Alex Honnet - iO Chicago's Creative Director on Improv, Jangleheart, & the Upstairs Gallery.

April 22, 2015


I'm from Boston, MA and I've been an improviser/actor since high school.  I have been performing in Chicago since 2010, minus an early go at iO classes in 2006 that I was not really prepared for.





First Entertainment Job


My first paid regular job in Entertainment is probably the one I currently have as Creative Director of iO.  


Otherwise it's probably teaching an improv workshop to some elementary school teachers in the western Chicago suburbs.  That experience was fine.  The teachers did not really like improv. 





What, or whom, inspired you to get involved with improv comedy?


I enjoyed short form a lot when I was younger, but when I visited Chicago for college options in 20014, I saw a Harold (show) and was hooked.  



After seeing TJ & Dave, Cook County Social Club, and the Reckoning at various times while I was living here, I realized just what sort of scope improv was capable of and got REALLY hooked. 





What was the move from Boston to Chicago like for you?


It was different for sure!  I had to adjust to Chicago after the East Coast.  


People are friendlier here.  


Luckily, I went to college out here first and so, by the time I graduated and moved down to the city I had already adjusted.  I wish Chicago had more sub shops. 





As the Creative Director at iO Chicago what are your primary responsibilities?


 I work with Charna Halpern to set the creative programming for the theater.  


I see shows and performances at other spaces to get a sense of the general "scene," I work with up-and-coming performers to help them create the show they'd like at iO, and act as a liaison between the performers and the operations side of things at iO.







Recently, some of the best young performers in Chicago moved.  So, there is a gap in terms of groups or voices that are fully realized.


I think the Upstairs Gallery was that for a lot of folks, so the hope is that now we can start to foster support systems at instituations that will help younger performers find their voices so they can start plugging away.





How do you use Social Media for  your career?



All the time.  I think Social Media is an extremely effective way to engage with folks!  


The Upstairs Gallery facebook was a way for us to communicate with our audiences/performers.  In a lot of ways Facebook is sort of another stage for folks.  





Career Aspirations


I'm very much enjoying working as a creative director.  I wonder if someday I could find a role on the production side of things in T.V.


 A dream would be to be some kind of show runner or producer for a friend's project. 





The Upstairs Gallery


The Upstairs Gallery was a small theater that myself and some friends started almost accidentally and that I lived at and operated for 3-4 years.  


It changed my life in a very real way.  


Through it, I learned how to produce shows, how to operate a theater, what it was like to be almost fully dedicated to a brand, how to produce a 3-day comedy festival, and a ton about collaboration.  I also laughed so, so much. 





Top  Memories in Entertainment


 Almost all Upstairs Gallery related shows/sets/bits.  


The first Jangleheart.


Being hired at iO.


Realizing that the improv team I was on was actually pretty good or at least enjoyable to watch. 





You're the Executive Producer of the Jangleheart Circus Comedy Festival, what has that experience been like?


Jangleheart is really an extension of what we did at the gallery!  


It's a celebration of the independent comedy scene that was fostered around the U.G. during its heyday.  


To find out more visit





What is it like being an iO Chicago Harold Team Performer?


It's a very interesting thing!  iO has been focused on the Harold for so long, but it feels like lots of performers just feel like it is somethign that they HAVE to do and don't really enjoy it.  


I'm hopeful I can work with the rest of iO to really light a fire under folks about Harolds again.





Career Preparation 


I performed a lot of improv, ran an improv theater for 4 years, just DID things.  


Unless you are lucky, no one is going to give you a shot until you've proved yourself.  


Just start doing things that you like and see where it takes you. 







Mike Balzer was the previous creative director at iO, and was instrumental in me starting there.  



Mick Napier and Jen Estlin, at the Annoyance, gave the Upstairs Gallery a pipeline to keep going and were extremely supportive when I was very raw.  


Conner O'Malley, for helping me understand the world of comedy from the perspective of an insanely talented person and for being a great friend.  


Caitlin Stephan, for being my collaborator on all things U.G.  Charna Halpern, for believing in me enough to let me help run her theater. 





Current Projects


iO Creative Director


Pizza Party Improv 


Mad Contender at CIC 


Upstairs @ Annoyance 


Upstairs Gallery 





Anything else that you would like to share with our readers?


I can't stress enough how important it is to get a foundation doing stuff that you like before you try to make something that someone else will like.  


Find your own voice and then find how your voice can fit in with what "works."





Where can people go to find out more about you and yours work?


Upstairs Gallery 


For folks curious about the Upstairs Gallery, this Improv Nerd with Jimmy Carrane, has a lot of info.





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