An Insane Act

There is a line in James Cameron’s movie, “Avatar” which really strikes a chord with me in how I arrived at this place in my life – having an absolute blast while traveling around the country with my friends in The Second City touring company making people laugh. That line is, “sometimes your whole life boils down to one insane act.”

For me the insanity actually started when I was a young kid who asked Santa for VHS tapes of the best of Saturday Night Live for Christmas instead of a skateboard or Nintendo games. I would sit for hours in our family room laughing at Bill Murray, Steve Martin, Dan Akoryd, John Belushi, Gilda Radner and the rest of the gang. I couldn’t believe people could be that funny. It felt like they were performing just for me and I was part of a special club. I couldn’t get enough of it!

When I was 13 years old my life changed one night when my dad took me from my hometown of St. Charles, IL. into Chicago to see a show at The Second City. I walked into the building at 1616 N.Wells and there on the walls were black and white photos of all my heroes. Could it be that they all got their start just an hour away from my house? The show that night was unlike anything I had ever seen. Actors onstage made things up off the top of their heads, interacted with the audience and performed scenes that told the truth about the absurdity of life. They were smart, brave and funny all at the same time. Being in that room made it all feel tangible. These were actual people, and I longed to be a part of it.

The next day I committed my first insane act by calling The Second City and signing up for my first improv class. I was still 3 years away from getting my drivers license and I had to take a train and a bus to get down there every weekend but I just knew that this was the place I wanted to be.

I have never looked back, though I must admit that after college I quickly learned that pursuing my comedy dream wasn’t going to be as easy as I’d hoped. It meant working endless hours at a smoke-filled restaurant and picking up dog crap to pay the rent!

Just when my friends were buying condos and I was starting to get discouraged, I committed another insane act by listening to my kid sister’s advice and attending Lifebook. It couldn’t have come at a better time.

Before Lifebook I was beginning to lose confidence in myself, and I wasn’t committing to my life. I didn’t really have a plan and I felt a bit lost. I knew that being an actor was my dream but I didn’t have a clear strategy for what I needed to do to make that dream a reality. I didn’t have a clear vision of my future.

During my four day Lifebook Session, I learned that I could be the author of my own life. Lifebook showed me that it is up to me to define exactly what I want, set clear goals and work to achieve them. I realized that it is up to each of us to create our lives and, when all is said and done, it is the pursuit of happiness that is most important.

For me, ‘happiness’ has always meant being able to laugh and make others laugh. Laughter is so important to me. Laughter has become my life passion because it is about connecting with other people and sharing joy. When I say or do something that other people can relate to, or that they find to be a basic truth, there is no better feeling in the world. So I set a goal to have those feelings of laughter and joy as much as possible. Laughing improves the emotions that I feel on a day to day basis and thus improves my life.

During the life vision exercise of the Lifebook program I saw myself working as an actor for The Second City and as a cast member on Saturday Night Live. After that experience I developed my strategy to achieve this vision, and have been working toward it ever since.

It has been nothing short of amazing to see how working on my Lifebook has made these dreams a reality. I’ve now been performing with the Second City for over six months. In August I was flown to New York City to audition for Saturday Night Live and in December I was named “Chicago Comedy Man of the Year” by Time-Out Magazine. Thanks to a few insane acts, I am living an insanely happy life.

Here’s a snippet of what Time Out Chicago had to say about their Comedy Man of the Year, Chris Witaske:

The incomparable Chris Witaske… With his ballsy and brilliant turns in Annoyance’s Swear Jar, the goofy shorts he created with Sad on Vacation and his gut-busting turn as an indefatigable middle-aged magician at Just for Laughs, Witaske is our man of the year.

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