Chicago comedy writers make strides in TV and film

These five Chicago-trained comedy writers are invading airwaves with Windy City wit



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Kay Cannon

Kay Cannon

“All I ever want to do is watch television, nonstop, for hours and hours.”

It’s a miracle Kay Cannon ever gets anything done, yet her writing resume reads like the kind of thing a Level One iO student might journal about under “dream career.” She worked for six years on 30 Rock, two on New Girl, wrote the script for 2012’s Pitch Perfect and is currently hunkering down to finish its sequel. (Pitch Perfect is like if Mean Girls was set on a college campus with a cappella; Tina Fey’s force is strong with this one.)

Her love of television—and the obsessive consumption thereof—has actually motivated Cannon. Early on she decided to write with her TV paused on the Bravo network, only taking a break when the DVR unpaused itself and only then watching just enough to catch up with the live feed. It’s a dirty system, but it works.

Writing wasn’t always in the cards for Cannon. She trained in Chicago at pretty much every theater before she was hired by ComedySportz, her first paid gig as an improviser. Later she would find her way to Amsterdam with Boom Chicago before winding up in New York, thinking of herself as a performer first. She was unemployed for two years before getting the job writing for 30 Rock.

The lessons Cannon learned as a performer still apply on the page. She makes sure characters never ask questions and enjoy being around each other—the basic building blocks of any good improv show. “I’m constantly asking myself, ‘How is this character funny?’ ” she says. “When I feel like something is too hard or not coming easily, the scene is usually not right.” Both 30 Rock and New Girl are packed with jokes, so Cannon’s diligence is a perfect prerequisite for turning in tight scripts.

It may not have been her first love, but Cannon is smitten with the writing process, and reminds herself every chance she gets—this infatuation has become motivating in and of itself, too, so the TV remains mostly off. “I tell myself, before I start writing, that I get to do this,” she says. “I can remember a time when I was jobless and that person would have killed to have had a deadline.”

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