How a Computer Brought Me to Improv

I’ve been teaching and performing longform improvisation in Chicago for the past seventeen years and it all happened because of the Amiga computer.

(*warning* nothing below has been fact or proof checked)

Never heard of the Amiga computer? I don’t blame you. It’s a brand of computer from Commodore and only sold about six million units within the US (it was much more popular overseas.) It came out in the late 80s and utilized a very interesting graphics interface and processors. It was really quite amazing at the time and super cheap for nerds like me.  I really don’t remember how I ended up buying an Amiga500, but I loved that machine. I was working at New York’s first Blockbuster Video and a customer came in with an Amiga button. We struck up a conversation and within a year or two I was A) his roommate, and B) the manager of the world’s only Amiga-only store in Manhattan.

My roommate, Aaron, was the friend of a guy who owned the store in Midtown. We all hung out and as I had a great deal of retail experience I ended up over there.

Running THE Nerd of nerd stores was fascinating. Strange and talented people ended up congregating there. I remember these kids (in their teens or early 20s) who were all members of 2600, a hacker group that would meet in New York once a month. Some of them ended up on the cover of Time Magazine in an article about young hackers. One of the kids (a big fan of this college basketball player named Michael Jordan) was able to take a handheld phone dialer and re-program it so it emitted a tone that told payphones that $50 had been entered. He had a nice little business making those.

The owner had a framed $100 bill on the wall behind the register. One morning I noticed that it had been replaced by a $1 bill! As the employees came in I had a meeting and informed them that my brother was on the way to the store with my fingerprint kit and unless the culprit confessed I would have them identified and arrested. One hour later, the criminal came to me and confessed. I fired him. And laughed. Fingerprint kit? Two months later, the same person used us as a reference.

There was (and still is, I imagine) a special effect house located in Manhattan and they called for an in-house Amiga demonstration. They were famous and I was dying to go and get a tour of the facility. I’m not a computer genius, but I could do a demonstration easily, but I decided to let my friend/employee Peter go do the demo. Let’s flash forward from then and Peter has worked on more than 20 movies and most recently was the Digital Effects Supervisor for “Tron: Legacy.” All from giving an Amiga demonstration. I wonder if he still has an Amiga.

One day, at an Amiga convention, I was loudly selling/riffing on some terrible software that we were desperate to unload. I mean, these were terrible titles. The owner of MicroPACE, the worlds only Amiga-only international distributorship was impressed and asked to meet me. MicroPACE was located in Champaign, IL and they eventually flew me out to interview for a marketing position. It was a fascinating trip. I had only lived in New York; Champaign was the smallest town I had ever been in- I thought it’d be interesting. They offered and I accepted and I became Director of Marketing for MicroPACE Distributors. That was 1991. I think.

I was with MicroPACE for about two years. Got a drivers license for the first time. Got real ugly laid-off. Worked at a radio station. Worked at Blockbuster (again!) Eventually moved up to Chicago, but I really don’t know if I would have ended up here save for two reasons: John Mulhern and Living in Champaign.

John, a friend from New York, knew all about Second City and moved to Illinois to pursue classes there. He ended up at ImprovOlympic as well and I began to travel up to Chicago (about 2 hours north) to watch shows and sets. The Second City Mainstage was “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been Mellow?” The improv sets were daunting. I mean, the cast was Steven Carell, Stephen Colbert, Dave Razowsky, Fran Adams, Ruth Rudnick, Jackie Hoffman and Scott Allman. Not only was it some of the first professional improv I had ever seen, it was THOSE GUYS. They were amazing. John keep urging me to move to Chicago, but I was so intimidated that I keep hemming and hawing.

Finally, I came up to Chicago to watch a student show day. In those days it was a full Sunday… from 9am to 9pm… ALL THE CLASSES did a show in the etc. I packed a lunch and watched them all. Then I went home and began to pack.

So, almost two decades later.

Thank you, John Mulhern. I miss you terribly and wish you were here in Chicago.

Thank you, Champaign. What a weird place you are.


Thank you, Amiga Computers.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s