dubstep remix
Skip to Content

Magnet Theater Blog: News and Ideas about Comedy, Improv Shows & Classes in NYC

Posts Tagged ‘Chicago’

Wednesday April 1, 2015, 12:00pm - by Magnet Theater

To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Magnet, Sulaiman Beg and Kelly Donahue have developed an Oral History of the Magnet Theater.

The full story will be released in early April, but over the coming weeks we will be releasing some interesting stories that didn’t make the final cut.

The first in this series is a profile on how the teachers & founders first discovered improv in their own lives.



Armando Diaz: I grew up in Illinois, south suburbs Chicago, a place called Country Club hills. It was a regular old suburb. There weren’t really country clubs. I had this friend in high school, Kevin Dorff, who kind of woke up comedy in me. He was voted class clown. Really funny guy. We’d write little sketches back and forth during class. I didn’t realize they were sketches back then.

Ed Herbstman: I lived in the suburbs of Chicago and about fifteen to twenty minutes away from my house by car was Second City. We would go to the improv sets on weekends. The weekend sets were 10:30 – 11:00 on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. We went to every single one.

Diaz: I was in film school at Columbia College, in the program they had suggested if you’re interested in being a director, one thing you want to do is take an acting class from the acting department. I took a class and the teacher had graduated from the Second City training. He was a traditional actor but he would have us do a lot of improv in the class. That was fun. I had never done that before.

Alex Marino: My counselor at church camp in high school was a guy named Michael Lewis, he introduced me to improv. He was really involved with a short form troupe called Comedy Sportz, which had a franchise, weirdly, in Bakersfield, California, where I grew up. I got on my high school Comedy Sportz team, and if you got on, every Saturday you would meet for a couple hours next to a comic book store, in an abandoned tanning salon, and do improv.

Rick Andrews: My dad found some listing for ImprovBoston, when I was 11 or 12. They used to have Sunday afternoon shows, which was a terrible idea. We went down and saw a show, and no one was there but my family. They weren’t even supposed to do the show, they were supposed to cancel if it was less than ten people. But they did the show. It was great. In my mind, it was great.

Louis Kornfeld: My senior prom, myself, Charlie Whitcroft and Corey Grimes decided not to go to prom. Instead, we pooled our money and got a hotel room together. We got like a bottle of whiskey, and that was our night. Megan came too. The next day, we had some time before we had to check out, so we walked around the neighborhood a bit. This was like on 22nd Street. We were walking and we just happened to bump into the UCB 4 who were all outside smoking outside of their old theater. They’d just opened it.

Megan Gray: We would go in to see UCB shows in high school. We had heard they have teen classes and we were like ahh, I don’t know. We were always too scared, or we didn’t have time. We were making videos and stuff.

Peter McNerney: I had done a little short form in theater class in middle school and high school. My first week at Northwestern, I saw The Meow Show, which was this historic short form and sketch show that’s been around since the 70s. Ed was in it, and Melanie Hoopes and Rachel Hamilton and Julia Louis Dreyfus. It was this big deal show and I saw that and I was like I want to do that!

Gray: I was a dramatic writing/screenwriting major, and I had read somewhere that Conan O’Brien had said improv is a good way for writers to get over writer’s block so I thought that would be really cool.

Kornfeld: Megan’s dad signed us up for UCB Level 1 in October 2003. Me and Megan, and Corey and Charlie. And in that class we met Kelly Buttermore and Jon Bander. We also met Damon Ketron in Level 2.

Herbstman: When I got a car at 16, I would just go by myself and be one of the weirdos that was in line for every show and would see every show. At that time it was Dave Razowsky, Steve Carell, Amy Sedaris. I had just missed Colbert. It was just awesome. I mean imagine seeing Steve Carell four nights a week do improv. And Dave Razowsky who’s just awesome. And them doing it together. It was just really funny.

Diaz: I ran into Kevin Dorff one day and he had just gone to see a show at Improv Olympic that his sister recommended. He mentioned it to me and said, “Hey you gotta take this class.” It was with Charna. We went to this German bar, and it’s empty. It’s Wednesday night at 7:00. There’s no internet, everything is done by phone. We sat there for 20 minutes, and nobody showed up. It was just me and Kevin and the German bartender. Finally, […] Charna called the bar and was like, oh we’re pushing back the class a week. I don’t know why we did, but we came back the next week and people showed up and we had our first class and it was just like.. By the end both of us were just like, totally excited, totally pumped. It was great.

Herbstman: I was seeing so many shows at Second City, eventually they were like you could take classes here, and I was like, are you kidding me? I got a job tearing tickets, being a house manager, seating people. Suddenly, I was working there on the weekend and that meant free classes for me. So I would seat people and watch every single show, because I had to sit there and watch the show while the show was going on which was great.

Andrews: I kept seeing a bunch of of shows at ImprovBoston, and the AD was just like, take our class. He popped my friend Mike and I into their adult classes. So it was two 12-year old boys and a bunch of people in their 20s, 30s and 40s. We were annoying. We were mature for 12, but the would put us at, like, 15.

Marino: When I got a car, and was able to drive myself there, I went and started taking classes in LA at iO West. I lived in my car for awhile in Los Angeles, just taking classes at IO, until some people in one of my classes learned that and was like, don’t do that, you shouldn’t do that, you should come live with me. And they put me up on couches.

Herbstman: My teacher for Level 1 and Level 2 was Dave Razowsky. Level 3 was Steve Carell. I had Level 4 and 5 with Dave Razowsky again. It was great. And I was 16-17, didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life or where to go to school or wherever but I knew improv was the one core fundamental thing that I wanted it all to revolve around.

Continue to Part 2…

Wednesday March 25, 2015, 7:00am - by Magnet Theater

Jeffrey Sweet podcast Subscribe with iTunes

Whoa boy — we’ve got an interview with the one and only Jeffrey Sweet! The famed playwright, historian, and author of Something Wonderful Right Away joins host Louis Kornfeld for this extended episode of the podcast. They start out by discussing the relationship between the Jews fleeing the Cossacks and the rise of satire in America. Jeffrey talks about the origins of improvisation with The Committee and Second City, highlighting some differences between the two as well as  commenting on folks like David Shepherd and Del Close. Time is spent discussing the six heavy hitters that the improv world lost in 2014: Sheldon Patinkin, Gary Goodrow, Ted Flicker, Harold Ramis, Mike Nichols, and Joan Rivers. They also get into the domino effect of Something Wonderful Right Away influencing Mick Napier and Charna Halpern to develop their theaters and how Jeffrey might be the illegitimate grandfather of the long-form improv scene in NYC. Jeffrey also talks about how Stephen Colbert and John Stewart are so important to the comedic and political landscape today and gives us his take on the modern incarnation of SNL. The interview continues to discuss the link between improvisational theater and folk art and how the satirists have now become a part of the system. It’s an episode filled with so much historical, political, and cultural discourse that Jeffrey pauses several times over the course of this interview to ask, “We are talking about comedy, right?” Indeed, we are.

Subscribe to the Magnet Theater Podcast via iTunes and Stitcher.

Or simply enjoy Episode #37 below via SoundCloud.

Tuesday September 16, 2014, 9:49pm - by Magnet Theater


TJ Jagodowski and Dave Pasquesi have a completely deserved reputation as a supernaturally skilled duo.  They also deserve their reputations as gentlemen, thoughtful artists, kind improvisers and generous souls.  And you could not have two bigger fans than Louis Kornfeld and Alex Marino, the co-hosts of this episode.  TJ and Dave expound on their work, both improv and sketch, plans for their new theater in Chicago, and their thoughts behind directing, acting, teaching and being one half of something special. They also don’t talk about the book they are writing which will be out next year.  Enjoy.

Subscribe to the Magnet Theater Podcast via iTunes here.

Subscribe with iTunes

Enjoy Episode #16 on iTunes or below via SoundCloud.

Tuesday April 22, 2014, 11:17am - by Magnet Theater
The Second City

The Magnet Theater will be holding a Q&A session with Second City Casting Director Beth Kligerman, Wednesday April 23rd from 5:30pm-6:30pm at The Magnet Theater Training Center (259 w. 30th street).  This will be an hour long information session about auditioning for the Second City Cruise Ships.  If you have any questions, please contact Magnet Artistic Director Megan Gray (megan (at)magnettheater(dot)com).

Monday April 21, 2014, 8:11am - by Magnet Theater

Magnet Theater is excited to announce The Magnet Podcast! In Episode 1: Host Louis Kornfeld interviews Magnet Theater founders Ed Herbstman, Alex Marino and Armando Diaz about their past, present and future.  They chat about their Chicago beginnings, the creation of The Armando Diaz Experience and the process of starting The Magnet Theater.  Ed tries to explain why he became a cop while Armando makes fun of him.  Don’t miss it.

Huge thanks to our wonderfully talented podcast engineer, Grant Goldberg.

Friday October 25, 2013, 12:23pm - by WillyAppelman


Magnet friends “All of Our Feelings at Once” are doing a sketch show that you should go and see! The Chicago-based sketch group is doing an Off-Broadway run at The American Theatre of Actors this Friday and Saturday (Oct. 25th & 26th) and are offering Magnet students/performers discounted tickets with the code: HAPPY.

The group was selected for participation in The Araca Project, which helps top sketch comedians bring their show to larger audiences. For tickets to Tonight or Tomorrow’s 9pm show, CLICK HERE. For more information on All of Our Feeling at Once, check out their website HERE!

Thursday September 6, 2012, 3:56pm - by WillyAppelman

This Thursday Sept. 6th at 10pm marks the debut of The Magnet Theater’s 8th Director’s Series!  This month, Neil McNamara directs Deep Dish, a long form improv show interspersed with character monologues, a staple of Chicago-style improvisation.  In Chicago, McNamara has worked with Second City, The Annoyance, iO and Boom Chicago. Fresh to New York, McNamara is bringing a Chicago staple to the east coast, DEEP DISH!

Featuring Peter McNerney, Beth Newell, Nick Kanellis, Julia Hynes and Neil McNamara.

Every Thursday at 10pm in September!  More Info HERE.

Wednesday June 6, 2012, 10:52pm - by WillyAppelman

Poster by Carly Monardo

Jazz Freddy is the fifth installment of The Director Series, a 4-week series of performances wherein a Director selects a cast and presents a different form. This month, Charlie Whitcroft directs a form named after the Chicago group that made it famous. Kevin Cragg, Tony Mui, Gretchen Poole, Jamie Rivera, Sandra Struthers, Teddy Shivers, Mike Ferreira and Kristy Wesolowski take the stage under Whitcroft’s mighty direction. We spoke with Charlie about his choice to present the form.

What is Jazz Freddy?

Structurally, Jazz Freddy is a 4 scene tag-out piece that starts in the present (whatever that means), then tags to the past, tags to the past again, then tags to the future. Simple though it is, it can only be performed by a stellar cast. We get to meet a character, see a bit of her developmentally significant life moments, then see how things turn out for her. Then there’s a further exploration of the other characters we’ve met, and the world they live in. Jazz Freddy is named after the group that performed it first in Chicago in 1992. The first cast included Jimmy Carrane, Rachel Dratch, Dave Koechner, Noah Gregoropoulos, Miriam Tolan, Kevin Dorff, Brian Stack, Meredith Zinner, and others. I’ve heard that it was the first long form show to use tag-outs. I don’t know if that’s true, and I haven’t been able to find anyone who was even alive in 1992 to confirm or deny.

Why did you choose this form?

Two things that I love about the Jazz Freddy – it’s not too complicated, and it’s a lot of fun. The Boss performed Jazz Freddy for a long time as part of Megawatt. We added a lot of our own touches to it, but the simple structure was there. I’m sure there are other groups that have performed the structure since the original cast, but I don’t know of too many in New York. And I don’t appreciate or respect the anti-Jazz Freddy regulations that the Mayor is trying to put in place. Read the news. These are important issues.

What is the future of improv?

I don’t know… I hope it stays out of the drug business. Liquor and gambling have been fine. I’d like to see it go completely legit, maybe clean up some of the money in real estate or something like that.


Jazz Freddy takes the stage Thursdays at 10pm in June! Check out the opening night, Thursday 6/7 at 10pm- followed by an after party at Smithfield (28th btw. 7th & 8th). Be sure to catch the show for the password for drink specials!

Wednesday May 9, 2012, 11:16am - by WillyAppelman
Last Thursday’s premiere of “The Subject” was enthralling and fascinating.  Directed by Christina Gausas, the show featured Angela DeManti as this week’s “Subject”.  At the top of the piece, objects like sunflower seeds, lilacs, and Buddha statues were placed by cast members into her environment. These objects took her back to memories of college roommates, past boyfriends, and family members. At one point her mother’s constant nagging transformed into a six-headed monster who shrieked at her disappointments, which then transformed into the cries of an ex-boyfriend’s baby.  DeManti remained on the stage the entire show as her life passed before her eyes!
“The Subject” is a funny, honest, and, at times, moving piece of theater. You have four more chances of catching it Thursdays at 10pm in May!
Thursday May 3, 2012, 10:01am - by WillyAppelman

This Saturday at 11am at The Magnet Theater, Megan Gray will be moderating a Q & A with improv legends Susan Messing and Christina Gausas!

Messing is a director and actress living in Chicago.  Best known for her work with Second City, iO and The Annoyance Theatre, she is well revered in the NYC, Chicago and L.A. improv and acting communities.

Christina Gausas is an actress, writer and director living in NYC.  She has appeared on 30 Rock, Delocated, Important Things w/ Dimitri Martin,  and Late Night w/ Conan O’Brien.  Christina was named one of “The 10 Funniest New Yorker’s You’ve Never Heard Of” by New York Magazine.  She is also directing “The Subject” at The Magnet Theater, opening Thursday May 3rd at 10pm and running until May 31st!

The Q & A is completely free, RSVP at megan@magnettheater.com to reserve a spot!