When I reminiscence upon my past career as a gifted reading teacher of nine and ten year olds, in Naperville’s Project IDEA program, I often wonder where those students are or what they are doing in this world. It just so happens that Paul Brittain is one of my former students. He was in my fourth and fifth grade class at Ellsworth School in Naperville, Illinois. When I learned that Brittain was selected as a new Saturday Night Live cast member this past season, a smile quickly came across my face and a feeling of, ‘Wow, he made it to the big time,’ flooded my thoughts.
As an avid SNL fan, you can be sure that I either taped the shows or watched them live. While viewing the shows each week, I couldn’t help but feel proud every time Brittain appeared onscreen, I can only imagine how his parents must have felt.
SNL’s season finale was May 22, which has allowed Brittain’s schedule to free up, somewhat. Chicago’s Just For Laughs Comedy event is scheduled for June 14–19, and it’s no surprise that Brittain is performing.
We chatted by phone this past week and it was great to catch up after all these years. He talked about Naperville, writing sketches for SNL and the Improv Olympic Theater where he got his start in comedy.
Here’s part of our conversation:
Q: First of all, I can’t tell you how excited and happy I am for you as you’re performing on one of my all time favorite TV shows, SNL.
A: Thank you very much.
Q: Who were your comedic idols growing up?
A: I was a huge fan of SNL when I was growing up from the time I was about nine years old – Dana Carvey, Judd Hirsch and that whole crew. I used to watch reruns that featured John Belushi, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy. I could easily list at least 200 people. Comedy was my favorite thing; I would sit there and watch comedy all the time and I’d watch stand up as well.
Q: So, you graduated from Naperville North and then attended the University of Illinois. What did you major in?
A: I studied Spanish and finance and double majored in those two.
Q: So how did you end up at the IO or Improv Olympic Theater?
A: My plan was to move to Chicago after college and get involved with comedy. I didn’t really know too much about improv at that point but I started taking classes at IO and got familiar with it very quickly. That place pretty much became my home, more than my own home.
Q: I read that Lorne Michaels came to IO and then called you to audition in New York. Obviously, the rest is history! What I’d really like to know is what your schedule is like Monday through Friday working on the show? Do you work on writing any of the skits?
A: Yes, all the SNL cast members work on writing with the staff writers Monday through Friday. (Brittain proceeded to run through the week.)
Monday, we meet the host for the first time and begin to write.
Tuesday, we do a lot of writing on into the next morning.
Wednesday, we read through all the sketches; they are chosen Wednesday night.
Thursday and Friday are rehearsing and blocking for the camera.
Saturday we go in the afternoon and we run through the show, then an audience comes in for dress rehearsal, then they leave and we do it live on the air for the show and for another audience.
Q: Oh my, thanks so much for sharing that! I had no idea; here’s some ‘backstage news’ for everyone!
Q: I saw your impersonation of James Franco; did you work on the writing of that?
A: Yes, I did write that with a couple other staff writers who are from Chicago actually. The three of us wrote that sketch.
Q: Do you follow Chicago sports or are you a true New Yorker?
A: I’m a huge White Sox fan. I’m in LA right now and I’m catching up on yesterday’s Sox highlights from the game.
Q: Do you still pinch yourself and think “really, I was on SNL last season?” It has to be a somewhat of a surreal experience.
A: Oh yeah, absolutely, more so in the first weeks and months but eventually you just get used to it and move forward and think okay, this is just what you do now, this is your life. But, oh yeah, there are definitely times when I have a chance to sit back and reflect – that I’m still a little bit in shock about it.
Q: Can you tell us about your role in the Just For Laughs Chicago comedy festival June 14-19th?
A: I’m doing a skit show with my friend, Jet Eveleth. I’m also doing an improv show with my good friend Rex Graff and Bill Boehler, it’s a show called Topaz. It’s a very fun, very physical improv group.
Q: I can’t thank you enough, Paul. As your former teacher I can say that I am so very proud of you and wish you the best of luck in whatever else you decide to pursue!
A: I appreciate that, thanks so much.
Be sure to check out the Just For Laughs comedy website as it has information regarding where Paul Brittain will be performing.
Sarah Adamson© June 12, 2011