It was that most basic of all human interactions that brought the members of Cook County Social Club together ten years ago: lunch. The improv group’s members—Bill Cochran, Greg Hess, Brendan Jennings, Mark Raterman, and Tim Robinson—took classes at iO together, and they all worked downtown, so would meet for lunch every day. Eventually they realized their absurdist comedic perspectives fit together like cheese between two slices of bread. They’ve since brought CCSC to New York and LA as they’ve pursued their individual careers as actors and writers, but this weekend they’ll return to iO to celebrate the group’s tenth anniversary.
For seven years CCSC had an open run at iO, where it became a staple of the theater’s long-form teams. But not before a rather rocky start. “During one of the earliest shows Brendan’s pants were taken off, and Charna [Halpern, iO cofounder] threatened to ban us from the theater,” Hess says. “We did get mostly nude and continue to get mostly nude in our shows.” Halpern has since forgiven the indecent exposure and is now one of the group’s biggest cheerleaders.
Cochran has been holding down the fort here in Cook County proper, and continues to perform at iO with various Harold teams. Meanwhile Robinson moved to New York and was a featured player on a little program called Saturday Night Live before becoming a staff writer there. Hess, Jennings, and Raterman headed to LA, where the trio have a weekly show at iO West; they’ve won UCB’s improv cagematch more than two dozen times. Two or three times a year the whole gang gets together to perform on either coast (this year’s anniversary shows will, unfortunately, go one without Robinson due to filming conflicts), and they have no plans of stopping the reunions anytime soon because, according to Hess, no one can do quite what CCSC does.
“I think Cook County has always had a unique comedic voice and style,” he says. “It’s a shared sensibility that ranges from goofy and very physical to also being very emotionally committed, and that yields a lot of absurdity.”