“Del Close was the improv comedy guru (both writing and acting) in Chicago when I went there. And he was the reason I went there. I was told about this guy doing groundbreaking work, where you are improvising plays, and he could teach you how to improvise scenes. He was a big influence on my life. I worked with him for a long time. Our improv group became an experimental group. He’d work out forms with us—Ian Roberts, Matt Besser, Rachel Dratch was in the group for a while, Neil Flynn, Miles Stroth. He would use us as his group, and what he taught, looking back on it, a lot of it was about writing. He had certain kinds of things he would push, like: always look for your third thought. Your first instinctual thought was a commonplace one, your second one was kind of respectable, but it was the third one where it got special. So he would have us stand on stage until we found that third thought, and eventually we got pretty fast at it.
“He taught us a lot of things. He was a big believer in always playing at the top of your intelligence—even if you’re being dumb, be brilliantly dumb. And if you’re playing a kid, don’t play a kid as dumb, kids are smart. If you’re playing someone drunk, usually if someone’s drunk they’re trying to act like they’re not drunk. Don’t play them drunk. A lot of his work was about finding a more original choice. And he did a lot of game theory for creating scenes, and finding out what the scene is about. A really formative time of my life. And at that time—this was pre-Internet—there was just this crazy migration of talented people into Chicago. A list of like one hundred people that are still writing, directing, and acting now. All the way from Tina Fey to Mike Myers to Chris Farley to Dave Koechner, and on and on. Rachel Dratch, Jon Glaser. It was an incredible time to be in that city.”
Oscar-winning writer/director Adam Mckay (The Big Short)
filmcomment interview by R.Emmet Sweeney
(Mckay was a founding member of the improv group Upright Citizens Brigade that started out performing in coffee houses and small theaters in Chicago. After a run with Saturday Night Live, Mckay teamed up with Will Ferrel to make Anchorman and Talladega Nights.)