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A trip to Chicago teaches some ways for improv'ing your life 

When I left for Chicago back in the beginning of January, all everyone told me was to bring lots of layers and then proceeded to ask me if I was on crack for flying to the Midwest in the winter. Chicago's thermostat may be set on about 39 degrees below comfortable, but in my operation to one day be Tina Fey's bitch, I went to Second City Chicago to study sketch comedy writing and improv.

And because Chicago is the comedy capital of the country, its nightlife has a rich improv scene to be seen. My improv instructor said there are dozens and dozens of dollars to be made performing throughout Chicago. I went to about 100 shows at iO (Improv Olympics), The Annoyance, Comedy Sportz and Second City's Donny's Skybox Theatre.

And now, I am addicted. It's true, I am also addicted to cardio -- and I need my serotonin release like a crackhead needs a fix.

So, when I got back to Charlotte, rather than going into withdrawal from laughing, I checked out the Charlotte comedy scene.

For improv, there's the Chuckleheads -- a sketchy, musical-comedy group that performs at various venues such as Beef O'Brady's in Fort Mill and ALIVE in NoDa. Shahrazad Improv performs at the Wine Up and Pineville Dinner Theater, and even UNCC has its own improv troupe known as the Tablespoon of Talent.

And for sketch comedy skits there's Robot Johnson -- created by the creator of the Talking Baby from MTV. They perform sporadically at Spirit Square and regularly at Charlotte Comedy Theater tucked in the back of The Graduate in Plaza Midwood. I went to see the famous ensemble Chicago City Limits (who are based out of Manhattan) while they were at the Blumenthal's Booth Playhouse on the same night I went to see Robot Johnson. And let's just say the robots engaged my dimples more.

In Chicago, after a night out of seeing improv shows, and the view from the Signature Lounge in the Hancock Building, me and my classmates somehow found ourselves at VIP's ... a Chicago strip club where all the strippers had to cover their nipples with latex in accordance with Illinois state law. And yet I saw full-frontal, live nudity at The Charlotte Art League during the performance of AmerWreckA.

The Second City guys, the jokesters they are, bought lap dances for the girls. The strippers walked over to us and asked us where we wanted to go to have our lap dance. We told them not to waste their energy because we're all strickly dickly, but the sweet, honest strippers insisted: "But he already paid ... we can give you each a massage!"

The most important things I learned from Second City is to not try to be funny and to never second-guess yourself. In improv, if you think too much or try too hard, you end up screwing yourself; you have to shed both your vanities and insecurities and just do. I realized that life is just one big improv scene -- a mission for laughter -- and the trick to succeeding is finding the right partners in life that you play well with.

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