laugh. It takes a lot to be a comedian and I respect the comedians I have watched, whether they bombed or were successful. Good luck to all aspiring comedians coming to Chicago, the Promised Land for comedians to continue on to bigger and better things

 

Sweet Home Chicago, New Home Chicago // Photo by Brian Speer, The Runt staff

-Olivia, The Runt

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Comical Bonds: An Exchange with Shannon Kelly

Red-haired, kind-eyed, and recently master-degreed, Shannon Kelly is a woman of many joys. The success of her Second City graduation show “A Spork in the Road” (sold out for the last two weeks), the blossoming of her improv group The Roscoe Village People, and her research efforts at the Mayo Clinic construct a life worthy of a personal assistant. And while her weekend commutes to Chicago from Rochester would cause some folks chronic road rage, Ms. Kelly was all smiles when we met up for lunch. The long, painful five block walk to a tidy Polish deli paired with being hit on by an elderly man (offering to buy us “loaf of breads”) did not sway her cheery mood. Sitting down to pierogis, chicken, and meatballs, I marveled at the comic’s disposition.

I heard you come in from Minnesota every weekend?

Apparently. [laughs] Over the last year I’ve been taking improv and comedy writing classes at Second City. I didn’t want to put my comedy training on hold while figuring out my next steps professionally. This is my way of supporting myself while pursuing my comedic passions. [Commuting] is a temporary solution to have both until I move here full time at the end of the year.

What do you do for a living?

I research inflammation in autoimmune diseases, including lupus and arthritis. Inflammation can occur when our immune system, which in health protects us from infections and cancers, overcompensates and attacks itself. Our work focuses on personalized medicine, or treating each patient individually. We look at patterns of protein and gene expression, or ‘signatures’ to predict flares of inflammation and medication response. We’re also working to identify patients with the greatest likelihood to develop autoimmune diseases.

You seem very passionate about that, the way that you were describing it. I didn’t understand half of it, but I’m curious as to how that connects with comedy. It seems that your science career is very serious and comedy isn’t. It could just be dick and fart jokes.

It can be dick and fart jokes. I’m a very serious person by nature, but when I hang out with friends I’m very playful, and that’s not acceptable in the scientific world. You can’t get up and do a dick and fart joke before a lecture. So it’s a way of expressing my intellectual side and my fun side. I think they work well together, so at some point I would like to give a witty scientific talk and to be able to smartly weave those together. Clarity is the name of the game in the scientific world. If you’re getting blank stares in a scientific presentation, I know that I might need to step back and re-explain something or go back and get them, which is exactly what you have to do in comedy, albeit in a more brazen manner.

What comedy do you follow?

Right now I’m crazy about 30 Rock. It’s so brilliant. It’s almost like a way of life once you start watching it. I realized, going back to some of the older episodes that I’d missed, I had the same tennis shoes as Tina Fey, so that was pretty damn cool. I think, in a way, when I went shopping I was buying Liz Lemon clothes. [Laughs] That’s what is really cool about the arts, when you reach out and relate to someone else, you affect them. That’s why comedy is such a powerful, expressive art. The litmus test when I’m watching media is, “Does it affect me?” If I see a commercial that makes me cry I’m like, “Wow, that was powerful. It reached me.” That’s my comedic goal.

To reach people?

To identify and relate.

Liz Lemon Shoes

 

Why did you choose comedy as a form of expression?

Coming from a family of nine kids it was important discover my own voice, to be heard. I’m more of an introverted person by nature so comedy was a way to be heard.  My family is very witty.

What has been your experience as a female comic?It feels very familiar to be in stand-up because I’m around a lot of men. I grew up with seven brothers. So it’s almost like going home a little bit because it’s that confident, witty, male-dominated environment. Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to it—I’m coming upon a revelation as we speak—it feels very normal. As a woman I think female comics receive harsher criticism. You have to be a bit more crafty with your jokes, or flat out harsh, which isn’t me. I think there’s a balance in there somewhere.

You seem to strike an amazing balance between the arts and the sciences, Minnesota and Chicago, stand-up and improv.

I think it’s easier to come up with reasons not to do something. So I approach life with, “If I can handle this and it doesn’t negatively impact other areas of my life, there’s no reason not to do it.”  [I] know that I can’t do everything all at the same time. You have to take a defeat in there every once in a while. But if you try to achieve balance and peace and calm you can find it anywhere if you go into it with the right frame of mind.

[Pause] You know how when you have a good question in your mind, and then it just…

I can tell you what I want to do when I retire.

What do you want to do when you retire?

I want to make cheese in the country. I love cheese and I love all things culinary. I think that would be a great thing to do. I don’t want to raise the animals. I want to live next to someone who does, the organic thing, and has goats and cows and all of these milk sources and I can just make cheese.

 

Cheese Making Press

You grew up in Minnesota. They have cows and cheese there?

Yep!

I’m so out of the loop! How did you start your comedic endeavors? Growing up?

It started coming out when I was really young. People would tell me that I should do something with that. When I was thirteen I wrote my first sketch, which was very rudimentary. Having a lot of kids in my family, we would act it out. It was fun. When I graduated from high school I thought I really needed to get a job. I saw my parents struggle working paycheck to paycheck and I just really wanted to support myself. I didn’t think I would be able to do comedy right off the bat, and I didn’t know the way, actually. I watched SNL and I thought, “Oh my God, that looks amazing!” But I had no idea how to get there. So, I took much more of a practical approach. Once I got much more stable and could support myself, I really wanted to delve back into the creative and reignite that in myself.  I played around with the idea of doing stand-up for many years, but it was always something that was “in the future.” And then one day I made a bet with my friend who wanted to get out and do coffee shop music gigs. I called her and said, Okay, I want to make a bet with you. If I do an open mic, will you do a coffee shop gig?” “Oh, yeah, sure! When are you going to go up on stage?” And I said, “Thursday.” So it was a really cool time in my life because this is someone that was my roommate and we had talked about these things when they were pretty much hypothetical. So we pushed each other to get up and do it.  I needed that accountability; otherwise I’d be a liar.

What was your first time doing stand-up like?

Oh God, I remember it wasn’t even so much jokes. It was just to get through that three minutes. I mean, everything I said was more like storytelling, and it probably didn’t make that much sense to people. But when I got off the stage it felt like such a victory to have gotten up and done it. It was nothing comedically brilliant, but I tackled that. After that I just wanted to get better.

What have you done since then?

Stand-up has been my expressive outlet in Rochester because there is a comedy club there, so I can do that at least once a week. I’ve done a couple of gigs outside of Rochester that people have asked me to do. Most recently I organized a benefit for the Lupus Foundation of Minnesota, which is a non-profit that supports some of the research we do at Mayo Clinic, so it was an opportunity for me to organize an event that the proceeds went to something that I was really passionate about: raising lupus awareness and funding research. That was a big step for me.

Flyer for "Laughs for Lupus"

So you started in comedy by doing stand-up?

I started doing standup because it required no ensemble organization. It was very individual.  However, I always felt like it would be really cool if there was a cooperative effort in a group of people that were interested in each others’ success. That team aspect to improv and sketch comedy is exactly what I found at Second City. The people I’ve met at Second City are very interested in working collaboratively. When you write something it’s only going to get stronger when you work with great people. This last year I’ve been focusing more on improv and sketch comedy, but I look forward to focusing on stand-up with a strong group of writers. That would be really fun.

What’s your improv group [The Roscoe Village People] like?

We’re a bunch of amazing individuals. We work together really well. We support each others’ creative efforts and interests. That’s a really cool thing. A lot of places don’t have that and I think as a troupe we’re really understanding how we [each] react to different things so we have much more of a playful spirit. It’s invaluable. I’m excited for our future performances!

How did you meet these fellow troupe members?

I met them at Second City in my improv class. These were the people that were still in after the fourth class, so these were the people who were really interested in acting and working together in a group.

It sounds like a really fun time.

It’s a point to look forward to. It gets me through the week, especially at times when an experiment doesn’t work, or miscommunications in a project delays progress. It’s so nice to know that at the end of the week I’ll be around people that I know support me, and reciprocally I support them. And just to play, with the goal of entertaining in the future is just a really cool vision. I really can’t imagine my life without it.

But when you do retire you’ll make cheese.

[Laughs]

Is there anything else you want to say about yourself, your comedy, your experience as a performer?

I would say, for anyone who has ever questioned if they want to perform in comedy: Go for it. Do it. Chase your passions. You’re not going to be the person you want to be unless you chase those things down.

I like the way you think. Like a guru.

[Laughs] Apparently so.

________________________________________________________________________

For more on this enlightening comedienne, check out her Facebook page and check back we post more updates on Shannon Kelly (a little birdie told us that a website for Shannon is in the works….). Stay tuned!

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Laugh! It Really is the Best Medicine

Laughter makes everything thing better…

Sometimes it’s caused by a funny joke, television, a stand-up comedian or my personal favorite, watching a dog poop; a little chuckle can go a long way to keeping your mood and spirits lifted. Although the idea of humor having healing effects has been around for some time, it hasn’t been until recently that scientists have been able to study this phenomenon more in depth. Besides the obvious mood pick-me-up, recent research suggests that the power of laughter has many psychological and physiological benefits as well.

Humor and laughter can strengthen your immune system, diminish pain, boost your energy and protect you from stress. Not a bad for a priceless medicine that is fun and free to use. Toss away the pills and run to the nearest comedy hub for an emergency dose of laughter.

Great for body health and functioning—

According to Dr. William Fry, professor of clinical psychiatry at Stanford University, laughter increases heart rate, improves blood circulation, and works muscles all over the body. Fry has studied the effects of laughter for over 30 years, and compares it to “inner jogging”, claiming that laughing 100 times a day is the equivalent of 10 minutes of rowing [1].

If you’re sick the doctor’s office shouldn’t be your only destination. According to Department of Clinical Immunology at Loma Linda University School of Medicine, laughter can decrease serum cortiso levels, increase T lymphocytes and increase the number of natural killer cells[2]. Simply put, laughter is a great cure for the common cold, and studies suggest that a good chuckle (or 100) can stimulate your immune system.

Increases endorphin levels—

Wonder why you feel so great after a good laugh?

Studies suggest that laughter is credited for increasing the release of endorphins; the body’s natural painkillers and protection against depression and stress[3]. Although the physiology and molecular makeup of the effects of laughter are still far from understood, scientists have strong evidence that humor’s release of our ‘happy chemical’ in our bodies boosts the operation and control of almost every system in our bodies.

That’s right men…every part of our bodies 😉

Quick! Take 30 cc’s of some humor. If you can’t laugh at our friends from Born Ready Films, you’re incurable.

Positive impact on our minds—

It has also been demonstrated that humor and laughter have a psychological impact as well. Psychologist, Herbert Lefcourt, studies the effects of humor on life changes and our emotional response to stress. His studies show that the ability to sense and appreciate humor can buffer mood disturbances that happen during negative life events[4]. Humor can give you a positive and optimistic outlook on life during troubling situations.

~Laughter can dissolve distressing emotions: Don’t give yourself any time to worry about the bills or late car payments. You can’t feel anxious, angry, or sad when you’re laughing.

~Laughter helps you relax and recharge: Laughter can relax your muscles for up to 45 minutes. It reduces stress and increases energy, enabling you to stay focused and accomplish more.

~Humor shifts perspective: Was your boss an asshole the other day? Forget him, he’s fat, ugly, and has no friends. Tomorrow is another day. Humor can allow yourself to see situations in a more realistic, less threatening light. A humorous perspective creates psychological distance, which can help you avoid feeling overwhelmed.

People utilizing the power of laughter—

~Norman Cousins: One of the most publicized testimonials comes from a founder in the therapeutic use of humor, Norman Cousins. In his book, In Anatomy of an Illness (1979), Cousin chronicles his moving story of battling a painful, crippling disease. The journalist, professor and world peace advocate found that only 10 minutes of ‘belly laughter’ enabled him to sleep pain-free for two hours. Eventually Cousins recovered from ankylosing spondylitis, a chronic, inflammatory arthritis and autoimmune disease, later attributing much of his recovery to the power of spirit and laughter.

~ Howard E. Richmond, MD: As a certified psychiatrist, Richmond spends his nights doing stand-up comedy. He attributes the success of his sessions to the alleviating powers of humor.

Some footage of the ‘Comic Shrink‘.

-Written by Runt staff member, Joey Delisi


[1] Fry, W. (1977). The respiratory components of mirthful laughter. Journal of Biological Psychology, 19(2), 39—50.
[2] Pelletier, K., & Herzing, D. (1989). Psychoneuroimmunology: Toward a mind-body model. Advances, 5(1), 27—56.
[3] Montague, A. (1991). Growing young, laughter, play and other life giving basic behavioral needs. An address to the Power of Laughter and Play Conference, Institute for the Advancement of Human Behavior, Stanford, CA.
[4]Lefcourt, H. (1990). Humor and immune system functioning. International Journal of Humor Research, 3(3), 305—321.
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Hire Me, I’m Funny: In Defense of Adding Comedy to Your Résumé

I was interviewing a fellow Second City student when our conversation turned to “real job” applications:

Me: So do you think this program looks good on a piece of paper?

Him: Depends on who you’re showing the piece of paper to.

Me: You wouldn’t put it on your computer science résumé?

Him: Well, it’s funny, I feel like I have to have two résumés. I feel like I have to have my computer science résumé, and then I have to have my comedy studies/artistic résumé. Ah, you know what, no. It depends on who you’re showing the résumé to. You need a different résumé for pretty much every job you’re applying for.

While I agree with the “different job = different résumé” observation, it got me thinking. I myself have three résumés: one for corporate or office jobs, one for creative jobs in writing and design, and the artistic résumé/headshot combo. Personally, I put my time at Second City on all of them, regardless of the position I am applying for. Perhaps it has gotten my applications immediately tossed into the “NO” pile. But my present employer values my training, signing me up for public speaking bits, event planning, and general office cheer.

With the job market as rough as it is today, anything that stands out in that infinite pile of black and white résumés is gold. A comedy education is not only a great conversation starter, but shows that you have skills employers are universally in favor of:

1) Communication Skills (listening, verbal, and written): You spent however much time in comedy school learning communication skills: “show don’t tell”, projection, a concise yet informative writing style. These are skills business students are usually not taught in their six-figure curriculums, yet are highly desired in any job requiring human interaction. Your comedic training shows that you can get your message across, and be entertaining at the same time.

2) Self-Confidence: If you enrolled in a comedy studies program, chances are you were either already brimming with poise or were looking to hone this skill further. It takes guts to go up on a stage (or in front of your peers), and knowingly make a fool out of yourself week after week during training. Your comedy education probably included an unofficial crash course in dealing with funny, eccentric, and really driven people. Your prospective employer should not only value your overdeveloped public speaking skills, but also your ability to hold your own in a room full of attention junkies.

3) Planning/Organizing: Whether you’ve had to book a gig, organize a troupe, get rehearsal space, promote a show, or get your comedy classes in order, you have done some strategic planning to move your comedic endeavors along. It takes phone calls, emails, text messages, and research to put together a successful event, curriculum, or the weekly social gathering. Whatever the case, your organizational skills can be transferred to mostly any job, provided it involves more than repetitive motions or being a living mannequin.

4) Leadership/Management Skills: There is someone in every comedy act that takes the reins and gets things moving. Are you the person planning coachings and gigs for your improv troupe? The stand-up comedian negotiating your pay and time-slot? How about the writer who is editing submissions for a sketch show? Adding the stresses of being in charge makes you better able to handle yourself in tough situations. It shows that you are willing to be accountable not just for your own work, but for the work of others. An employer will see this as an added bonus to your already impressive skill set, and might keep you in mind for higher-paying management positions in the future.

5) Willingness to Learn: This one’s a no-brainer. You paid to learn comedy on your own time. Of course you have a “willingness to learn”.

6) Teamwork: More than likely, you have had to do group performances or peer evaluations during your comedic studies. These are only accomplished successfully when everyone provides their talents and input in a productive and organized manner (save, perhaps, the stand-up comedian or the reclusive writer). Being able to constructively add your voice to a final product, and graciously give/receive feedback is a skill many people never learn. An employer is usually looking for a team player. Your experience working in groups and hearing feedback about the most sensitive thing to any artist (their art) can set you above the competition. It proves you know how to collaborate, and that you can conduct yourself professionally when it comes to hearing your faults.

7) Dedication: Serious comedians fit at least one of the following categories: hard-working, tenacious, motivated, energetic, passionate, positive, or loyal. Employers are looking to add to their ranks someone who exhibits these qualities, and who wants to grow and develop with their company. If you’re applying for a job that you’re sure to enjoy, demonstrating commitment in other areas of your life can score you some major points. Sure, if comedy is what you really want to do, and you’re taking that nine-to-five office job just to pay your bills, that’s fine too. At least you have the training to pretend that you’re enjoying yourself.

I have friends who’ve seen this work out for them on both sides (one works in marketing at a major cell phone company, and the other had his application dismissed for a position he was very qualified for). Whatever your decision (because “it depends” is the answer to everything), be sure to give serious thought to adding your comedy schooling to your résumé. Chances are, if your prospective employer won’t hire you due to your comedy background, you’re probably better off not working there.

-Natalie Alvarado, The Runt

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Sunday Funday: Support Chicago’s good side and check out Bad Sides

Put Chicago on the map and help creative badasses Justin Palmer, Nathan Adloff and Danny Rhodes make their break by checking out the mockumentary comedy series BAD SIDES tomorrow afternoon at the Uptown Lounge (1136 W. Lawrence Ave). Tickets to their pilot screening party are selling for $10 today and includes a free drink, hors d’oeuvres, Q&A session with Justin, Nathan and Danny, live stand-up by Kristen Toomey and Carol (of Bad Sides) AND live music from Darrick Thompson and LUCAS. Solid Sunday? I think so. Bursting with talent, Bad Sides is an entirely independent, grassroots project.

Details from their site:

The story centers around Marcuss (Rhodes), a spoiled trust fund wannabe amateur filmmaker and Marcuss’s adoring sycophant friend Allison (Rafai) during their ongoing quest to cast his film. Dissatisfied with the available talent pool in Chicago, their new intern Nick (Adloff) quickly discovers that the problem might have less to do with the talent of the actors, and more to do with the crazy people running the auditions.

Shot on location in Chicago, with a story that takes place in Chicago, starring Chicago’s very best talent, each episode of Bad Sides features a cameo guest star spot that serves as the thematic focus of that week’s episode.

Bad Sides is directed by Nathan Adloff — the Chicago filmmaker known for his unique brand of wicked comedies. Adloff, Rhodes, and Palmer team up to bring Chicago audiences the kind of brutal humor found in Adloff’s award-winning short films, UNTIED STRANGERS and IRREGULAR FRUIT.

Buy Tickets Here

Invite your friends on Facebook.

Show your support.

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Comedy for a Latino Festival?

The Latino Fest Committee at University of Illinois at Chicago hosted their annual LOL Comedy Show for the year a couple weeks ago. As myself and another Runt staff member attended, I spoke to a handful of Latino Fest Committee members about the show, including May Morales, Vice President of the school’s Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority. The comedy show was the first fundraiser for the Latino Fest Committee to raise money for their annual Latino Fest Sabor de Culturas, Embracing Our Roots, hosted in the spring.

May Morales // Photo by Brian Speer for The Runt

This show caught my eye, not only because it was a comedy show, but because it was something that I never expected a Latino Committee to use. Often you go to a bar or comedy club to see comedians perform, but when they gather at a school to help raise money it can change people’s perspective of comedy, a perspective where comedy is performed not just for laughs, but for a good cause.

When asked why the Committee chose to do a comedy to help fund their upcoming festival, May explained, “UIC organizations tend to have talent shows, dance offs, etc. We wanted something different and we had a contact – Alex.”

Alex Orozco was the emcee of the show. Alex is a Chicago comedian fresh off a trip from Las Vegas to perform a show of his own. He became a part of the show when his cousin, a member of the Committee contacted him for help. This year marked his third time hosting the annual show at UIC.

Alex Orozco // Photo by Brian Speer for The Runt

Being the committee’s main link to Chicago comedy, it was Alex who was in charge of wrangling more comedians for the show, but May said, “We also extended the invite to people our committee members knew would be interested, thus the couple of UIC students participating.”

The line up for the show was as follows, Alex Orozco, Dave Garro, Emily Lake, Drew Michael, Dino Spezzini, and Matt Slater.  Bringing the laughs was no easy task, but they all delivered. Check out some of the highlights below.


Committee member Cynthia Valentin said about the performance, “Drew was hilarious! One of the funniest people I’ve ever seen and heard.” She was happy with the event’s turnout and hopes their other fundraisers will be just as successful.

Drew Michael // Photo by Brian Speer for The Runt

May, who organized the event, was also very happy with the turnout. “We were very paranoid about our ticket sales because many [people] would ask, ‘Who is coming?’ And of course we weren’t featuring any big names, just a good group of comedians. Overall it gave all of us a needed laugh. Especially because it was during the middle of the week, when most of us are very stressed.” The Committee definitely accomplished just that – a good way to get people relaxed for the rest of the week.

The show was a definite success. Check out the comedians and go see them whenever you get a chance! And be sure to keep an eye out for future fundraisers from the Latino Fest Committee supporting Latino Fest Sabor de Culturas, Embracing Our Roots (happening March 30-31, 2011).

The Latino Fest Committee and Dave Garro, Donny Rodriguez, Alex Ozozco, Matt Slater, and Dino Spezzini // Photo by Brian Speer for The Runt

-Olivia Garcia, The Runt staff member

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