Rolling Meadows native parlays improv into TV Land gig
The way Caitlin Barlow talks about her life, exclamation points will never go out of style.
"I am having a riot!" the Rolling Meadows native gushed. "I never thought I would be meeting the people I'm meeting and doing the things I'm doing!"
The thing she's doing now is "Teachers," an irreverent TV Land comedy series that, as its promotional materials report, "chronicles the misdeeds and awkward interactions of six Midwestern elementary school teachers just tryin' to navigate the pitfalls of Internet dating and adult female friendships all while molding America's youth."
Barlow not only plays Ms. Cannon, one of the teachers, but she serves as an executive producer and writer on the show, which premieres at 10 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 13, It will regularly be shown at 9:30 p.m. Tuesdays starting next week.
"I keep surprising myself, which is really exciting," Barlow said. "I never considered myself a writer and now I love writing. I never saw myself in an entertainment career, but I keep coming back to it."
Barlow belongs to an improv group called The Katydids, six funny women who all share names derived from "Katherine." (The others are Katy Colloton, Cate Freedman, Kate Lambert, Katie O'Brien and Kathryn Renee Thomas, all of whom are credited as writers and executive producers on the show.)
In 2012, The Katydids joined Chicago director Matt Miller to create a Web series of video shorts in which the six performers played teachers. TV Land executives, looking for female performance groups, scooped up The Katydids two years later.
"We are not an overnight success," Barlow said. "We've been together for seven years. At the start, I was working with several funny women named Kate or Katie. As a joke, I said, 'Why don't we do a show together because we all have the same name?'"
So, they Katy-did.
"We realized we had great chemistry," Barlow said. "All of our combined strengths I think created comedic alchemy! We realized we loved working together."
First came live improv shows. Then video shorts that went viral on the Web. Next, the Web series directed by Miller.
"Teachers" no doubt benefits from Barlow's previous experience teaching English classes in Japan and fourth-grade elementary school classes in Chicago.
"Oh, we absolutely use my background in education for this show," Barlow said. "Our overwhelming response from teachers has been 'OMG! This is really what it's like!'
"For me, it was important that everything feel very authentic. That way, the comedy is funnier because it's rooted in real experience."
Barlow's family moved around a lot when she was little and they landed in Rolling Meadows when she was 12. She attended Plum Grove Junior High School before arriving at Palatine's Fremd High School.
There she encountered her first comic role on the stage, the nasty queen in the musical "Once Upon a Mattress."
"I learned I could do comedy," she said.
After graduation, Barlow headed off to Illinois State University and then to Japan to teach English as a second language.
"This is where I became really interested in teaching," she said. "It was one of the greatest things I've ever done in my life. It was awesome!"
Once back in Chicago, Barlow became a student at DePaul University where she earned her master's degree in bilingual, bicultural ESL elementary education.
Next came a short tenure as a fourth-grade teacher in the Chicago schools.
"It was a challenge," she said. "Some kids were totally fine. Others brought with them a very traumatic home life and a number of things that come with being from a family in crisis.
"School to them was their stability, their routine. It was very challenging to deal with the things they brought to school. On the other hand, to be a stabilizing force in their lives, to see them grow, was very rewarding."
Yet, no matter how far away from comedy she seemed to roam, improv remained an integral part of her life.
"I fell in love with it as a hobby and I never stopped doing it, even in Japan," she said. "I was part of a bilingual improv group!"
In Chicago, the land of Second City and iO Comedy, Barlow would teach by day, then moonlight as a comedian by night, both performing and writing her own material.
"I don't know how to not do comedy," she said. "I've been doing it for so long. It's part of my DNA at this point. I have to do it!"
Apparently, Barlow also has to be a teacher, even when she's not one anymore.
On the set of TV Land's "Teachers," she often defaults to her Chicago teacher mode when corralling kids on the set and instructing them on the proper way to do things.
"It's really hard to turn that part of yourself off," she said.
-- Dann Gire
• Jamie Sotonoff and Dann Gire are looking for suburbanites in showbiz. If you know someone who might make a good column, contact jsotonoff @dailyherald.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.