September 3, 2018

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Copywriter Janelle Blasdel Creates Comedy from the Page to Stage

What are you working on—on the side?

My side project is comedy, both performing and writing, which is a pretty broad arena to be working in, but that’s one reason I enjoy it so much. Comedy attracts a range of voices, talents, styles and approaches, so there are a lot of opportunities for crossover, collaboration and moving into a new medium that you want to explore.

More specifically, I perform improv across Chicago, namely at iO Theater with my Harold team ’66 Mustang (below) and with The Improvised Twilight Zone at The Annoyance. I also play at CIC, The Crowd and Bughouse Theater with indie teams and as part of variety shows. And I make guest appearances on podcasts like “These Parts” and “Humanoid Resources.”

For my writing, I work on video scripts for the iO Comedy Network team Deep Stretch and have published satirical articles at McSweeney’s. I’m also working on a two-person sketch show and am kicking off work on a new web series.

Source: Joe Gallagher Film/Photography

How do you manage to work on your side project(s)?

I work full-time as a senior writer during the day, so I use my nights and weekends to write comedy and perform. It can get overwhelming running from a rehearsal to a show to a writers’ meeting to a video shoot, but some of my favorite days are those that have me biking all over the city working on projects that I love with my friends, who are also hustling their butts off. These are passion projects, for sure, and there’s a special kind of reserve energy that accompanies those, but when I do have a night off, I do absolutely nothing and it is GLORIOUS.

Why have a side project?

I love how improv frees up my mind—the idea is to say “Yes, and” to your scene partner. It’s very much about listening to, connecting with and supporting your teammates in-the-moment, building on an idea rather than presenting roadblocks. And I love how comedy writing lets me be more reflective and try out different forms, from video to sketch, to see which one works best to express an idea. What I love about both is that, while the content can be silly and playful, the commentary can be smart and moving in its message—definitely not an easy thing to accomplish, but when I see it happen, it’s really inspiring.

Most of all, it’s so much fun. Improv and comedy writing keep me energized and thinking in different ways, and it’s also how I’ve met many of my closest friends. It keeps me from running on autopilot, pushing me to evolve and grow my voice and perspective and not feel stuck, or—if I ever do feel stuck—it unsticks me. What I do in comedy finds its way into my personal and professional life and, dang, I just don’t think I’d have as good of a time without it. 

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Diptych courtesy of Janelle Blasdel—portrait by Charlie Simokaitis.

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