Monday, September 10, 2012

'SNL' hires three new actors, all trained in Chicago - Chicago Sun-Times

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Tim Robinson, who joins the "Saturday Night Live" cast this weekend, performs in the Second City show "South Side of Heaven."

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Updated: September 10, 2012 7:22PM

‘Saturday Night Live” has always been shot in New York, but it’s long had a Chicago sensibility.

Since its debut in the fall of 1975, when Wheaton-born Second City alum John Belushi stormed living rooms across the country, NBC’s venerable late-night sketchfest has looked to Rahmland (formerly Daleyville) for fresh talent.

In the past several years, the poaching, which subsided for a while, has ramped up. On Monday it was officially announced that “SNL” has added three featured players to its cast for its 38th season (premiering this weekend) â€" all of them Chicago-trained. Not since the entire cast of a show by Chicago’s now-defunct Practical Theatre Company â€" Paul Barrosse, Brad Hall, Gary Kroeger and Julia Louis-Dreyfus â€" were snapped up in 1982 have so many locals been chosen at once.

That doesn’t mean Aidy Bryant, Tim Robinson and Cecily Strong will last in their golden gigs; not everyone does. Still, it’s a promising first step that puts them in the company of such other recent Chicago hires as cast members Paul Brittain (since departed) and Vanessa Bayer.

Recently added “SNL” writers Tom Flanigan, Shelly Gossman and Michael Patrick O’Brien also honed their chops in Chicago, though of the three only O’Brien remains on board. Obama impersonator Fred Armison and “Weekend Update” anchor Seth Meyers have Windy City roots, too. So does Jason Sudeikis, who reportedly might scram. “I’d like the opportunity to use creative muscles that ... haven’t been asked of me for the first nine years that I’ve worked there,” he told the Los Angeles Times in August.

Others with local ties who’ve made their marks on “SNL” include Tina Fey, Chris Farley, Tim Meadows and Amy Poehler.

The network offered no comments on its latest hires in its press release, and the actors couldn’t be reached independently.

Local improvisor and instructor Dina Facklis has worked with all three. “I remember one night in July at iO [Theatre] we were hanging out with Tim and someone said to him, ‘You know, rumor has it that you got this [‘SNL’ job] already,” says Facklis, who performs with Bryant and Strong on the all-female iO improv team Virgin Daiquiri. “And he goes, ‘You are hilarious, because you’re like the seventh person to tell me that and I’m the only one who hasn’t heard this rumor.’ ”

The co-founder and longtime owner of iO, Charna Halpern, says she wrote to Robinson on Monday telling him he had “a year-and-a-half to be a star.”

“Tim is wild,” she says of Robinson, an erstwhile member of iO’s team Cook County Social Club and portrayer of a loopy Richard M. Daley in Second City show last year.

“The world is his oyster when everyone meets him.”

She recalls him in a television pilot called “My Mans,” which was like “a live Monty Python show. And it was the strangest, funniest, weirdest show. He’s high-energy, he’s goofy. But it’s not goofy-stupid, it’s goofy-brilliant.”

As for Strong, whom “SNL” creator Lorne Michaels and a team of writers witnessed in action at an iO showcase in early June, she’s “a very sharp improvisor, very quick, very giving.” At her “smart” (and smartly brief) audition, Halpern says, Strong impersonated Sofia Vergara from ABC’s “Modern Family” as well as “a fat boy at an all-you-can-eat restaurant.”

With the “fearless” Bryant, Halpern thinks “SNL” is “breaking the mold a little bit, because Aidy is the first girl that isn’t your Size 5 beautiful girl.”

For Annoyance Theatre co-founder and Second City director/artistic consultant Mick Napier â€" who featured both Bryant and current “SNL” player Bayer in the Annoyance show “Swear Jar” â€" the sweet and “for-real” Bryant’s size is a “refreshing asset” that demonstrates diversity and bodes well for future sketch possibilities that aren’t so “type-generated.”

“Someone like Aidy can not only demonstrate her ability to use her mind onstage, but she also is not afraid of any kind of physical comedy as well,” Napier says.

He also is enamored of Bryant’s “hateful edge” and likens it to that of past Chicago comedy colleagues Amy Sedaris and Stephnie Weir.

At Second City, CEO and co-owner Andrew Alexander says he’s only disappointed when people leave the nest if they’ve got nothing in the pipeline. Going straight to “SNL” is a boon, he says, and not only for the actors.

“This is sort of the hub of improvisation,” he says of Chicago, “so to see Lorne coming in and grabbing three people is a validation for the whole city.”

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