The Chicago improv community has lost another great one, this time to fucking cancer. Judy Fabjance was a beloved improv teacher at The Second City Training Center, a member of the ground-breaking group Gayco, and a mother to Daphne and wife to Kelly. She was only 41.
She started taking improv classes at Second City Northwest, which used to be located in the far away suburb of Rolling Meadows. As a teenager, she worked as a host, back when Second City was still operated like a family-run business. Eventually Judy would come “downtown,” as we liked to say in those days, and eventually began to teach and perform.
She was an incredible improv teacher. I worked with Judy when I taught at the Training Center, which means I would pass her in the hall or talk to her between classes in the teacher’s lounge. To be honest, unless you co-taught with someone or observed their class you didn’t really know how good of a teacher they were. But you could always tell from their reputation and from what the other students would say about them, and when students would say they had Judy as a teacher, they would beam — that’s how you could tell she was good.
She was also an improv saint. She did things that few improv teachers are good at or have the patience to do, and that’s work with the beginners and students with special needs.
When I heard a couple of weeks ago that Judy was going into hospice after her long, eight-year battle with brain cancer, I was sad. I was also angry and confused. What the fuck, God? Can’t you give her a break?
Every time I would see on Facebook she was headed back to the hospital for another treatment, I would get sick to my stomach. I would get pissed off at God. She was tough, she was brave, she endured pain for ten life times, but she wasn’t angry at God. She left that to me, and in the end, I was not that happy with the results.
I was lucky enough to have the chance to interview Judy for my podcast, Improv Nerd, twice: once by herself, which we lost due to technically difficulties and I am still barely over it, and another time a couple of years ago with her wife Kelly at Sketchfest. They were doing a show called “Tales of a Stage 4 Cancer” about her cancer from both the caregiver’s and patient’s point of view. She was a bit weaker than the first time I had interviewed her, and she explained that she had to conserve her energy during performances. She was kind and sweet, open and honest, as was her wife and performing partner, Kelly. Her family was there and they talked candidly about the struggles cancer brings to the whole family. It was an emotional topic, and in the end there was not a dry eye in the house.
I remember thinking two things after the interview. First, Kelly had recently married Judy, knowing what she was getting into. Some would say that is crazy, others would say it is love. Second, I thought about the generosity of the improv community the community I was part of — from people like Stephen Colbert to the people at Second City to everyone who continues to support the gofundme campaign to help Kelly and Daphne.
Sometimes in the improv community, it can seem like becoming famous is the only priority. Judy was not famous, yet she was a star. She made an impact in the classroom, on stage, and in life. She showed us how to deal with adversity with courage and grace. She was revered at Second City. The woman was loved.
I think some of us in comedy (mostly me) think applause and success equals love, but that kind is not real. What Judy had from her students, her family, her wife, her daughter, Second City and the improv community was love. Love is lasting. Love is the legacy we are all after, we just don’t know it. You had that, Judy, and you will be missed.