INTERVIEW: Casey Whitaker

Let go and don’t take life so seriously.

Casey Whitaker HeadshotCasey might be the kindest and most hospitable interviewee yet. I met Casey at her apartment where she informed me she had French bread pizza and wine waiting for us. What a doll. As she sat in her prize, plush, vintage chair, we chatted over a glass of wine about her passion for this craft, the hurdles she jumped over to get to where she is and how empowered she feels being an independent woman in comedy. Then we mentioned Destiny’s Child. Everything comes back to Beyonce. Everything. Miss Casey Whitaker, ladies and gents. What a sweetheart.

Casey, did you grow up in a funny household? What were you family dynamics growing up?
I think my dad’s really funny. But he’s really dry and quiet and I’m a little more in-your-face about it, but I think a lot of it came from him, just as timing I guess. My mom is one of those women who say jokes and then laugh at themselves. Especially now, since she’s pre-menopausal, at 50 years old, she really just goes for it and then enjoys it. Whatever that means. I have a little sister named Jordan and she is about to go to law school, she’s graduating college this year. We’re four years apart. She never really had a sense of humor and then I went to college and when I came home on break, she was like a whole new person who could make fun of herself and others efficiently with her own style and personality. She was always a popular girl and I wasn’t really. I was class officer and stuff and people didn’t mess with me or make fun of me because I would always turn it on them with a joke. I didn’t drink in high school, so I wasn’t in the “cool crowd.”

Me neither. I was always overly involved in everything and was acquaintances with the football players and cheerleaders, but was never anything more than that. I also couldn’t talk to guys until I was about 16- at all. Period.
No, me neither. I think I wanted to be a singer first. I would do choir and show choir. Then in 8th grade, we had a finale showcase and all the graduating 8th graders did solos. You know that song from Smokey Joe’s Café, “Don Juan?”

No… will you sing it for me?
No. Ok, well it’s this kind of sexy song telling this guy that his money is gone and now I’m gone. It’s real sassy.

Sassy. I’m down with sassy.
I had a boa and I practiced and practiced and thought it was so good. I honestly couldn’t hit half the notes, but I sold it so hard and did this dance with little winks and stuff. Anyways, afterwards, one of my mom’s friends, Mrs. Hollingshead came up to me and she said, “Casey, you didn’t really sing that well, but you were very entertaining. You should just maybe do comedy.” Something like that and that was the thing that changed it for me.

Yeah? In 8th grade?
In 8th grade. I didn’t know about improv and this whole crazy world yet. But basically it was then that someone said, “You’re really funny, but you’re probably not the next Mariah.”

Haha, mine was Whitney. I used to always try to sing “I Will Always Love You” with my tape deck and headphones on family car trips. Then the last big note where there’s the “boom,” then “I will always love you,” I would just belt it out and think that I was just great. And I’m so close to my family, but I think I was about nine and I remember, my dad says, “KILEY, you’re not very good. You need to stop.” And I was just like, “Ok, noted. Got it.” Ok, so anyway. Then what? You have this little nugget in you that is thinking about comedy…
Yeah, I always knew I was somewhat funny. I was always the class clown. Even in 2nd grade, when the teacher would leave the room, I would go up to the front and put on her glasses and did an impression of her. Then when I went to college at University of Kentucky, they had a very small theatre department. My parents encouraged me to major in Arts Administration, because it was more practical, but I was still taking all the acting classes and doing all their mainstage plays (mostly comedies). Then I eventually just took so many, I made it a double major, which was awesome. But I was taking 28 hours a semester because I’m crazy.

Wow, that’s intense. Did you graduate early?
No, I graduated on time with a semester of Comedy Studies.

Wow, good work.
Yeah and I somehow pulled it off for them to sign off on the 16 hours at Second City to be part of my theatre major. I left a semester early from Kentucky to come up here and that’s how I finished my dual degrees. So I didn’t walk because it was the Comedy Studies Showcase shows that weekend. I interned the summer before for Arts Administration for the producers at Second City and at Stage 773, when it was called Theatre Building Chicago. I was just doing administrative internships that summer, but I lived here for three months.

Was that your first time in Chicago?
Yes. I lived off of Broadway and Aldine in a two bedroom condo all to myself for $300 a month! My mom’s friends’ daughter owned it and traveled a ton for work so I had it to myself most of the time for such a cheap amount. Such a great area with a rooftop deck and everything but I still remember being scared to death of all the city noise the first night. I guess I wasn’t used to it yet. When I was little I used to miss the bus because I would hide from any car noise behind this tree by our house; super paranoid kid but now I just prance around the city as if it’s not the murder capital but I think I feel safer because there’s more people around or something.

Ok, so the summer before you graduated, you came up to Second City and, what is now, Stage 773…
Yes. I took IFA, Improv for Actors, class. I interned with Chelsea Devantez and she invited me to her Comedy Studies show and I saw her and then shortly after Aidy Bryant do their showcases and that’s how I figured out what Comedy Studies was and that I really wanted to do it. So, of course, going back to Kentucky after three months of summer in Chicago was such a culture shock and I knew I had to apply to the program and get back to the magical land of laughter and liberals. My parents weren’t totally onboard because they wanted me to finish at UK, it was probably cheaper. But I couldn’t wait. Comedy Studies ended up technically being part of my college degree at UK.

Casey Whitaker_Have To Fail QuoteNice. So you came to Chicago prior to really graduating and then what?
Comedy Studies was the most fun. I loved all the classes. It was just a great experience. I definitely wasn’t getting everything right, but I knew I wanted to do this so I just embraced the learning curve. The most important thing I learned was just that you can fail. You have to fail in order to get better. In order to learn anything. I’ve always just been that student who wanted to do everything right, but it wasn’t about that. It was just about falling on your face and being ok with it.

Yup, that’s a big lesson. I think that applies to everything. I’m very much so like that too and that’s taken a really long time to be ok with. I used to always say that failure was my biggest fear until I fell on my face a lot and realized I was ok with it. What was the most challenging thing about being in the Comedy Studies program?
I always went to a huge high school. Kentucky was huge. I was in a sorority because I was a double legacy. I don’t know why they took me.

A double what?
A double legacy. My grandmother and my aunt were DZ’s, so they pretty much had to take me. I went through rush in faded black pants, a tie dyed shirt, and a purse my grandmother had knitted out of dollar general bags. I joined a sorority just to meet people since no one from my high school went there. Even the sorority I was in was about 200 girls alone and then Chicago is huge so I’ve always been able to get lost in the crowd. I’ve never lived in a small town where everyone knew everything about everyone. So there were nine of us in Comedy Studies and you were with those nine people for all 16 hours of the classes and the shows. That was crazy for me because I’ve never been in classes that small and spent that much time with the same people.

Are you still performing with some of those people?
Gary [Richardson] and I got to do BenchCo together in 2011. That was so special. I see them all over, but I’m not really performing with any of them but we all keep track of each other and are very involved in the scene. So that was the most challenging, having that small class and learning how to live in a “very small town” and what part you were to play.

So then you finished Comedy Studies and you’re now on TourCo, so can you provide a few highlights of what happened in between those things.
Oh gosh, I started an independent team called Wildcard right out of Conservatory. So that was huge because I found people who thought I was funny, that I thought were funny and they instantly became my family in Chicago.

Where did you meet them? How did it start?
It started in 2010 and I learned in Comedy Studies that my improv class for two hours a week was not going to make me better at improv, so I wanted to get some practice. I found all these people in class and then Rachel [LaForce] and I auditioned for two things back to back together on accident and I walked up to her and was like, “Are you on a team? You’re amazing.” I had a lady crush on her immediately and just asked her to be on my team. Our first meeting together was just this little random group of orphans I’d found and put together. There were nine of us originally and then it widdled down to about six of us that performed together for about a year and a half or so. We would do a barprov type show four or five nights a week. Joey [Scavuzzo] and Rachel both had cars and we would just pile in and go from Underground to Horseshoe to Crocodile to anywhere. That was the most valuable time for us to learn about our voice and get better. I’m sure we’ve done 200 or 300 shows.

That’s amazing.
We were all young and starting out and we just wanted it. We became really close friends. Me, Greg [Worsley], Joey and Rachel kind of became the fab four and we’d just do shows. We also rehearsed regularly. Micah Philbrook coached us for a while, then we had Barry Hite. We still rehearse every week and just do a shit ton of shows. It wasn’t until last year that we realized we all write and that we should start writing as a group and then we had Scott Goldstein direct us.

Casey Whitaker_Wildcard QuoteWhen did Carmen join?
About a year ago. Joey moved to LA and it was the three of us but we missed that cocky sort of playfulness and Carmen [Christopher] fit that feel really well. So Carmen kind of balanced us out. I hope everyone finds their Wildcard. I think I learned more from that group and those people than I did in any class.

Is there anything that you would specifically recommend to people in terms of how to find those people or get started?
I know so many people who are so talented and just haven’t found their group yet and it’s sad, because it’s so important. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking anyone you admire or have fun playing with or have fun watching to do something with you. It’s good to keep collaborating with a lot of different people but that home base is important. Also take any performance opportunities at first. It’s all just experience. If you love it and you care about it, it doesn’t matter if it’s in some shitty bar.

For sure.
We did a lot of traveling too. We used to do festivals.

Yeah, we drove 14 hours to North Carolina. 17 hours back. Five of us in a car. That was awful and it was January.

BUT, it’s important to do festivals.

Ok, so it’s important to do festivals and you hope everyone finds their Wildcard.
Yes. Then for classes, I think the most beneficial program I’ve ever taken was the writing program at Second City.

Why the writing program? Everyone keeps saying to people who like to perform that they should be writing.
Yes and that’s so great. I did Conservatory first but it made me a better performer because you find your voice so easily when you’re writing. When you turn in scripts every week, you’ll write things you would want to perform or what you think is funny. Then you figure out what you’re about.

That makes sense and I’ve never thought of it like that.
Right? And I never thought of myself as a writer. I’m a performer, but I’m a writer too.

That’s really good advice because I think a lot of people struggle with finding their voice. Even just finding their voice as a person, just being comfortable with who they are. But then to find their voice as a performer is even more difficult. But the idea of literally writing down your voice and then crafting it and figuring it out…
Of course, we’re all improvisers, but we should all be doing webisodes and Sketchfest and all of those things to become even more prepared and well rounded. Even BenchCo used a lot of our original material that we wrote and we had to keep everyone’s voice in mind.

So you’ve been bouncing around quite a bit, performing everywhere and you joined TourCo in November. What’s the audition process like?
It’s just like the generals. Once a year Second City is required to have an open generals audition. It’s not really open because you have to send in your headshot and resume and then they allow you to have a slot. You do a two-person scene and some montage improv stuff. Last year there were about 800 people that auditioned and callbacks is only about 40 people.

Holy crap. 800 people?
Yeah. So my first year, I got called back and that’s how I met Scott Goldstein when he directed my archive scene. So once you get called back, you get an archived scene and you have 30 minutes with a scene partner and a director and then you perform it for the producers and the rest of your callback group. My scene partner didn’t show up.

To one of the 40 spots for a Second City callback!?
Yeah. Come to find out a year or so later John Anderson, one of my friends now wasn’t skipping he just never got the call that he got a call back! So mostly improv in the first audition and then you also do improv and perform this archive scene in the callbacks.

Ok, why did you go out for TourCo? A new challenge?
Oh, this is totally my dream- to work for Second City. I guess I’ve always been going after it. It was just kind of crazy. Another thing to note is that months may go by before you find out if you’ve made it. After auditions, about 10 of us got meetings with Beth Kligerman. I didn’t talk much and I was super nervous and then she asked me about GIRLS and Lena Dunham and I hadn’t really watched the show and didn’t know anything about it. So I watched the show and about six months later I emailed her and asked if I could come by and chat and mentioned that I had watched the show and just wanted to catch up. I went in in November and I sat down and she said “You know, we can talk about GIRLS, but why don’t you just understudy TourCo?” That sounded much better. So that was just crazy.

So it’s Red, Green and Blue touring companies. Are their tiers?
No, that’s just what they’re called. They’re all equal and then the understudies are called PatchCo. So when all three touring companies are out and there’s another show that needs to happen, we get to step in.

How exciting! What’s the one thing you think helped you prepare the most for TourCo?
Acting. There are so many people that are so funny and probably so many that are funnier than me but I think it’s so important to be a good actor and comedian. Being able to perform archived scenes and do them justice and not just being the funny person on stage.

Ok, who are some of your greatest comedic influences?
I’m kind of bad at watching famous comedians. I mean, my heroes are my teachers Mary Scruggs and Anne Libera.

That works. You don’t have to have famous idols, that’s much more realistic.
I had Mary Scruggs for Comedy Studies writing class and she just had such a warm personality. She was one of those people who made you feel like you were their very best friend, but they made everyone feel that way, but it was ok because it was a genuine connection. She was just so lovely. She was the first person to confirm that I could write and be a writer and not to be afraid of your early 20’s.

Talking about your acting background, I’ve seen you perform a few times and you’re great. Do you have any favorite characters you love to play?
Yeah, I do this chin quiver thing. I can fake cry really well. Hold on, I’ll do it for you. [Casey proceeds to make her chin quiver and her eyes well up with tears. It really is quite convincing.] I used to only play low status and sad girls and now I think I have a little more of a range and I enjoy playing high status because it’s not how I am in real life. So any girl that’s sad. I’ve also done some stand up and wrote a bunch of one-liners and that also just helps really clean up your improv. I never wanted to be a stand-up, per se, but it was just something I wanted to have experience doing.

I didn’t know you did stand-up.
If you put my name into YouTube you can find my stand-up.

Girl, you know there will be links attached to this interview (see below).
Oh god. It’s sit down comedy because I sit the whole time. But it’s very dry and quirky. It’s a little bit different than normal Casey, it’s a bit more of a persona.
(Casey’s Sit Down Comedy)

I have to check that out, that’s hilarious.
Oh, one second. I wanted to touch more on originality. I’m not saying don’t watch people you like, but don’t try to be them. Figure out what he or she does that you like and why and then break it down for yourself, but don’t try to put it on. Always think to yourself if you’ve seen this before and just work on trying to make things different. Oh, in BenchCo, I wrote this scene about my mom and I when I tried to ask her if I could go on birth control senior year of high school summer. This was a real thing and we were sitting in the car and she asked me if I was having sex and why I would need that. I said, “Uh,  no but what if we were in a room and it was hot and our clothes were off and then it came and there was some on me, but we weren’t having sex, but what if it shoots and it hits me?”

Haha, oh my god. That was your real line? What if it shoots and it hits me? That’s why I need birth control.
That was my real line. Yes. Flying sperm is a problem. That was a real thing. So I wrote it down and the wonderful Jo Feldman played my mom and we did the scene and it was ridiculously fun. Or there was also the time I came home from college and I decided not to go out for New Years Eve. I didn’t want to go to my parent’s party or my little sister’s party so I somehow became the designated driver. So I literally picked up my whole family one by one and they were all drunk. I was this 19 year old college kid just driving my drunk family around. That got into my Conservatory show because it was so ridiculous.

So, there’s another life lesson. Live you life so you have material.
Have experiences!

Yeah, it kills me when people are like “I’m 16 and I’m funny.”
It blows your mind. I’ve grown up so much in the last four years. 21 to 25.

Casey Whitaker_Professional QuoteThose are big years, in every person’s life. The amount of things you experience, bills you have to pay and shit you have to walk through, it’s a lot.
Well, be professional too. Pay your bills. Be professional at your rehearsals. Be somebody that people want to work with too and treat it like a job. If you really want it to be a job, if you want to do TourCo or anything, you have to treat all your opportunities with that drive and commitment.

That’s good advice. Ok, you do couples skate, where did that inspiration come from?
Speaking of living your life. So I met Bill [Letz] in musical conservatory. I honestly always thought I was going to be one of those women who didn’t meet their love until they were 40 and then I would have this wedding and I’d be kind of wrinkly but still kind of pretty. I’ve always kind of been ok with that. Even knowing that well into my 30s I probably wouldn’t meet anyone. So I met Bill and he’s awesome (blush and grin). But then you know, you start dating someone and you naturally disappear from your friends and your second job of comedy and about two months in, I realized I had dropped a few of these things I was working so hard at and I was happy and in love, but I needed to figure out how to do both of those things.

Yup, what’s the balance?
That’s why I started the show. I wanted to figure out how to see Bill and do this thing I wanted to work on. Couples Skate. It’s the most fun ever. Bill and I had never done improv together before, except for real life. We always have a blast and we’ve been writing together too, now.

Aww, how long have you guys been dating?
Over a year now. This has been my longest relationship and it’s just crazy to me. Like I said, I thought this would never happen and I guess I’ve always been a little scared it would because I don’t want to stop working hard.

Yeah, because it’s a huge distraction.
But, Couples Skate. So now I can do both.

Casey Whitaker_Woman QuoteThere you go. Solve your own problems. You’re such an independent woman. Destiny’s Child would be proud.
Yup. Call Beyonce. [We said Beyonce at the same time.] Then there’s all that stuff about being a female in comedy. I think you just need to own that you are a female in comedy and not worry about what anyone thinks. You have things as a woman that other people (men mainly) cannot bring to the table, so just own it.

Yeah, of course.
When I started getting on teams about three years ago, I felt that improv teams were like pirate ships, where women weren’t allowed onboard. It was like bad luck. Now they’re about half and half because there’s so many talented women now.

Especially when you come across a really funny woman, you get so excited. It’s like, “Thank you for being hilarious.”
I don’t even get intimidated. I just get excited that there’s more of them, everywhere.

Yeah, for sure. Alright, a few last questions for you. What’s your life motto?
My mom always said, “Life’s not fair.” No, that’s not really my life motto. I used to have this stupid plaque on my wall in my childhood home that said, “This life is not a dress rehearsal.” You’re not going to redo it later, this isn’t a practice, just do it. “Life is not a dress rehearsal, just do it.” I think that’s it.

A little Nike flair. “Life is not a dress rehearsal, just do it.” There we go, new life motto. That’s good.
Oh, I want to change it to “eat right.” Nooo, leave it.

Be all that you can be.
Ahhh, shine bright, shine far, be a star…oh that movie with Tyra Banks. No, let’s stick with “This life is not a dress rehearsal.”

Ok. Secret fun fact about you that no one knows.
When I was growing up and watching Disney movies, I was very attracted to villains. I had a crush on Jafar.

Yeah. It’s kind of weird.

Haha, that is kind of weird. He’s scary.
I thought he was so hot.

I liked his voice. I liked his staff, take it however you want.

I will take that in a lot of ways. Haha. Alright, you had a crush on Jafar. God, it can’t get more secret than that. What shows and projects are you currently working on right now?
Wildcard will be doing sketch at iO in April on Thursday nights at 10:30pm.  We’re also doing CIF next Wednesday April 3rd at Strawdog at 9:30pm with some greats like Kevin Mullaney, Craig Cackowski, Dina Facklis, and Tim Stoltenberg. Um, PatchCo, Couples Skate will be at The Playground in May. My Playground Team, Middle Child, is going to start this run where we perform with drag queens. They’ll maybe do the opening for us, maybe a monologue and then in full drag, they’re going to play with us in the set.

Are they improvising drag queens or are they straight up drag queens?
I mean, I live in Boys Town, I have a lot of straight up drag queen friends. It’s going to be so fun, right after pride. I’m also thinking about doing a one-woman thing for the Women’s Funny Festival in June along with my usual two-woman with the fierce Rachel LaForce.

Where do you hope to be in the next 5-10 years?
I hope I’m still working at Second City, maybe on one of their stages. Or maybe writing for a show.

A sitcom or a stage show?
Either of those. Then I’m also starting to look for an agent, but I’ve never been interested in on-camera stuff.

Really? That’s why I got into this. That is my goal, someday, to book a commercial.
I think it would be fun, but I wish I could get more excited about it.

If you don’t want to do it, honey, you’re busy. You have plenty of other things to get excited about.
Yeah, so we’ll see. I just want to be working in front of a live audience and getting paid to do it. Maybe I’ll finally get a pet.

Casey Whitaker_Cats Quote

What kind of pet do you want?
I don’t know. I feel like I’m a dog person. I’m definitely not a cat person.

Hmmm. I don’t trust cat people.
I don’t like cats.

Cats are really snobby and selfish.
Yeah. For single women, it’s like throwing in the white flag. You know, like you gave up.

Haha, for sure. Ok, here’s my last big question for you. What is the greatest insight you’ve discovered about life and comedy?
I’ve always been a bit of a planner. I like to look forward to things and I’ve always been somewhat organized with that kind of stuff. So I think I’ve learned, with improv, to kind of let go and go with the flow and know that things will still turn out ok. So, let go and don’t take life so seriously. You should always be able to laugh about everything eventually. Don’t be so serious.

Any final comments?Casey Whitaker_Let Go Quote You have to believe in yourself  before other people will. That took me a while to really admit my goals. I literally had to order business cards from Vista Print that said “Casey Whitaker, Comedian” on them to believe it. You have to be able to say what you want out loud and tell other people. Saying it out loud and telling it to your friends makes it more real and makes it something that can happen. So say it out loud. Laugh out loud. Just doing everything loud.

Also, I feel like I bashed on my parents in this interview and I just want to make it clear that they have always been my biggest fans, they taught me how important it is to be professional. For a while I blamed them for “not supporting me” when things didn’t happen in Chicago right away but really it was me getting out of my own way and owning my path before anything good could happen. I’d be lost without my beautiful family. God, I love them.


Casey Whitaker is a stand-up comedian, actor, and improviser from Beavercreek, Ohio. She holds a BA in Theatre and Arts Administration from the University of Kentucky. Since moving to Chicago in 2009, she has graduated from Columbia and Second City’s Comedy Studies Program as well as the Second City Conservatory, Second City Writing Program and Second City Musical Conservatory. Casey performs all over the city with her long form improv and sketch team WILDCARD and her two woman show called LAFORCE & WHITAKER. You can also catch her playing with her Playground Team MIDDLE CHILD and hosting her own show (with Bill Letz) called Couples Skate where real comedy couples perform sets together and fall more in love. Most recently she was hired as an understudy for the Second City National Touring Company! Go Cats!

Interview conducted on March 13, 2013.

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posted on by Kiley Peters posted in Chatter, Interviews