Matt Damon Improv goes online with In-Diana | Comedy | Chicago Reader

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Matt Damon Improv goes online with In-Diana

The Chicago comedy group’s new web series is filled with Zoom meeting disasters and personal massager triumphs.

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Zoom work meetings are now a way of life. Those who used to frequent offices and conference rooms have had more than their fair share of coworkers with clever Zoom backgrounds, surprise appearances by pets, and "Sorry, can't hear you, you're muted" moments. Less frequent are enthusiastic descriptions of pornography, kitchens on fire, and views inside a coworker's bathroom—and their unsavory bathroom habits. The characters of the web series In-Diana experience it all.

The seven-episode series was written and directed by, and stars, the women of Matt Damon Improv—Allison Reese, Ana Silva, Maria Konopken, Phylicia McLeod, Tina Arfaee, and Yazmin Ramos—and was all recorded over Zoom.

"The reason why we made this was because we love working together and we just have so much joy being together and creating together," says Silva. "This whole series came from a place of just us reveling in the glory of each other and being able to share that with people."

When performing live isn't a threat to public safety, Matt Damon Improv performs a weekly show at the Annoyance Theatre. All the regular cast members are women of color, and there is one guest, designated the "Matt Damon," who can only speak using lines that have already been said by one of the core cast members.

"A big part of our improv group, and what we do as a form, is we are women of color and we want to empower ourselves, empower people who look like us or who maybe identify with us in some way, and that's always been the backbone of what we do," Reese says. "But first and foremost, we're all freaks."

The freak flags fly strongly and proudly in In-Diana. The story follows six women who work at a company called In-Diana that makes, among other things, personal back massagers. Boss Alex (Reese) and her employees have to readjust when it becomes clear people aren't using the massagers for their backs, and the company finds sudden success as a go-to for quarantine vibrators. What starts as a series of typical Zoom meetings soon descends into hilarious, very not-safe-for-work madness, each five-minute episode going further than the last.

The idea was originally written by Reese for a late-night show-writing packet. She soon realized the idea was bigger than a three-minute sketch and brought it to the women of Matt Damon Improv to expand into a web series. It was a welcome excuse for the group to connect.

"We've been seeing each other like every single week for three years, so not having that was super crazy to start," Silva says. "Once we started having those weekly meetings [for the web series] it was not only a little bit of routine in the fact that we were still keeping at least one part of ourselves going, but also we gave ourselves a schedule, and we gave ourselves deadlines, and we were able to hold each other accountable. For me that's a huge thing, because if no one's holding me accountable I turn into a bit of an artistic blob."

They made quick work of the project—writing for the series started in early April, and the final two episodes premiered on YouTube today. The six women did every aspect of the project themselves except the editing, and even then they made sure to bring in women of color to stick to their core mission. They are also using the series to give back, using each episode to request donations via @InDianaWebSeries on Venmo to be distributed to Brave Space Alliance, Chicago Birthworks Collective, and Chicago Community Bond Fund. So far they've raised nearly $400.

"We had taken some time off and away from the series when protests were happening so people could do that and we could protect our hearts through all of everything that was going on," Reese says. "We realized that we can't release this without giving back to the communities that helped us and are doing so much for us right now."

One episode of the series in particular, "Dark Side of the Zoom," addresses the feeling of dread that frequently hits because of the current state of our world. Taking a pause from the bizarre and laugh-out-loud moments from the other episodes, the cast members simply show off their pets, baked goods, and, in Reese's case, her wife (it's one of many purposeful Easter eggs for those who know the women of Matt Damon Improv on- and offstage). It's a tender moment that speaks to the depth of the characters the women have created and radiates love from within the group. Moments like this are why there may be a season two of In-Diana on the horizon and why Matt Damon Improv will keep creating, no matter what.

"I don't see it stopping," Reese says. "Beyond that show and that form, we're all just really tight friends, so there's no end in sight."   v

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