In the mid-1990s, as a handful of Del Close’s disciples moved to New York City to pursue their own show-business dreams as the Upright Citizens Brigade, another Close loyalist and student had gone Hollywood.
Paul Vaillancourt saw he wasn’t the only improvOlympic alum in Los Angeles, and he asked Close and Charna Halpern for approval to open a second branch of iO out West in 1997. After a long, colorful run that included many present and future comedy stars, iOWest is closing later this month. Halpern announced the closure officially on Tuesday.
Vaillancourt’s troupe, Beer Shark Mice — whose members also include David Koechner, Neil Flynn, Pat Finn, and Peter Hulne — will close out the joint with a finale performance on Feb. 24, 2018. “It’s appropriate that they close it out. These men have been with me forever and much of iO is built on their shoulders. They are my brothers. Join us for the show and our big blowout party after,” Halpern wrote to friends today.
From Charna Halpern:
"Dear iOWEST It breaks my heart to announce that after almost 25 years, I have to close the doors to iOWest.
Our last night will be Saturday, Feb 24th. iO Chicago is strong and this is still your home.
Love to you all, Charna Halpern."
— iO West (@iOWest) February 13, 2018
Although they boast about 350 current performers at iO West, and arrived in Hollywood when the only other big improv/sketch comedy players in town were the Groundlings, several other comedy theaters and schools have since popped up around Los Angeles, including the UCB and The Pack.
iOWest, meanwhile, became a central hub and plot point for MTV’s The Real World: Hollywood cast in 2008, then suffered from a car crashing into the theater later that summer. A more imbroglio found an artistic director accused and fired due to multiple allegations of sexual misconduct in 2016 (a year before #MeToo and #TimesUp gained momentum).
But that’s not how most people will remember the theater on Hollywood Boulevard and Cosmo.
UCB co-founder Matt Besser wrote: “Sad to see the IO West go. That’s pretty much the first stage I improvised on in LA. Thanks to Charna for letting us do Friday nights there for a while. Charna gets a lot of shit, but she doesn’t get near enough credit for what she has added to the actual art of longform.”
As Miles Stroth, who owns The Pack, put it: “I will not RIP IOWest. A building will shut down, but the community still breathes. I was born in the belly of the beast at Chicago’s IO. What that place gave birth to worldwide is undeniable. And if you think Charna Halpern will abandon or is done with L.A., then you don’t know Charna. I look forward to what happens next. #ShowemhowitsdoneCharna“