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Interview Tue Apr 26 2011

A Fairly Serious Chat with Margaret Hicks

Margaret Hicks is objectively awesome. In the past few years she's gone from working an office job to owning and operating her own tour guide business, and now on top of that she's a published author. As both a font of Chicago knowledge and an improvisor, Hicks was just the person to pen "Chicago Comedy: A Fairly Serious History."

Hicks was leading one of her Second City-themed tours when a rep from History Press was along for a tour and asked if she'd considered writing a book. She took his card, but assumed he wanted a book about Second City and didn't reach out to him. A few months later he contacted her, saying that she could pick something to write about but that he'd wondered why there had never been a history of comedy in Chicago. "I looked into it and saw that there hadn't been anything written about it," said Hicks. Why did Second City and iO (Improv Olympic) happen in Chicago and not New York or someplace else? That was it. I needed to figure out what happened before that." And so she did.

To start the research process, Hicks arranged to interview some folks who'd been around the Chicago comedy block. "I'm very personality driven, and have always learned more from talking to people than reading. I set up a ton of interviews with people from as many different walks of comedy as possible- stand-up, theatre, improv...I got a nice variety, and each interview led to my next piece of research." Amongst the comedy notables that she interviewed, such as Bernie Sahlins and Sheldon Patinkin, she also used Tim Samuelson, Chicago's official historian, as a resource during her research.

Going into the project Hicks had a general idea of Chicago's modern comedy history from her Second City tours, but through her research found out a lot about Chicago's hilarious (Chi-larious?) beginnings that she hadn't known. "The idea that Second City was the first to improvise is kind of true, but not true. Improv is a very Chicago thing because we didn't have the budget that New York or Los Angeles did, but we always wanted to do what they did and were now doing it for the first time. Improv has been around since the moment Chicago sparked. Second City had to happen here because that's what Chicago was all about. With vaudeville, "Kukla, Fran and Ollie," "Amos and Andy" and others, you had people improvising, but Second City was the first to acknowledge it as something that performers did."

Hicks' book gives its readers an overview of Chicago's comedic legacy, from its early days as a frontier town to its present day position as a breeding ground for some of comedy's biggest names, but she says that there's "all kinds of cool stuff" that couldn't fit in the book. She hasn't ruled out writing a more comprehensive history or even giving fiction a try. She says, " I loved researching Chicago and I loved writing about Chicago. I have a much deeper knowledge about my city, comedy and otherwise. I'd definitely write another Chicago story, for sure."

Margaret Hicks' book, "Chicago Comedy: A Fairly Serious History," is now available for purchase from Amazon , and Hicks will also be participating in a discussion about her new book this Friday at noon at The Playground (3209 N. Halsted) as part of the Chicago Improv Festival.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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