NU alumnus to appear on local comedy podcast

Rachel Yang, Copy Chief


Northwestern alumnus Geoffrey Baer has apprehensions about performing on Improv Nerd, Evanston resident Jimmy Carrane’s comedy podcast, on Dec. 6.

“I’m completely terrified,” Baer said. “I haven’t personally performed improv in at least 10 years.”

Even with his nerves, Baer will take the challenge in his appearance on the show as Carrane begins the fifth year of the improv-based podcast.

In each podcast of Improv Nerd, which has aired more than 150 episodes, Carrane invites comedians to talk about their creative process and perform an unscripted scene with him. Past guests have included the comedy duo from the hit sketch show “Key & Peele,” Bob Odenkirk, best known for his role on “Breaking Bad,” and the two lead actresses from the Comedy Central series “Broad City.”

Carrane, who has been involved with improv for more than 30 years, started the podcast in 2011 to combine his passions for improvisation and interviewing. Carrane said each show, which is performed live in Chicago, averages an audience of about 3,500 listeners.

“I love the impact of it,” Carrane said. “The podcast goes all over the world. I hear from people in Germany, in England, in China and in smaller cities in this country.”

Sam Bowers, the podcast’s director, said the show is a mixture of light-hearted and serious material. Carrane does not shy from topics that other interviewers would, and he is able to have meaningful conversations with his guests, Bowers said. He remembers Carrane interviewing a guest who was battling brain cancer and was impressed by his willingness to discuss taboo topics like illness.

“So often today, when it comes to podcast or talk shows, you see very, very superficial conversations,” Bowers said. “Jimmy really digs down to get the rawest and most meaningful conversations with his guests … He wants to get to the true, emotional honesty behind the inspiration and motivation for improvisers today.”

Baer (Communication ’85) is multiple Emmy Award-winning host and producer at WTTW, a public TV station in Chicago. Baer, who has been at WTTW for more than two decades and appeared in more than 20 feature-length documentaries about Chicago, was featured in his first prime-time special on the national PBS network in 2013.

Although Baer is not his typical podcast guest, Carrane said the NU alumnus’ diverse background will bring an interesting twist to the show by combining his improv and theater backgrounds.

Baer said even though he had a theater background, he decided to work in television right after college. However, he eventually wanted to return to his roots, so he chose to go to NU to get his master’s degree in theater. Baer said his time in the program “turned his world upside down,” and he felt out of his element while at the University.

“I was always the youngest guy on the staff (at work),” Baer said, “Then I get to Northwestern, and I’m the older graduate student … I was never formally trained in theater, and this was a graduate program, so I was way out of my league.”

However, despite the challenges he faced at NU, Baer said he still uses his varied backgrounds in theater and improv in his job.

“Everyone I have on as a guest, I consider a success,” Carrane said. “So anybody who is a success at anything has some failures, they have some rejections, they have some disappointments. And it’s not so much about all those failures and disappointments and rejections, it’s how they overcome those.”

Carrane said he thinks the foundations of improvisational comedy can be applied to everyone’s life, such as the idea of “Yes And.”

“(It means) anything that you offer to me, I have to accept it as a gift and then build on it, add something to it,” Carrane said. “When we say ‘yes’ to other people’s ideas … it gets us out of our comfort zone and we come up with ideas that we could never have done by ourselves.”

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