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  • Unscripted

5 Entertainers Who Started as Improvisers

In the world of entertainment, it takes more than just talent for performers to succeed. Many of the most prolific and popular entertainers today built their careers on an improv education.

Jordan Peele

Peele started his comedy career at Boom Chicago in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and The Second City in Chicago. It was there that he met Keegan-Michael Key, who he would later work with on Mad TV and create and star in the sketch comedy series, Key and Peele. Over the last few years, Peele has transitioned into a formidable horror film writer and director. He won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for his directorial debut, Get Out, making him the first black screenwriter to win in that category.

Tina Fey

Before she became a writer and performer on Saturday Night Live (SNL), Fey lived in Chicago, where she took classes at the influential The Second City improvisational comedy troupe and performed gigs at the Improv Olympic (iO) theater. In Fey’s memoir, Bossypants, she describes her four rules of improv:

  1. The first rule of improvisation is AGREE. Always agree and SAY YES.

  2. The second rule of improvisation is not only to say yes, but YES, AND.

  3. The next rule is MAKE STATEMENTS.

  4. THERE ARE NO MISTAKES, only opportunities.

On her improv training she says: “Life is improvisation. All of those [improv]

classes were like church to me. The training had seeped into me and changed

who I am.”

Amy Poehler

Before starring as the iconic Leslie Knope in Parks & Recreation, Poehler also studied improv at Chicago’s The Second City and ImprovOlympic (iO). She went on to co-found the improvisational comedy troupe, Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB), and later on, she founded the famous (but now shuttered) Upright Citizens Brigade Theatres in L.A. and New York.

Poehler’s advice for succeeding in improv comedy and life: “If you’re scared, look into

your partner’s eyes. You will feel better.”

Together, Fey and Poehler became the first female co-anchors of SNL’s Weekend Update. Their SNL sketch in which they portrayed Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton during the 2008 election campaign became the biggest viral video of the year. They’ve collaborated on several popular films, including Mean Girls, Baby Mama, and Sisters. When they hosted the Golden Globes for the first time in 2013, it was the highest rated show in almost a decade.

Ego Nwodim

The current cast member of SNL began her acting career as a regular cast member of the L.A. UCB Theater. It was there she wrote and performed her one-woman show, “Great Black Women … and Then There’s Me" for a sold-out run in 2017. Recent credits include IFC’s "Brockmire," "Shrill" for Hulu and the independent film "The Broken Hearts Gallery."

Jason Sudeikis

Sudeikis launched his career in improv comedy performing at ComedySportz in Kansas City, Missouri, and then moved to Chicago, where he studied at the Annoyance Theatre and ImprovOlympic, where he was one of the founding members of the long form team, J.T.S. Brown. He also performed with Boom Chicago and was later cast in The Second City Touring Company. He became a founding member of The Second City Las Vegas and later was hired as a writer and a cast member for SNL. He is now the creator and star of the sports comedy series, Ted Lasso, for which he just won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a TV Comedy Series.


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