St. Charles native crafts Netflix's bawdy 'Chicago Party Aunt' as 'love letter' to the city
Netflix unveils its new animated comedy series "Chicago Party Aunt" on Sept. 17, and it's a double-doozie for local audiences.
The irreverent and downright bawdy comedy pushes the envelope of political correctness and crams in as many Chicago-centric inside jokes as the running time will allow.
"Chicago Party Aunt" was created by Chris Witaske, who grew up in St. Charles; Jon Barinholtz, who grew up in the Lake View neighborhood of Chicago; and Katie Rich, who grew up on the South Side.
It follows the misadventures of quintessential Chicagoan Diane Dunbrowski (voiced by Lauren Ash), whose quest for a never-ending good time gets her, her family and her friends into all sorts of mischievous dithers.
The comedy series is based on Witaske's anonymous "Chicago Party Aunt" Twitter account postings. I recently met him for a Zoom interview.
Q. In "Chicago Party Aunt," you have characters spitting out syllables like bullets from a Thompson submachine gun on St. Valentine's Day. Who helps you put this together?
A. The writers room is made up of a lot of Chicago people or people with Chicago roots. We come in with an idea and we start pitching on it, flushing it out. We try to get in as many Chicagoisms as we can. I think we've done a pretty good job of that.
Q. You've got a show that takes the phrase "Siskel and Ebert" and turns it into a naughty sex metaphor. Have you ever come across an idea that you thought was hilariously funny but there was no way you could put it into the program?
A. Netflix has let us have free rein. We can do pretty much whatever we want. But there are things we pitch that we say, "We definitely can't do that. We can't go there."
Q. Like what?
A. Hey, my parents will be reading this. They're Daily Herald subscribers!
Q. I understand you based your original Chicago Party Aunt Twitter account, and now the TV show, on two of your aunts. If that's true, do they know this, and do they still accept you as their nephew?
A. Yes. I started this as a Twitter account in 2016 and I did base it on two of my actual aunts. And so far they haven't disowned me yet. Actually, I think it's a source of pride.
Q. How did growing up in St. Charles shape you as a person?
A. My dad is very funny. He took me to see my very first Second City show when I was 13. I looked up on stage and I said to myself, "That is what I want to do with my life!" I had very supportive parents who put up with me. ... I was always the class clown. My parents encouraged it.
Q. If Netflix had been a regular movie studio or conventional network, it would have been all over you to throw out all the specific Chicago references, such as TV weatherman Tom Skilling coming to the rescue in a helicopter. How did you manage this?
A. That was the great balancing act. When we sat down, we said 1) This has to be hilarious. 2) It has to be a love letter to Chicago, the city we all love. 3) It has to be universal enough for people in Singapore to know what's going on.
No matter where you're from, you have a party aunt in your life, one who says inappropriate things at the Thanksgiving dinner table, or buys beer for teenagers. Everybody knows a person like this. And if they don't know this person, then they are probably her.
Q. How did you decide to cast Lauren Ash as quintessential Chicagoan Diane?
A. We auditioned over 100 women to find our Diane. We had a lot of different takes on her. We had some great Chicago accents. But when we heard Lauren Ash, who's in "Super Store," she knocked it out of the park. She has Chicago roots. And we knew her from "Second City," so it worked out perfectly.
Q. Isn't she from Canada?
A. I think Chicagoans and Canadians are very similar. They're very nice. They'll buy you a beer. If you ask them for directions, they will walk you to the place you wanted to go.
Q. What's the best thing about Chicago?
A. I don't think you're going to find people like Chicagoans anywhere else in the world. They are just friendly, nice and up for a good time. They love to eat, drink and be merry. I came back for a week, and I got to throw out the first pitch in a Cubs game. I just felt so at home, back in the city. There's no other place like it.