Whirled News Tonight celebrates 10 years of non-stop improv performances this week. For a year we did Fridays AND Saturdays at 8pm. We did a sketch show. We have hosted a presidential election night party/show three times. We’ve had meetings, deals, and almost-deals with MTV, NBC/Universal and more. In our second year the idea of us moving to New York to anchor a new theater was floated… the uncertainty and weird “promises” lead to our ironic chant of “We are definitely going.”
Over the past ten years our cast has been married seven times (do two cast members marrying each other count as two separate marriages?) and produced seven children. We’ve rushed each other to the hospital. We’ve rushed to each other’s side during emergencies. We’ve hugged each other during depression and during joy. We mock each other’s typos and sartorial choices. We laugh at each other’s puns and roll eyes at who is the nerdiest. We do corporate gigs and call the group that does it the “Away Team” and someone is designated the “Away Team Leader.” We’ve done the show in so many different states of the Union a list would not do it justice, but one of my favorites is when we went to South Carolina for a week and we all staying in a hostel with bunk beds. That was hilarious.
In early 2008, a listing for “Whirled News Tonight” was created on Wikipedia but was soon removed following a brief discussion by site administrators who were split on the importance of such an entry. Several weeks later, author and columnist Nicholson Baker mentioned the Whirled News Tonight deletion in his article “The Charms of Wikipedia” which appeared in The New York Review of Books. The Whirled News Tonight Wikipedia page was soon reinstated. I’m pretty confident we’re the only improv group to have appeared in the New York Review of Books.
For a long while, for the second act I put slips of paper with the cast names into a “nazi” helmet we found in the green room. The audience would pick two names and they would do the second act (30+ minutes) by themselves! It was a risky, fun improv show, but it was weird for the rest of the cast to just sit and watch the second act. Now, everyone plays the second act and we really interact with the audience. I like it a lot, but sometimes I miss the wonderful combinations and edgy stuff we’d get from the 2, 3 or 4 person second act. One of my favorites was a 4 person second act that was about 4 students graduating from the academy. They were nervous about their futures and what they were going to do for the rest of their lives, how would they eventually be remembered? We eventually discover their last names… Kirk, Spock, Scotty and Rodriquez. It was great improv and hilarious Star Trek deconstruction.
Ten years ago: the iTunes online Music Store opens. America invades Iraq. The Human Genome is mapped. SARS plagues China. President Bush announces “Mission Accomplished” and we never spoke about the Middle East again. Siegfried & Roy attacked by their own tigers. Arnold Schwarzenegger elected Governor of California. Saddam Hussein captured. Also, the movies School of Rock, Love Actually and Finding Nemo came out.
I had the idea for an improvisational long-form based on the news (which is called “newspeak”, btw) and I started watching shows and teams looking for smart, fun improvisers. The first cast was Shane Wilson, Steve Waltien, Eddie Pina, Matt Young, Marla Caceres, Alex Eilhauer, John Glynn, Jordan Klepper, Sarah Haskins, Arnie Niekamp. After a few months, Arnie had to move to another state and he was replaced by Padraic Connelly. Then Arnie came back and rejoined the cast.
Along the way Sarah Wonak joined us for some time.
We had some amazing people sit in with us too along the way (in no order whatsoever): Jen Malinsky, Tim Soszko, Sara Wolfson, Kate Lambert, Patrick Stonelake, Patrick Rowland, Rob White, Brett Lyons, Jeff Griggs, Michael Johnson, Sean Kelley, Laura Personick, Poonam Patel, Blythe Haaga, Christine Tawfik, Michael Lehrer, Tom Blandford, Matt Holland, James Whittington, Mike Enriquez, Becca Barish, Mark Piebenger, Erica May, Neal Dandade,
Brooke Breit joined us as a cast member and then left to have a baby. She had the baby and ended up on the Second City etc stage. Which is how things work over there, kids. Weird, huh?
Our regular cast is now Shane, Eddie, Matt, Marla, Alex, Megan, John, Arnie, Pad, Adal with regular understudies Rob White, Brett Lyons, and Sean Kelley. Scott Brady has done the lights, set up the stage, kept the records and been a great friend for the past ten years. He’s been to more WNT shows than I have.
Out of ten regular performers, eight (8!) are founding members. Ten years of improvising on the iO stage. All of them were on regular teams at some time, but along the way they decided to stay with Whirled News as their teams faded or quit. And I could not be more honored that they have done so.
The show frequently surprises me still… either with a reference or a connection that I didn’t’ see coming. But my true secret delight is when (and this is surprisingly often) they do a scene that speaks truth to, and of, Power. That there comes a scene that is pure satire and reveals a hidden motivation behind the politics, the disasters, the scandals; this is the real reason that this show exists. How lucky, how fortunate, how blessed am I to be able to whisper (and I do), “That’s it. That’s why we do this.” And then I laugh because it’s also fucking hilarious.
So to my friends, the improvisers of Whirled News Tonight, I say thank you. Thank you for being some of the smartest, funniest, most capable people I know. Thank you for being in an improv show on Saturday nights when you could be doing so many other things with your abilities. Thank you for braving Wrigleyville traffic for a decade. Thank you for putting up with my hare-brained schemes and plans. Thank you for being logical when I need it and thank you for being silly when I think I don’t need it. Thanks for being my friends.
As for what the future and a new building may hold for Whirled News Tonight? All I know is that We are Definitely Going.