Mark Amato’s credits include writing for “Saturday Night Live,” “Son of the Beach,” and “Suite Life on Deck with Zack & Cody”, “Baby Daddy”, as well as a spec comedy feature turned ABC/Family hit “Revenge of the Bridesmaids”. Mark began his career working as an assistant at ICM, then at management powerhouse Brillstein-Grey where he quickly ascended to the ranks of executive before heading to Sony Television as Director of Comedy Development. Quickly making the segue to full-time writer, Mark has written in almost all fields of television including sketch, half-hour, Sci-Fi, animation and movie-of-the-week. Having pitched and sold three network pilots before even becoming Story Editor, Mark knows a thing or two about getting executives to turn their heads and take notice. Mark has written television abroad as well, working in Toronto, Montreal and the U.K. Beyond earning shekels for the written word, Mark consistently finds new ways to tickle audiences like co-creating the hilarious showbiz skewering website DAILYANXIETY.com (which Entertainment Weekly dubbed, “wickedly mischievous”), wrote and starred as Jerry Lewis in “The Last Telethon” at the Comedy Central Theater last December, as well as winning the dubious title of “Best Christopher Walken impression” after his YouTube video “Christopher Walken as a Nursery School Teacher” went viral. When not writing, Mark works tirelessly at finding fresh ways to get his kids to roll their eyes at him.
Craig Cackowski has been involved with the iO and iO West Theaters as a performer, coach, teacher and director since 1992. As a teacher, he is the three-time winner of the Del Close Award as Teacher of the Year. As a performer, he can be seen weekly at iO West in Quartet and The Armando Show, and monthly in My First Time With Cacky, with a different celebrity guest each show. In Chicago, Craig performed with the Second City Mainstage and ETC, as well as with Baby Wants Candy, Carl and the Passions and the original cast of Close Quarters. Film and television appearances include Community, How I Met Your Mother, Workaholics, and Year of The Dog.
Mike Coen grew up in Boston and, after attending The University of Massachusetts, Boston and majoring in Political Science, he knew that a life in acting was right for him. Mike can be seen at IO West with Trophy Wife, Cog, Tiny Hostages Perform The Improvised Movie, and quite often with The Armando Diaz show. Mike has also performed at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and performed in many improv festivals across the country.
In 2002, Mike, along with James Grace, founded The Los Angeles Improv Comedy Festival. This yearly event brings out the best Improv performers from all over the country to perform in the weeklong festival. It’s a wicked good time.
You may have seen Mike on Comedy Central’s CrossBalls or in a few commercials. It’s entirely possible you may not have seen him; if you want, he’ll tell you about them all—he’s personable like that.
Shows: The Armando Show
SHULIE COWEN has taught improv to kids, senior citizens, and everyone in between. She is a graduate of Northwestern University, a former member of The Second City National Touring Company, and a member of the original cast of the long running musical Schoolhouse Rock Live!. Shulie studied improv in Chicago at The Second City Training Center, The Annoyance Theatre and at Improv Olympic with Del Close. Shulie currently directs and performs in Opening Night: The Improvised Musical! every Friday at IO West. Movie and television credits include Curb Your Enthusiasm, Factory, You Don’t Mess With The Zohan, How I Met Your Mother, and Reno 911!.
Sean Cowhig is from Boston, MA and is a graduate of Emerson College. While at Emerson Sean joined the all improv comedy troupe This is Pathetic. He remained with the troupe for three years including his senior year when he was president of the troupe. Sean is a graduate of iO West’s improv program. He has been a member of several Mainstage Harold teams (Saucebox, Maddox Furley, Hey Swayze). Sean can be seen performing both improv and sketch at iO West with Dr. God, Pilot, and Top Story Weekly. He has guested in some of the greatest improv shows around, Opening Night the Musical, Dasariski, and The Armando Show.
Craig Cox is a screenwriter, comic, and iO West alum. He co-wrote the Will Ferrell ice-skating comedy Blades of Glory, has developed numerous feature scripts with studios such as Paramount and Universal, and teaches screenwriting through UCLA Extension.
Brett Elam is a founding member of Chicago’s popular improv and sketch ensemble, Michael Pizza. Brett can be seen in the NBC television drama “Chicago Fire”, the MTV comedy “Underemployed” as well as the independent film “One Small Hitch”. More recently, Brett can be seen playing himself in the internet web series “Liars”. His signature improv group, Michael Pizza, was described by The Onion’s AV Club as having “magnetic personalities” and was called “The Best New Improv Ensemble” by Chicago Magazine. Brett now resides in Los Angeles and can be seen performing at iO West with the Harold team Cloudkicker.
Shows: The Deltones
James Grace is the Artistic Director of the iO West Theater. He has performed, written, produced and directed comedy for the stage, web, television and film. Credits include SUPER TROOPERS, BEER FEST, REAL WORLD HOLLYWOOD, CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, RENO 911, MR WRONG and many more.
He has performed and taught improvisational comedy for over two decades.
Shows: Grace 'n Grano
Megan Grano has been teaching at iO West since 2008. Additionally, she teaches improv and sketch at Second City – where she’s worked for over a decade. She also co-created and taught the sketch-writing curriculum for the Annoyance Theater in Chicago.
Megan has used improv to coach people of all ages and professions, including corporate clients, children in foster care, and even the homeless. She has worked one-on-one with a wide variety of clients including up and coming comedians, Kathy Joosten, Ashton Kutcher, and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.
Megan has taught workshops for Columbia College, UCLA Business School, The Great American Comedy Festival in Nebraska, and The Del Close Comedy Festival in New York. She flies all over the country to work with independent improv groups and she even was flown to Paris, France to teach the French improv group: Eux.
Shows: The Deltones
Greg Hess has been performing at iO since 2003, where he has also instructed. As a performer his credits include Cook County Social Club, the Improvised Shakespeare Company, the Second City national touring company, and Baby Wants Candy, among others. He has been a featured performer at the TBS Just For Laughs Festival, Moontower Comedy Festival, the Chicago Improv Festival and Picollo Spoleto. On screen credits include Playing House, The Soul Man, Key & Peele, and he has also created a recent pilot for Comedy Central. He has trained at the Second City, iO and the School at Steppenwolf.
Shows: Cook County Social Club
Dave Hill is a Chicago native and veteran improvisational performer, writer and actor who has been performing at IO (Chicago and West) for several years. Trained at ImprovOlympic, the Annoyance Theater and the Second City, he was a member of the celebrated house team People of Earth at IO Chicago in addition to performing with numerous other wonderful ensembles including Atlantis and Jimmy Jimmy Do. Here at IO West he performs with King Ten and Cog as well as regularly appearing in the Armando show and the occasional sketch affair. He has done several commercials and TV and film work, but he does not think it germane to this biography.
Teams: King Ten
Eric Hunicutt has been performing scripted and improvised theatre continuously since he was 15 years old: everything from Shakespeare at Lincoln Center to sketch comedy in dive bars (with a lot of improv shows throughout). Eric has studied and performed with Improv Olympic (iO) Chicago, The Second City Chicago, Comedy Sportz, Steppenwolf, and is a proud alumnus of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is a working actor and director in film, TV, live theatre, and performs weekly at iO West, as well as touring nationally with the acclaimed Chicago-based ensemble The Reckoning. Directing credits include shows at The Comedy Central Stage, iO West, Piccolo Spoleto Festival, The Second City (L.A. & Chicago),The Upright Citizens’ Brigade Theateres (NYC & L.A.), and the University of California San Diego. In addition to iO West, Eric teaches at Steppenwolf Classes West, Warner Loughlin Studios, The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Cal State University’s Summer Arts, and recently served as a Guest Faculty/Director at UC San Diego.
Brian Jack is an actor, improvisor and writer born and raised in the greater Chicagoland area. He got his start improvising & performing sketch comedy at all the top comedy institutions like Columbia College, Improv Olympic and Second City. He even spent a few years abroad performing comedy with Boom Chicago. He has appeared on television shows such as “Mad Men”, “Cougar Town” and a commercial or two. Brian teaches improv workshops several times a year at theaters & universities throughout the country and of course at iO West!
Brian performs regularly at iO West with The Reckoning on Thursday nights and with Armando on Saturday nights.
Shows: The Reckoning
Andrea Kittelson is an award-winning playwright, a Los Angeles theater critic and co-founder of Hyde and Turk Performance Works, a San Francisco-based theater company which produced, during its tenure, diverse works of theater and performance art. She holds an MFA in Theater Performance (writing, acting and directing) from SFSU. With six solo shows and hundreds of other works of theater under her belt, Andrea has come to understand what makes solo performances either flop or soar.
Her book “How to Put On Your Own One Person Show” is used as the textbook in university programs and is a comprehensive and practical guide that addresses every aspect of solo performance from creation to production.
Holly Laurent is a member of the longstanding improv group The Reckoning and is a consulting writer for The Onion News Network. As a cast member of the Second City main stage in Chicago she wrote and performed in their past three revues Southside of Heaven, Who Do We Think We Are, and Let Them Eat Chaos. She trained at iO Chicago, the Annoyance Theater, 500 Clown, and toured with the Second City touring company. Holly holds a M.A. in Interdisciplinary Arts from Columbia College and teaches improv everywhere.
Shows: The Reckoning
Ed Lee is an alumnus of the iO West Improv Training Center. He has been on the writing staff of almost 100 episodes of television comedy (including “Are You There, Chelsea?” and “The Drew Carey Show”), written numerous freelance episodes, and worked in punch-up rooms of several television pilots. He has also lectured and taught seminars in film and screenwriting at Wesleyan University and Gettysburg College.
Currently teaches Comedy Writers Room
Carol Lefko was the first female in the Mailroom at CBS TV City. Next, Carol worked in CBS Casting for Lea Stalmaster and then Jean Guest. Carol opened her own Casting office where she casts films, TV, commercials and theatre.
Currently, Carol is Casting the feature film, FREEDOM RIDERS for Director, Charles Daniels. In January, Carol sold her sports competition show, GAME ON: BATTLE OF THE SEXES to Fox Sports.
Carol also teaches audition skills at UCLA, Stanford, Pepperdine, University of Arizona and California State Universities: Dominguez Hills and Channel Islands.
Margot Leitman is a four time winner of The Moth Storyslam, and was the Moth Grandslam winner in New York City. Her first book “Gawky…Tales of an Extra Long Awkward Phase,” comes out this May from Seal Press. She is the co-host of the storytelling shows “Stripped Stories” and “Small and Tall Tales” and has written online for the Lifetime Network, College Humor.com, EHow.com, the Frisky.com and in print for Playgirl Magazine and the NY Press. She is the co-writer of the made for TV movie “Cupid’s Bed and Breakfast,” starring Haylie Duff, airing soon on the Hallmark Channel. www.margotleitman.com
James Mastraieni has been improvising all over the place for awhile now. After moving to Los Angeles in 2005 he decided to take on the daunting task of taking classes at Second City, iO West, and Upright Citizen’s Brigade at the same time. After all that hard work, dedication, and confusion he was one of the first people hired out of LA to tour for the Second City cruise ships. He spent two years at sea, returned to LA and picked up where he left off, spending three years on iO West Harold team, The Cartel, followed by a year with the Harold team, Sweeterhouse. Now, he regularly performs at iOWest every Friday night at 10pm with Orpheus Roy on the mainstage and over at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade on the Harold team The Ruckus. He’s been teaching at iOWest for over a year now and coaches many teams including DCT Harold team Hooligan and he coached two Time Best DCT Harold Team Del Close Award winner Popular Science. He also has written two web series “Unemployed: The Show” and “2Bed/1Bath.” He’s a master at plugging a show.
George is an improviser and writer living in Los Angeles. He started in Chicago with the iO team Revolver and is a founding member of the critically acclaimed Chicago sketch group Sad On Vacation. He currently contributes writing to The Onion News Network. George has written and performed in pilots and films that have screened at the New York Television Festival, Sundance and South By Southwest Film Festivals. He has been a featured performer at TBS Just For Laughs Festival, in Bob Odenkirk’s Not Inappropriate Show and has written five critically acclaimed comedic plays at The Annoyance Theatre. George can be seen performing with the harold team Boy at iO West, The Blank Experience Sketch Show and Single’s Motel.
Shows: The Blank Experience
Michael McCarthy’s credits include writing for “Saturday Night Live,” “Sesame Street,” and “The Drew Carey Show,” along with many, many Comedy Central projects—not to mention creating a TV series for Channel Four in England called “Beyond The Pale,” a morning radio show in Chicago called “The Morning Fix,” and a comedy festival in Ireland called “The Cat Laughs.” Prior to most of that he opened five reviews at The Second City in Chicago, three on the mainstage with titles like “Economy Of Errors” (ha), “Winner Takes Oil” (ha, ha) and “Truth, Justice or The American Way” (ha, ha, ha). He loves The iO West and richly enjoys referring to himself in the third person.
Katie Nahnsen is an LA based actor, writer, improviser and teacher. She was a series regular and story contributor on the syndicated comedy Sports Action Team, which was distributed by MGM and aired on HDNet and NBC affiliates across the country for two years. Katie’s written and performed in plays, improv and sketch comedy revues throughout the nation and is a Moth StorySLAM winner. Notable groups include the award winning Baby Wants Candy, CatNip, Virgin Daiquiri, Spirit Cat and the Late Night Late Show. In Los Angeles, Katie’s performed at iO West, The Second City LA, UCB LA and The Groundlings. In Chicago, she has performed at iO Theatre, The Second City, The Annoyance, and The Neo-Futurists. Katie loves teaching improv and acting classes not only to comedians and actors, but also to corporations and children in foster care as a way to improve confidence and communication.
Brian James O’Connell is a working actor, writer, director, filmmaker and improviser in Los Angeles. Brian is a graduate of the prestigious North Carolina School of the Arts (David Gordon Green, Danny McBride, Jody Hill,Ben Best, Peter Hedges, Mary-Louise Parker, Tom Hulce,Terrence Mann, Chris Parnell, Jada Pinkett-Smith and Jeff Nichols) and moved to Los Angeles to follow his dreams of a career in filmmaking. Read more about Brian here on his website
Annie grew up in NW Indiana has been performing improv since 1997. In 2001 she helped found the children’s improv touring group, Smarty Pants Theater Company in Cincinnati, OH before making her way west to Los Angeles where she trained at the iO West Theater.
Over the years of training and performing a strong philosophy of team over individual emerged. With this idea in place, Annie began coaching which eventually turned into teaching. She currently teaches at MI’s Westside Comedy Theater, AMDA and at iO West where she also runs the student performance program, The Lottery. She also teaches and tours with her two man show, NOW? w/Annie & Levin and has performed at festivals in cities including Chicago, Vancouver, Honolulu, Austin, LA & San Francisco. But you can see her with the Del Close Award winning Harold Team, Uss Rock n Roll, every Wednesday at iOwest.
During the day Annie is also a working commercial actor and has appeared in several national and local spots. But mostly she gets totally jazzed-off about improv, and yes, that is how she talks about it.
Shows: Now! w/Annie & Levin
Levin O’Connor – Levin began his improv career in Chicago studying at iO(Formerly ImprovOlympic) and The Second City. He has been fortunate enough to learn from some of the great minds in this craft and works hard to pass that along. Improv is more than a means to an end for Levin, it is a life philosophy. This Del Close Award winning “Coach of the Year” has lived in LA for the past four years and performs weekly at IoWest with USS Rock ‘N Roll and The iO Repertory Company.
Shows: The Armando Show
Shows: The Deltones
Paul Vaillancourt is the co-founder (with Charna Halpern) of the iO West and has been teaching and performing improv for over 20 years. In that time he has appeared all over the country including such notable venues as HBO’s Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Chicago’s iO (where he studied with the immortal Del Close), New York’s UCB Theater, and the iO West here in Los Angeles. As an actor Paul has appeared on such shows as “The Drew Carey Show”, the UPN sitcom “Half & Half”, and the Oxygen Network’s stand out “Girls Behaving Badly”. Paul has also had success as a writer and producer, co-creating and serving as supervising writer for the MTV hit “The Blame Game” as well as lending his writing and producing talents to a score of other shows for MTV, VH1, USA, Oxygen, Bravo and AMC. Paul currently lives in LA with his wife Lindsey and his two children.
Mark Vannier is a writer and performer in Los Angeles after getting his start in Chicago. He has written and performed at several theaters and festivals across the country including the Cincinnati Fringe Festival, Capital Fringe Festival in DC, Chicago Sketchfest, TBS Just For Laughs festival and the New York Television Festival. He taught and directed at the Second City Training Center’s Writing Program as well as the Annoyance Theater in Chicago where he wrote, performed in and directed over a dozen original shows. He also performed in several shows and harold teams at iO Chicago and iO West. Mark is a member of the comedy group Sad On Vacation which does live shows as well as video content, and they are currently developing a web series for WITv. He completed his MFA in Fiction from Southern Illinois University where he taught Composition and Creative Writing courses. His writing has been published in several literary journals and has been read on Chicago Public Radio.
Shows: The Blank Experience
Irene White hails from the great state of Texas where she graduated from the University of Texas at Austin. She has studied at the Second City in Chicago and IOWest. Her Chicago theatre work includes The All-Female Bonanza at Live Bait Theatre and Chamber Music at the Transient Theatre. Her Los Angeles theatre credits include Carnality, Blue Window, The Women, The Red Coat and her one-woman show Open to the Public. Irene can be seen in lots of commercials and in episodes of Brothers & Sisters, Friends, Will & Grace, Carpoolers and Scrubs.
Teams: King Ten