Meet our instructors! All instructors of the iO Theater are veteran performers that have a vast experience in the art of improvisation and in our approach to teaching improv, which comes from our co-founder and improv legend, Del Close
Mark Amato’s credits include writing for “Saturday Night Live,” “Son of the Beach,” and “Suite Life on Deck with Zack & Cody”, “Baby Daddy”, as well as a spec comedy feature turned ABC/Family hit “Revenge of the Bridesmaids”. Mark began his career working as an assistant at ICM, then at management powerhouse Brillstein-Grey where he quickly ascended to the ranks of executive before heading to Sony Television as Director of Comedy Development. Quickly making the segue to full-time writer, Mark has written in almost all fields of television including sketch, half-hour, Sci-Fi, animation and movie-of-the-week.
Having pitched and sold three network pilots before even becoming Story Editor, Mark knows a thing or two about getting executives to turn their heads and take notice. Mark has written television abroad as well, working in Toronto, Montreal and the U.K. Beyond earning shekels for the written word, Mark consistently finds new ways to tickle audiences like co-creating the hilarious showbiz skewering website DAILYANXIETY.com (which Entertainment Weekly dubbed, “wickedly mischievous”), wrote and starred as Jerry Lewis in “The Last Telethon” at the Comedy Central Theater last December, as well as winning the dubious title of “Best Christopher Walken impression” after his YouTube video “Christopher Walken as a Nursery School Teacher” went viral. When not writing, Mark works tirelessly at finding fresh ways to get his kids to roll their eyes at him.
Karen began her comedy training at iO Chicago in 2006 and continued her comedy journey at The Groundlings, UCB, and of course, her beloved iOWest. You may remember her from improv teams Bush League(iO), Viceroy (iO) and Hot Hot Goss (UCB) and from sketch teams Its The Cops (iO), The Truce (iO), and All In (UCB). She also runs the new Character Team here at iO, Character World.
Karen has been teaching just as long, and gets amazing reviews from her students for being clear, articulate, and engaging. She taught improv, sketch, and character classes at Bang Comedy Theater and at Gnoman School of Visual Effects (yes, they wanted comedy classes)! She also continues to teach at A Time for Dance and Much Ado About Shakespeare (which have, as you can tell, different focuses.)
Karen is well versed in the Chicago-style of comedy and will be able to give you the tools to find your own comedic voice and create clear, pointed, home-run sketches!
Jeremy Briggs is a writer, performer, and sketch director who has been performing improv and sketch comedy since 2001. In that time, he’s performed at theaters such as iO West, the Groundlings, UCB, Second City, and countless other indie venues around town. Jeremy has appeared in several national and international commercials, the Disney Channel’s “Bizaardvark” and the Buzzfeed produced web series “Relationship Goals”. He also wrote and starred in the feature film “The Tour”, where he also co-wrote and performed most of the films music.
Jeremy has been thoroughly entrenched in the iO sketch community since 2013 and a part of such teams as Super Kudzu, It Doesn’t have to be This Way, and Hellbent. He directed the house sketch team Underbite and is currently directing the team Garden Party.
Kara Lee Burk
Kara Lee began writing while working with The Second City-Detroit and various sketch comedy troupes in New York City. Her spec of The Sarah Silverman Program got her chosen as one two comedy writers for the Warner Bros Television Writers Workshop. Since completing the WBWW, she has been staffed as a writer on Romantically Challenged (ABC), Melissa & Joey (ABC Family) and The Mr. Peabody & Sherman Show (Dreamworks / Netflix).
She is a member of the Writers Guild of America, The Animation Guild and a proud alumni of the Producers Guild Power of Diversity Workshop. She is currently developing pilots and digital series as well as writing on a few top-secret Hasbro projects that she can’t wait for you all to see!!
Amanda Blake Davis grew up in Massachusetts but started her improv career in Chicago where she trained at iO and The Second City. At iO she performed with Baby Wants Candy, The Armando Show and Virgin Daiquiri.
She also wrote and performed in 5 original revues on The Second City etc stage, where she won a Jeff Award for Best Actress in a Revue for Studs Terkel’s Not Working.
In Los Angeles she performs with Heyday, The Armando Show and Village Bicycle (iO West) Triumph (The Second City Hollywood) and Baby Wants Candy (UCB Sunset). She has written for Bugs Bunny’s relaunch Wabbit! and sold a pilot to Indigenous Media with her writing partner in 2016.
Craig Cackowski has been involved with the iO and iO West Theaters as a performer, coach, teacher and director since 1992. As a teacher, he is the three-time winner of the Del Close Award as Teacher of the Year. As a performer, he can be seen weekly at iO West improvising with Bob Dassie and Rich Talarico in Dasariski (celebrating 15 years together in 2014!). In Chicago, Craig performed with the Second City Mainstage and ETC, as well as with Baby Wants Candy, Carl and the Passions and the original cast of Close Quarters. Film and television appearances include Drunk History, Community, Veep, Newsreaders, Comedy Bang Bang, The Mindy Project, How I Met Your Mother, Trust Us With Your Life, Workaholics, The Kings Of Summer, 21 And Over and Year of The Dog. He may also be heard on the long-running podcast The Thrilling Adventure Hour, playing such characters as Colonel Tick Tock and millionaire hobo Banjo Bindlestuff.
He can currently be seen performing at iO with The Armando Diaz Experience, Quartet, and Dasariski.
Colleen Doyle grew up in Cleveland where she wrote greeting cards and was a part of the cast that opened The Second City Cleveland. She has made appearances in the indie features Close Quarters and Open Tables as well as Shrink and Fresh Off the Boat. Colleen taught at iO Chicago (Teacher of the Year 2014) and performed with the lovely ladies of Virgin Daiquiri, Babymakers and in the first sketch revue at the Mission Theater, Trap.
In LA, Colleen teaches at iOWest where she also serves as the Director of the Training Center. She can be seen with the ensembles Dummy, The Village Bicycle and The Armando Diaz Experience. For more info, visit thecolleendoyle.com.
Brett Elam is an improviser, writer, and teacher at iO West and Second City. His latest web series www.WatchLiars.com received over 200,000 views on the front page of Cracked.com and won 6 awards in the 2016 LA Web Fest, including Outstanding Comedy Series. Elam can also be seen in the 2017 Bud Light Super Bowl commercial and guest starring on NBC’s Chicago Fire and MTV’s Underemployed.
The Chicago Tribune described his improv group as “Hilarious,” Time Out Chicago chose them as a “Critics Pick,” and The Onion writes “their magnetic personalities and relentless energy shines.”
Bente Engelstoft is an actor, writer and recent Chicago transplant. While in the windy city, Bente wrote and performed for the stages of iO Chicago, Second City and The Annoyance Theatre, where she produced Chicago Tribune acclaimed storytelling show ORAL: A storytelling hour. At iO Chicago Bente improvised with the incredible people of Big Spoon and Heraldo. Now in LA, you can catch Bente every week with Pockets at iO West. When not performing, Bente spends her time teaching people how to pronounce her name. It’s like “Brenda” without the R.
Peter Fluet is veteran improv performer who has performed at IO West since 2007. He has trained with IO West, UCB, The Groundlings, and the Second City Conservatory. He was part of Groundlings Sunday Company, part of a house team at Second City for several years, and has been on many, many, long running main stage IO West Harold teams such as Bandit, Johnny Astronaut, and the La Fontaine Players. Peter has coached teams for the DCT stage, and several independent teams. He is currently a producer for Sacred Fools Theater long running late night show Serial Killers.
Peter can be seen performing at IO with HeyDay the 3 time Del Award Winner for Best Harold Team and is a member of the cast of Armando.
Greg Hess has been performing at iO since 2003, where he has also instructed. As a performer his credits include Cook County Social Club, the Improvised Shakespeare Company, the Second City national touring company, and Baby Wants Candy, among others. He has been a featured performer at the TBSJust For Laughs Festival, Moontower Comedy Festival, the Chicago Improv Festival and Picollo Spoleto. On screen credits include Playing House, The Soul Man, Key & Peele, and he has also created a recent pilot for Comedy Central. He has trained at the Second City, iO and the School at Steppenwolf.
Greg can be seen performing with Cook County Social Club
Dave Hill is a Chicago native and veteran improvisational performer, writer and actor who has been performing at IO (Chicago and West) for several years. Trained at ImprovOlympic, the Annoyance Theater and the Second City, he was a member of the celebrated house team People of Earth at IO Chicago in addition to performing with numerous other wonderful ensembles including Atlantis and Jimmy Jimmy Do. Here at IO West he performs with King Ten and Cog as well as regularly appearing in the Armando show and the occasional sketch affair. He has done several commercials and TV and film work, but he does not think it germane to this biography.
Dave can be seen performing with King Ten, The Cherry Pick, The Armando Show, Hill / Jones
Barry Hite is a senior writer for Second City Network. His web series Get Swole was selected for the 2015 LA WebFest. He was also a staff writer for Tough Season, a web series from The Onion Labs featuring NFL players like Andrew Luck and Doug Flutie. He also co-created the web series “I’m a Fan” in partnership with YouTube Space LA, Second City and The NFL.
He has performed sketch and improv at Second City, Chicago Sketch Fest, TBS Just For Laughs, iO, UCB, and Rahm Emanuel’s inauguration (it was uncomfortable). His first one-man shows: So Very Important and Barry Hite: Charisma Machine were Time Out Critics Picks. He thinks false bravado is only funny in people who aren’t actual dickheads.
Select credits include: Family Tree House Boat Accident, Holy Fuck Comedy Hour, and the Second City National Touring Company.
For more self promotion go to thebarryhite.com
Zach Huddleston is the Co-Artistic Director and Training Center Director at the IO West Theater where he’s been studying and performing improv and sketch comedy for over 10 years. He performs with HeyDay, the 3-time Del Award Winner for Best Harold Team and he’s a member of the cast of Armando.
Eric Hunicutt has been performing scripted and improvised theatre continuously since he was 15 years old- everything from Shakespeare in a cemetery to sketch comedy in dive bars (with hundreds of improv shows throughout). Eric has studied and performed with Improv Olympic (iO) Chicago, The Second City Chicago, Comedy Sportz, Steppenwolf, and is a proud alumnus of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is a working actor and director in film, TV, live theatre, and performs weekly at iO West, as well as touring nationally with the acclaimed ensemble The Reckoning. He’s a company member at LA’s award-winning Echo Theatre Co. and a member of the Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab.
Directing credits include shows at The Comedy Central Stage, iO West, Piccolo Spoleto Festival, The Second City (L.A. & Chicago),The Upright Citizens’ Brigade Theateres (NYC & L.A.), Piccolo Spoleto, as a guest artist at University of California San Diego, and numerous plays in Los Angeles.
In addition to iO West, Eric teaches at Steppenwolf Classes West, Warner Loughlin Studios, Cal State University’s Summer Arts, and has taught as a Guest Artist at UC San Diego. Eric uses improv to train scientists and researchers in science communication and is an alum of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science in Stony Brook, NY.
Margot Leitman-Curry is a four time winner of The Moth Storyslam, and was the Moth Grandslam winner in New York City. Her first book “Gawky…Tales of an Extra Long Awkward Phase,” comes out this May from Seal Press. She is the co-host of the storytelling shows “Stripped Stories” and “Small and Tall Tales” and has written online for the Lifetime Network, College Humor.com, EHow.com, the Frisky.com and in print for Playgirl Magazine and the NY Press. She is the co-writer of the made for TV movie “Cupid’s Bed and Breakfast,” starring Haylie Duff, airing soon on the Hallmark Channel. www.margotleitman.com
Holly Laurent is an actor, writer, improviser and instructor living in Los Angeles. She holds a M.A. in Interdisciplinary Arts from Columbia College, and is a founding member of the longstanding improv group The Reckoning. Holly is an alumni of the Second City main stage in Chicago where she wrote and performed three critically acclaimed reviews. She trained at iO, Annoyance, Second City, Columbia College, Steppenwolf, with Paola Coletto and 500 Clown. As a teacher, Holly has taught at iO Chicago and LA, the Second City, and independently at festivals and theaters across the country. Holly has been a featured performer at the TBS Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal, the Chicago Improv Festival and Picollo Spoleto. Television appearances include Key & Peele, Drunk History and Barely Famous.
She can currently be seen at iO performing with The Reckoning and Jet&Holly
Macklen is a actor/writer/improviser from the great state of Putney, Vermont. He has appeared in television, on film, and throughout the stages. His training has been to The Groundlings, UCBLA, and here at iO West where he couldn’t be more prouder to be perform. In his spare time he enjoys proofreading, making jokes, and finishing lists of three.
He tweets from @MacklenMak and here are five celebrities he has taken to lunch: Keith David, Robert Patrick, Dan Lauria, David Keith, CCH Pounder.
Marina Mastros is a performer, producer, writer, and Los Angeles native. She is the iO West Inclusion Director and has been improvising since 2000. She is a graduate of iO Chicago and UCB Los Angeles. Previously, Marina was a mainstage performer and College Team Director at the National Comedy Theatre in San Diego. In 2011 she created the Inclusion Initiative at Old Town Improv Co. (also in San Diego) and continues to foster the program’s development from Los Angeles.
Marina performs with the house team MAX and is a panelist for the Screen Junkies show Knocking Dead.
George is an improviser and writer living in Los Angeles. He started in Chicago with the iO team Revolver and is a founding member of the critically acclaimed Chicago sketch group Sad On Vacation. He currently contributes writing to The Onion News Network. George has written and performed in pilots and films that have screened at the New York Television Festival, Sundance and South By Southwest Film Festivals.
He has been a featured performer at TBS Just For Laughs Festival, in Bob Odenkirk’s Not Inappropriate Show and has written five critically acclaimed comedic plays at The Annoyance Theatre. George can be seen performing with the harold team Boy at iO West, The Blank Experience Sketch Show and Single’s Motel.
Charlie McCrackin is a writer, improvisor and actor from west-central Wisconsin. He studied improv in Chicago at the Players Workshop, iO and Second City. He understudied at the Second City, and at iO he played with the long-running and critically acclaimed house teams, the Reckoning and Carl & the Passions, among others. He co-created original comedy shows The Pilot, Improvised Star Trek, and In Through the Out Door: the Improvised Farce.
For the Annoyance Theater in Chicago, he wrote script and book for a musical comedy about cult leader Jim Jones, “The Raven & The Messenger.” He’s been teaching improv at iO since 2005, and worked as an adjunct professor at Northwestern University for three years. He recently assisted the executive producers in the relaunch of MADtv on the CW and is the voice of recurring character Spintax the Green on the popular Earwolf podcast Hello, from the Magic Tavern.
He currently teaches at iOWest and can be seen playing with the Reckoning on Thursday nights and in the Armando Show on Saturdays.
Nnamdi Ngwe is an Actor, Improvisor, Teacher, Writer. He studied and teaches at iO Theater, The Second City, and The Bovine Metropolis Theater. Nnamdi was recently awarded teacher of the year at iO Theater in Chicago. Nnamdi wrote and stared in the critically acclaimed show Julius which earned him a trip to the New York Television Festival and a nomination for Best Screenplay at the Best Of The Midwest Film Awards among others. He Also wrote and starred in Rap Skool which took in to NYTVF and other festivals.
In addition to Film, TV, and Commercials, Nnamdi can be seen across the world touring with the award winning improv/sketch group 3Peat, and iO Theater.
Douglas Sarine is an improviser, writer and producer living in Los Angeles. He is an alumnus of iO West and The Second City L.A. where his credits include improv and sketch shows such as The Armando Show, Goal, Encino Evil, and Lloyd Dobbler’s Boombox. He is the co-creator of the Webby Award winning web series Ask A Ninja as well as working on a ridiculous number of internet shows and videos.
He’s been on TV shows such as The Office, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Jimmy Kimmel Live and you can occasionally hear his voice telling you to buy stuff. Douglas fell in love with improv over 15 years ago and they are still together today.
Nate Sherman is an actor, writer, and teacher born and raised in Southern Ohio. He’s a founding member of the long-standing iO Chicago Harold Team “The Late 90’s”, Solid Gold Duets with David Montgomery, 3Peat, and has performed in numerous Theatricals with The Second City Chicago. TV credits include spots on TLC and various commercial work. You can find the Dark Fantasy novel he wrote, “Smitten”, on Amazon.
Jason Shotts has been performing improv for audiences since 2003. He performs in the two-person improv show Dummy (winner of the iO Chicago’s Del Award for “Best Improv Show” in 2013 and 2014) as well as the Harold team Sean & Alex and The Armando Diaz Experience. He’s been teaching improv at iO since 2006 and received the iO Chicago’s Del Award for “Best Teacher” in 2011 and 2013.
Paul Vaillancourt is the co-founder (with Charna Halpern) of the iO West and has been teaching and performing improv for over 20 years. In that time he has appeared all over the country including such notable venues as HBO’s Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Chicago’s iO (where he studied with the immortal Del Close), New York’s UCB Theater, and the iO West here in Los Angeles.
As an actor Paul has appeared on such shows as “The Drew Carey Show”, the UPN sitcom “Half & Half”, and the Oxygen Network’s stand out “Girls Behaving Badly”. Paul has also had success as a writer and producer, co-creating and serving as supervising writer for the MTV hit “The Blame Game” as well as lending his writing and producing talents to a score of other shows for MTV, VH1, USA, Oxygen, Bravo and AMC. Paul currently lives in LA with his wife Lindsey and his two children.
Irene White hails from Texas where she graduated from the University of Texas at Austin. Hook ‘em Horns! She has studied at the Second City in Chicago and iO West, Steppenwolf West, The Groundlings, and UCB-LA. She currently studies with Risa Bramon Garcia and Steve Braun at the BGB Studios. Her theatre credits include August: Osage County, The Importance of Being Earnest, In the Next Room, Blue Window and The Women.