Evanston resident Jimmy Carrane has been hosting Improv Nerd at The Second City since November, but he said his guests surprise him every week.
When he talks to former colleagues from in Chicago, he’s shocked to learn that for some performers there, the partying started while the show was still going on. When Carrane asks veteran improviser Mark Sutton how he stays relevant, Sutton confesses he doesn’t believe that he has, and that after 25 years in the industry, performing has taken a back seat in his life.
Carrane, a Kenilworth native and New Trier grad, said he loves these revelations.
“I want people to reveal themselves and tell stories, because stories are what people remember,” Carrane said. “Those things, to me, are gold.”
Each week, a small audience gathers in Second City’s tiny DeMaat Theater to watch Carrane talk to improvisers about their work and personal lives. After sharing some banter, he joins them for an improvised scene.
“Sometimes it can be terrifying and rewarding at the same time,” Carrane said. “I did a scene with The Improvised Shakespeare Company. When I was at New Trier, I’m sure it was assigned to me, but I never read Shakespeare. I believe he’s an author and a playwright. That was terrifying.”
Improv Nerd lives up to its name by often diving deep into the world of improv, dropping the names of people, places and shows that are renowned by serious fans, but could lose more casual guests. Carrane often steps in to offer a bit of explanation, but said that many of his viewers and listeners are improvisers themselves.
“There seems to be a core audience of real improv nerds who come back each week to see a different guest,” Carrane said. “In the improv community, there’s a lot of people who are like rock stars that people want to hear from and learn from.”
After graduating from New Trier, Carrane took a year off before starting school at Columbia College to attend The Players Workshop of The Second City. At 27, he got national attention for his biographic comedy show about his experiences living with his parents in Kenilworth and selling office supplies.
“That was the point where there was no turning back,” Carrane said.
His job as a host of Chicago Public Radio’s 312 Chicago gave him experience talking to performers. Carrane saw Improv Nerd as a way to combine his loves of improv, interviewing and education. While his live audience is small, the recordings of the show reach listeners around the country.
“The podcast is going beyond my imagination,” Carrane said. “It’s really touching a lot of people in different improv communities. I feel like as a teacher, I’m continuing to educate improvisers through this podcast.”
His goal is to take the live show around the county, and he’s already in talks to perform Improv Nerd in Austin.
“My ultimate goal is to be to make Improv Nerd what Inside the Actor’s Studio is to acting,” Carrane said. “I would love it to be on a television network or a cable network and really spotlight Chicago. This is a unique and special art form to Chicago. There are so many people who are not only still here, but have gone on to New York and Los Angeles and are acting and directing. This is where they started.”
Improv Nerd runs at 9 p.m. Fridays. Tickets are $15 or $10 for improv students.
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