INTERVIEW: Eleanor Hollingsworth

I don’t think I’m very funny. I think I’m pretty honest.

Eleanor HollingsworthInterning at iO has allowed me to meet some truly incredible people. Not only meet some of them, but work with them, assist them in furthering their careers and even becoming friends with them. One of these such people happens to be Miss Eleanor Hollingworth. One of the happiest, most positive and kind people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting working in the box office at iO. I interviewed Eleanor in the box at iO, just a recorded conversation between two gals about this crazy improv world we have both been sucked into.

How long have you been involved in comedy?
I started my senior year of college. I’d done theater and been in comedic plays but I did improv for the first time my senior year in college, in Charleston, SC.

What were you hoping to accomplish when you moved to Chicago?
I moved to Chicago October of 2009. Halloween and I was 23- yup, that’s right. I stayed an extra year in Charleston because I love that city and I had a good life and then I came here with not so much of a plan, but more of an idea that I wanted to do improv. I had a lot of friends that had moved up already and I had found improv much more accessbile after college as opposed to theatre. I did one play that I really loved, but most of the plays I did out of college were really shitty. It wasn’t really fun, but improv was really fun and really hard. So, I came here because I was too scared to go to New York and I didn’t really like LA and I had a lot of friends here. So I thought “Oh, I’ll try the comedy thing” I wanted to get paid to perform and I wanted to do improv and I hoped I could do both improv and acting when I decided to make a plan about it.

Where have you studied?
My first improv classes were at Theatre 99 in Charleston. Greg Tavares and Brandy Sullivan run that theatre and I really owe them a lot. I don’t know how I would have found improv without them. I went through their whole program and that’s definitely my home base. But then I went through the whole program up here at iO and that’s my Chicago home for sure. I’m currently in Level 4 in Conservatory at Second City and that’s been delightful but I definitely feel more plugged into the iO community. Second City is a lot bigger and a lot more going on…and I live here [iO].

Haha, yea that’s true. Who has been your most influential instructor?
There are so many people that have taught me a lot of things. Craig Uhlir is one of my favorite’s. Rachel Mason has been probably the most catlyzing. She is very direct and very guteral and she calls you on your shit really well. She came in after one show we did and she said “I don’t know how to tell you this, but you just have to live your life better” and it just made so much sense. Noah [Gregoropoulos] was a big deal. I haven’t had a bad teacher. Ryan Archibald has been a really great coach for this independent team I’ve been doing a little bit. Jason Shotts was also very informative.

Who are your favorite people you’ve met so far in the improv/comedy field?
I love Colleen Doyle. I’ve never had her as a teacher, but I love her. I also really love all the people on my Harold team at iO, Big Spoon: Ben Cook, Jen Cumberworth, Tony Mannix, Greg Worsley, Joe Gennaro, Lee Barats, Chris Kervick, Jose Molina and Bente Engelstoft. They inspire me. I love all of them. They are probably the people I feel the most accountable to, the people that make me want to be the best and I wouldn’t feel comfortable not learning more things because I want to be at their level and keep getting better. TJ [Jagodowski] is my neighbor.

TJ Jagodowski?
Yea, he lives across the street from me and he’s the kindest person.

He is, he’s the kindest person.
He is. I guess Dummy has been the show that I’ve watched the most lately and it just blows my mind and makes me want to be so much better. Tara [DeFrancisco] is always a delight to be around. I never had her as a teacher either. Really working in the box office (at iO), I feel like I’ve gotten to know everybody. Slowly, but I feel really well-accepted by people that I’ve never played with or taken any classes from. Everybody is super generous and kind. They are all very cool people.

What has scared you the most on this journey?
I don’t think I’m very funny. I think I’m pretty honest. There was a really steep learning curve. Nobody ever said you have to be funny, but I think I didn’t really get that you didn’t have to be. I’m never going to be the funniest person in the room. I might be the most open or the most honest or the most responsive- that I could maybe corner. But there was a big shift that happened sometime during the iO training program, which was due both to timing and excellent teachers. So for me, the scariest thing was thinking that I had to be sharper or funnier or wittier. I think it hit me one day when I woke up and it had been a year since I’d done a play and I realized I was an improviser, not an actor anymore. That was scary until I got my feet underneath me and realized I didn’t need to be the funniest person in the room and I still am an actor. I’m just an actor who’s an improviser.

Where there different things you employed to try and build up that “funny factor” before you realized you didn’t need to be the funniest person in the room?
Probably subconsciously. I used to talk a lot faster. I also used to drive for conflict because I came from plays. I had a tendency to try and control the situation. Plays are about the drama. They’re sculpted and are about writing to the apex of the conflict. But because you write it and you edit it, you can trim the fat. You can’t do that on your feet as well, so I think I tried to be in a play on stage for a long time, when doing improv. Then when I thought about being funny, I got kind of “inventy.” But I didn’t know that’s what I was doing and it sort of fell away. It’s not as scary to go on stage with nothing. I still do shitty scenes, but it’s not the same level of desperation that I had before from compensating for feeling a bit exposed.

What unexpected twists and turns have led you to where you are today?
All of them. There’s no reason I should have been an improviser. I’m a very literal, very logical, very realist person. I shouldn’t be here. But it’s great that I am and I think it just happened because I found some really goofy friends. I have to credit John Brennan, who’s in New York right now. Henry Riggs who’s on a team at iO and Peyton Ray Robbins. We all went to college together. They are the silliest, funnest, best people. They’re effectively these brothers I never had and they did improv. They just looked like they had so much goddamn fun and I wanted to play. I did improv because of them. I moved up to Chicago because all of these friends I had were doing improv and we all kept it up. It just made me a better person. I’m a more positive person. I’m a more grounded person, even though it’s in the world of complete pretend. I know who I am and whatever happens, I can handle it. On top of that, to get to experience the joy of playing make believe as a grown-up and that it doesn’t matter- you can be whatever you want, however you want and people will catch you. It just kept pulling me further and further into this world and now I don’t know what else I want to do. This is it. This is my life. So, there’s a million twists and turns.

What else are you involved in and how do you balance your time?
I have friends that I have only seen in the last six months when they come to see my show. So, I don’t know that I balance it perfectly. I have a bunch of friends from college, a lot of them are improvisers, but some of them aren’t. I try to keep my social life with them. I walk dogs. That’s my day job, it’s awesome. Move around all day and hang out with dogs. Then I usually come to iO to work in the box office or to do a show or watch a show or I go to Second City to take a class or watch a show. Probably five nights a week, I’m doing something improvy. Then when I’m not, I’m usually with my improv friends. We usually go out and watch each other’s shows. I do a lot of improv.

I’m a pretty big outdoors person, so I try to still go camping and I try to still make time for stuff like that, which definitely recharges. I went to Wyoming last summer with NOLES, which is National Outdoors Leadership School, which is the other thing I wish I could do with my life. I do that, so that’s sort of grounding not only because you get to remove yourself from the improv bubble we live in, but also from the city and remember what it’s like to be a human outside of this world. I don’t feel the need to really balance too hard because I really like what I’m doing and I know I have the experience of being a white water rafting guide and I have the experience of being all of these other things in my back pocket. So the fact that I’m doing mostly improv now, doesn’t suck. I don’t feel like I’m excluding the rest of my life right now, I just feel like I’m living this really hard.

Yup, do you have any hidden talents? You just revealed you’re a white water rafting guide, anything else?
Ya know, I can kind of dance. I can whistle really loud with two fingers.

Haha, my mom can do that.
I can teach you, it’s really fun. It’s three days and a lot of spit. And a mirror. Seriously  I’m double jointed, so that’s a thing. [Here Eleanor proceeds to tangle her upper body in ways that an upper body is not meant to be tangled.]

Whoa, ohh, gross. Ewww.
My special skills section of my resume is not super impressive. I’m really bad at improv singing.

What are your greatest fears?
I’d be really afraid of not being a kind person. I think I am, but that would be something I would really hate to be-to be a shitty person. Sometimes that’s crippling, because when you’re not being an asshole you shouldn’t worry about it too much, but that’s a big fear. Also, missing out. Whether that means not taking the right amount of risks or not pushing yourself hard enough or being too apathetic to take the opportunities as they come. That’s what I’d probably be most afraid of, is not seeing what I’m capable of. I think I’d be afraid of waking up in 20 years and thinking that I didn’t do everything all the way. I didn’t learn to do that until I was older, because I know there was stuff I did when I was younger and I just went through the motions and I feel like I just missed stuff and I don’t ever want to feel like that about anything I choose to do as an adult.

What piece of advice would you share with less experienced improvisers?
I took my first improv class with John Brennan and at one point I was having a hard time and I was frustrated and I felt kind of exposed and I was kind of crying and he patted me on the back and said, “It’s alright. You’ll be ok. It gets better.” I also saw Rachel Dratch read her book at Second City and someone asked her if there was ever a point when she was going to give up, and I’m paraphrasing, but she said “You know, there really wasn’t. I kind of had a plan of what I would do, but every year, things just kept coming. I took a baby step forward and a baby step forward and each year you realize you have something you didn’t have the year before and you keep building it little by little and then you’re on SNL!” Which isn’t my experience, but it resonated, because I couldn’t look at my three years here and say how much I’ve accomplished, but if you look at it in little increments, I’m always a little bit further than I was, and if you look at it like that, it feels great! So my advice would be to just keep going. Just keep swimming.

Wise words of Dori, I think that’s right.
Yea, Dori. Just keep swimming.

Where are you currently performing?
I perform at iO, I’m on the Harold Team Big Spoon. I do an independent team and we do some shows at the Upstairs Gallery, the Barprov scene. I’m also in Conservatory at Second City, so I have some student level shows at Second City.

What is the greatest insight you have discovered about life and comedy?
For me personally, funny isn’t really the point. Taking care of your people and being open gets you so much farther. Not that you shouldn’t be funny too, but funny finds you when you’re those things. The best you can do is to be the best version of yourself you can be every time you come to play. That’s what’s served me the best.

Any final comments?
Love it. This is what we get to do. We get to do improv, it’s awesome. “Just be better at your life,” to quote Rachel Mason.


Eleanor Hollingsworth is a transplant from the south, specifically Charleston, South Carolina. She cannot watch scary movies with her eyes open, prefers to drink PBR and, as a dog walker, has a high success rate when imitating personified canine voices. She performs with Wine and Panty Bandits, There you are, Peter and iO with the Harold team, Big Spoon. She is currently enrolled in the Conservatory program at Second City and is incredibly thankful to all of the people who have helped to make Chicago her home.

Interview conducted on September 17, 2012.


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posted on by Kiley Peters posted in Chatter, Interviews

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