Chicago actor and improviser Maribeth Monroe has Courtney Thorne-Smith’s maternal instincts to thank for easing Monroe’s leap from the Windy City to the City of Angels. After racking up numerous Chicago stage credits, including four Second City mainstage shows, Monroe moved to L.A. in the fall of 2006—and instantly landed work. Following gigs on Andy Richter’s Andy Barker, P.I. and the short-lived improv show Thank God You’re Here, a brief recurring stint on Jim Belushi’s According to Jim led her to become Thorne-Smith’s stand-in for almost two seasons when the actor got pregnant in ’07. “It was just a really great way to not have to wait tables and learn about the television industry,” says Monroe. But it’s been a learning curve ever since.
A Michigan native, Monroe, 30, studied theater at Wayne State University in Detroit, where she also worked as a server at the Second City Detroit in ’99. The same week she signed up for level-one classes, Monroe was asked to play a set. Within two weeks, she was cast. “It sounds really silly and crazy,” Monroe says, “but the bench of women at the time wasn’t that deep in Detroit. I had a huge advantage.”
In 2001, Monroe moved to Chicago via her Second City connections and joined its touring company. She also performed The Vagina Monologues at the Apollo Theater in Chicago and later toured the country with her own two-person show. Most noticeably, the wirey and quirky Monroe became a driving force behind several successful Second City mainstage shows, including Red Scare and Iraqtile Dysfunction. When neither SNL or MADtv audtions panned out, she decided to move on in ’06.
Despite her sitcom stints, L.A. has offered its share of disappointments. “I was cast in Tropic Thunder as Owen Wilson’s assistant,” Monroe says. “This was at the time when, unfortunately, he tried to commit suicide. When he was recast, my role went with him. That was very tragic to me. That movie was awesome.”
Monroe has had to adapt her craft to the L.A. style of acting. “You have to do certain things that, honestly, I don’t really enjoy doing,” she says. “I have to care about fashion. I have to somehow get inspired and excited to go shopping, look cute and care about my hair.”
Still, the actor remains true to her improv roots, playing each Saturday night at Second City Los Angeles in a group called Ditka. She makes it back to Chicago occasionally (including a surprise Second City mainstage appearance on March 5) but remains focused on her mission of pitching and starring in a successful TV improv show.
Monroe offers Chicago comics the following sage advice: “You have to learn how to love the industry,” she says. “I may not hit overnight, but I might hit ten years from now, and if I love what I do, I’ll have the patience to wait for it.” Spoken like a true Angeleno.