Improv is a family, and when a member dies, regardless of whether or not he had a direct impact on you, you are affected by it. This was the case when I heard that Jason Chin died last week at the age of 46.
I was in the back of an airport shuttle getting thrown around when I read about Jason’s death on Facebook. I was shocked. I was sad. I was not close to him, but I worked with him at iO-Chicago when I taught there years ago, and when I would run into him on the street, we would always get into a conversation about improv and comedy. He always had an opinion. He was always passionate.
For those of you who don’t know, Jason was a longtime member of the Chicago improv scene and a pillar in our community. He was the former head of the iO-Chicago training center, a well-known teacher-director-producer-improviser, as well as author the improv book “Long-Form Improvisation & The Art of Zen: A Manual For Advanced Performers.”
When I started out taking improv classes back in the ’80s in Chicago, there were only a couple of pillars in the then-tiny community. Del Close and Martin DeMaat were two of them. At the time, that was enough. But as the community got bigger and spread all over the world, improv needed more pillars to support its weight. Jason was one of them.
Sometimes improv changes people’s lives so much that they decide to dedicate their whole life to it. That is what he choose to do. It seemed more of a calling than a job for him.
What I love about improv is that it is an art form that is based on camaraderie and teamwork. It’s an art form where someone will always have your back, where there are more lasting friendships than there is competition. And when someone dies, especially suddenly and so young, you start to think about what makes this art form so unique. It’s the people and those relationships we make along the way that make improv truly special.
Many of the people you meet in improv will become life-long friends, while other friendships only last the run of a show. If you have been improvising for a while, on some level you have to like people. We may not admit it, but we are dependent on them. They are the glue that holds this art form made out of paper mâché together. I wish it did not take people dying for me to remember that.