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posted: 3/26/2017 7:15 AM

Suburbanites flex comedy muscles for 20th Chicago Improv Festival

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  • I am a Turtle Improv group performs Friday, March 31, at the Chicago Improv Festival. Troupe members include Naperville residents Devneel Vaidya, far left, and Vikram Pandya, second from right.

    I am a Turtle Improv group performs Friday, March 31, at the Chicago Improv Festival. Troupe members include Naperville residents Devneel Vaidya, far left, and Vikram Pandya, second from right.

 
By Amy Fuller
afuller@dailyherald.com

Work hard, play hard -- that's pretty much the life motto for the improv comedy group I'm a Turtle.

Each of the group's seven members has a full-time job while performing comedy on the side. But their 9-to-5 office schedules provide plenty of inspiration.

"The job helps to give color to the improv I can do on stage," says member Devneel Vaidya of Naperville. "When something is mentioned about a spreadsheet, I can imagine the work scene taking place, and it helps me develop stories that are more real."

I'm a Turtle, whose roots began at Second City, will perform for the second time at the 20th annual Chicago Improv Festival, which runs from March 27 to April 2 in Chicago.

Headlining the fest are "Saturday Night Live" alum Rachel Dratch, Dan Harmon, creator of the TV show "Community," and Scott Adsit from "30 Rock" and "Big Hero 6." They are part of a lineup featuring more than 145 improv groups from around the country, Canada and India. The fest includes a variety of improv styles, including musical, dramatic and two-person shows.

Rachel Dratch is one of the headliners for the Chicago Improv Festival this year.
Rachel Dratch is one of the headliners for the Chicago Improv Festival this year. - Courtesy of Mary Ellen Matthews

The event is the largest festival of its kind in the world. Shows will be held at Stage 773, Athenaeum Theatre, The Annoyance Theatre and Second City's e.t.c. Theater. I'm a Turtle performs at 9 p.m. on Friday, March 31, at Stage 773.

Having full-time jobs provides comedic material and financial security for Naperville group members Vaidya and Vikram Pandya, but there are challenges.

"The major thing is time," Pandya says. "It's a double-edged sword. But we all hold each other accountable, and that allows our group to progress."

They meet once a week in Chicago to rehearse and perform at local shows.

Scott Adsit is among the veterans headlining the Chicago Improv Festival.
Scott Adsit is among the veterans headlining the Chicago Improv Festival.

Pandya's job, with United Airlines, allows him free flights, which he uses to do comedic gigs in other cities. "The perks are so good," he says.

Vaidya also has no pending plans to enter into the comedy world full-time. "If it's something that's meant to turn into something larger, it would happen even with a full-time job," he says. "If you truly care about something, it'll grow itself."

For now, comedy is simply a great outlet at the end of what might be a crazy work day. "I'm sometimes amazed that all of us have jobs," Pandya says. "The level of crazy that comes out (while performing) … it's like yin and yang. We can get crazy onstage and then the next day we go out and put on business clothes and be real people."

The group's ultimate goal is to make people laugh through storytelling. "We want to tell a story and have people be able to relate it to their own lives," said Vaidya.

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