I recently received an e-mail from a reader who was thinking about moving to Chicago and was asking for a little help understanding the comedy scene here. The fact that they even asked me for my opinion on such an important decision was extremely flattering and I took their questions to heart. What they really wanted to know was what are the chances of making it here and how much experience do you need.
For anyone looking to move to Chicago to pursue their dreams in comedy please take this advice with a grain of salt. I am by no way an expert on the matter and I don't know you as a person. I am simply giving my opinion based on my own personal experiences. Unless you're insanely talented it takes a lot of hard work and time to get any sort of paid comedy work here that pays the bills. You have to understand that you're really competing with all the friends that you make to get parts, jobs, teams, or anything. You can't just take a few classes and expect someone to move you along. You personally have to go out and make opportunities for yourself. Doing this is easy if you love it. You have to forget about the odds (they're stacked against you) and only care about what you're doing. You'll also have to learn to balance working, acting, and some sort of social life.
I'm very lucky to have a career working for a great company here in Chicago. I work the standard 40-50 hour work week, but on top of that I'm doing improv/sketch/video stuff 5 or 6 days a week. You can't do something like that unless you really love it. On a typical day I wake up, go to work at 9am, get done with work at 6pm, go to an improv class/sketch practice/improv team practice, and get home around 11pm. I wouldn't have it any other way. Over the holidays I had a bunch of days off with no comedy or work and I felt kind of depressed. I love being on stage and I love learning the craft. This love is what pushes me and motivates me to become a better performer. I feel that if I focus on becoming a better performer then all the other stuff (parts, teams, video work) will just come.
I don't advise to putting a time limit on your dreams either. The idea of, doing this for a year and if I'm not getting paid then I'm out, sounds horrible to me. To me that means that you really don't want it. I've been in Chicago for almost 3 years and just now I've started to get more shows and parts. I'm probably not as naturally talented as others in this community, but I keep an open mind and try to push myself to become a better improvisor & writer every day. If you can't see yourself putting your life into this dream then don't bother. Stay wherever you are, write a play/sketch show/video short and produce it at your local theater.
Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of people who are successful in comedy in this community and basically do it as a hobby. I personally don't see it as a hobby and want it to become my life. I love the city of Chicago and performing so I finally feel like this where I belong. I'm willing to change my life to advance my dreams if needed and that is something you need to ask yourself.
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