The best improv is like a best friendship; one player anticipates the other's next ten moves and trust between the two reaches a tipping point after which anything goes. When I first saw Holly Laurent and Katie Rich collaborate in sketches and improv sets on the Second City main stage, it was like watching two old friends riff. Forget the audience—they almost seemed to care more about making each other laugh.
This past fall the pair went bicoastal—Laurent followed her career to LA and Rich was hired on as a staff writer for Saturday Night Live—but thousands of miles won't stop the duo from reprising the joyous improv of their Chicago days, back where it all began. The pair will perform their two-person long-form improv show, Joan and Ro, New York City, 1962, on consecutive nights, the second part of the Chicago Women's Funny Festival.
An elderly couple of lifelong friends from New York, the characters of Joan and Ro developed onstage along with the camaraderie between Laurent and Rich, who grew so close that three years felt to them more like 30. "As our level of vulnerability, and as our loyalty to each other took shape, our most outrageous selves and our most unapologetic selves emerged as the voices of these two brassy gals," Laurent says. "Joan and Ro are wise, they are offensive, they are inappropriate, and they are over it. But goddamn it, do they love each other."
Even in casual conversation the two speak of each other with such affection and respond to questions so in sync, it's a wonder they're able to function without one another at all. Their comic fearlessness makes them more entertaining as a duo. They showed off their chops in Second City revues 99 through 101 (Southside of Heaven, Who Do We Think We Are?, and Let Them Eat Chaos), with Joan and Ro always creeping into improvised scenes, the rest of the cast ready to sit back and let the old broads have their fun.
And while the characters will serve as the show's through line, Laurent and Rich can't be confined. They are prepared to explore—at least as much as they can in 45 minutes. They'll be accompanied on piano by Julie Nichols, the Second City musical director who was in the trenches with them during their main-stage days.
The reunion is nearly too much for Laurent to handle. "Have you ever been stuck in your car and had to pee so bad you wanted to throw yourself into oncoming traffic?" she asks. "And then you made it home, and raced into the house, and there was that one second as you ran up the stairs where that little dribble leaked into your drawers, and it was so close to becoming a real tragedy but you made it to the toilet just in time? That's how it's going to feel to come back together and perform again in Chicago."