By: Simon Tessmer
CHICAGO, IL—Matt Ranowski, a 37 year-old veteran of the Chicago improv scene, sat at the iO bar Monday evening and regaled patrons with a haunting account of storming the beaches of Los Angeles. Sipping his third free Corona with no intent of tipping his bartender, the bearded ComedySportz referee gave the unvarnished truth to new improv recruits of the war path he faced.
“The year was 2007, and all we had were the clothes on our backs and an organic sense of ‘yes and,’” recalled the flushed-faced bachelor. “My brothers and I finished iO’s full program together and were hot off a seven week Cage Match win-streak. We were more than teammates on Beef Wellington. I would’ve gladly laid my life on the line for any one of those seven identical straight white guys,” Ranowski reminisced, a single tear rolling down into his beard.
Ranowski’s drunk glassy eyes glistened further as he remembered the shattering of his naive idealism by the violent chaos of Los Angeles’ performing arts scene.
“Up was down and down was up in the claustrophobic melee of showcases, auditions, and writing packets. Though we hoped to find solace with other Chicago troupes who’d landed years previous, we encountered friendly fire in the mad scramble for stage time. We belly crawled from UCB Franklin to The Improv Space to iO West for cover, but nowhere felt safe.”
The Second City Level B instructor wept, and the room went quiet.
Ranowski grabbed the shoulders of the Level Three student he was dating. “Once you see the Hollywood sign you lose all bearing on what a grounded scene even is,” he screamed through a foaming mouth. “John Tilfer got gunned down by a staff writing gig on Cavemen, Chris McKlintock got swept away in the current of pilot season … those were good men who’ll never touch an improv stage again.”
Matt killed the remainder of his bottle, settled into a far-off stare, and lifted his shirt to reveal a Beef Wellington tattoo. “Everything you learn from your Chicago training means nothing in the real theater of comedy.”