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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Tanya Saracho

Tanya Saracho Photograph: Erika Dufour

Tanya Saracho talks a lot, and very excitedly, about toilets. That glorious ivory chalice of numbers both one and two has become the symbolic representation of her recent success and unfortunate detours along the way. Yeah, the place where people shit is partially responsible for landing jobs writing for Devious Maids, Looking (she cowrote the first-season finale) and now a gig with the show nobody is talking about, Girls.

“Toilets are my process,” she says with a hearty laugh. It's a process that began 15 years ago in Chicago. In 1999, Saracho moved to the city and was surprised to learn that roles for Latino actors were severely limited; she auditioned for more parts named “Maria” and “Aurora” than she can even recall. She cofounded Teatro Luna as a place to foster Latina theater and offer meatier roles to Chicago’s talented, previously pigeonholed actors. For a decade she ran it “Chicago-style,” as she calls it: running the box office, acting, directing, taking out the trash, and of course scrubbing toilets.

When Saracho first broke into the Los Angeles system—an agent had gotten ahold of her play Mala Hierba, about the trophy wife of a drug lord, and helped with the move out West—she was surprised to learn things weren’t quite as egalitarian. “Everyone has different titles but are doing similar things, and in some rooms you have to act your title,” she says. “On the first day people were like, ‘Wait, you’re a playwright? You skipped being an assistant? You know you’re the diversity hire, right?’ When you’re told that on the first week at work, you’re gonna cry in the bathroom.”

Thankfully, there is little toilet time at Looking and Girls, where talent comes before demographic quotas and Saracho says the process is far more collaborative. HBO has been kind to her, and she's now adapting Mala Hierba as a series for the network, bringing things full circle. Saracho got to this point through gumption and humility. She did all of the theater jobs, happily, and doesn’t seem like the kind of person who loses steam easily.

“At one point when I had more success in regional theaters, I’d go to [the performances] and still start fixing chairs,” she says. “They’d say, ‘You don’t have to do that,’ and I’d be like, ‘Well, I can.’ ” Saracho may find herself doing glamorous work, but there will always be toilets to clean.

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