Monday, January 7, 2013

Susan Messing: A Chicago Improv Legend

She’s been hilarious professionally 
for over 20 years and must be seen to be believed

Melissa McCarthy on SNL
     Last year, Melissa McCarthy guest starred in arguably the best episode of Saturday Night Live that season for which she was Emmy-nominated.  There was one priceless sketch in which she performed various activities with a Mylar balloon.  This past weekend, Kate McKinnon, who’s turning into a breakout performer on SNL played a two-hander with Louis C.K. in
which they kept topping themselves as a couple of drunks at
Louis CK and Kate McKinnon on SNL
closing time.  It was the final sketch of the night and the funniest.  In both cases, these female performers’ fearlessness has roots in improvisational comedy.  

Susan Messing
     As Neil said, after watching the McKinnon-C.K. sketch, “It’s like something Susan Messing would have done in her show.”  He was right.  Susan Messing has never been picked up by SNL, even though she comes out of the same Chicago improvisation generation as Stephen Colbert and Steven Carell, but she deserves national attention because she will try anything for a laugh.  Neil almost fell out of his chair laughing when we saw her show Messing With A Friend the first time.  At that point, she was playing a recalcitrant 5 year old who sucked an audience member’s toe.  

     Messing With A Friend plays late every Thursday night at the Annoyance Theatre in Chicago, which is a block from the Argyle El station. She performs with one partner (sometimes two), who’s the friend, for one hour by starting with a line thrown out by the audience and everything is improvised as Messing moves it through about ten or twelve scenes.  Her instinct for knowing when to end a scene is unerring and her wildness always serves the rhythm of the beat within it.  

Messing with a Friend— Improvers Scott Adsit
and Mick Napier with Susan Messing
     Her audience is packed with young performers – some students, some professionals – longing to see a master at play.  She teaches and writes in addition to performing.  I hope she gets one stated wish, which is that Northwestern creates a professor of improvisation.  My wish is that she’s hired for it.  Until then, her show is a must for any adult looking for a huge laugh. 

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