Jason Chin during a performance at iO Theater in Chicago on Saturday, July 19, 2014.
Jason R. Chin, a longtime improv performer, director and instructor at iO Theater, was reported dead late Thursday. He was 46.
His death was announced via Facebook by Charna Halpern, founder and proprietor of iO.
A integral member of the comedy theater for the past 20 years, Chin was a former head of its training center and helped create a number of shows, including “Whirled News Tonight,” which uses current events as a springboard for improvisation and is now a decade into its run.
Chin was scheduled to teach a class at iO Thursday night but did not show up, which was unusual. “He wasn’t the sort of guy to forget or flake out,” Halpern said. “So we were calling him and calling him.”
Two friends went to his Chicago apartment, and when he did not answer, called the police. A Cook County medical examiner’s report Friday said the cause of death was heart disease. “People knew right away something was wrong because he always showed up,” Halpern said.
Chin was born in June 1968 in the Flushing neighborhood of New York City. Like so many others, he moved to Chicago to pursue improv. He was working in marketing for a computer company in Champaign, Ill., and visiting Chicago on the weekends, where a pal was taking classes with Tina Fey. In the documentary “Whether the Weather,” he recalls seeing Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert do an improv set after their Second City show one night and was intimidated. “They were improvising songs that melted my brain, they were that good. Then I went to see a student show and they weren’t that good and I thought, ‘Well, I can do that.’”
That planted the seed and he moved to town in 1995, becoming friendly with performers including Amy Poehler and Rachel Dratch. He had since gone on to train a number of other performers including “Saturday Night Live’s” Vanessa Bayer.
“One thing I loved about Jason,” Halpern said, “was he was always watching the newer students and plucking out the people he thought were good and giving them a chance and throwing them into the iO family.”
A calm, steadying presence at iO, Chin was also something of a pop culture nerd, which led to a “Star Wars” spoof in the mid-90s titled “Jedi: A Musical Tour de Force,” which ran for a number of months before the George Lucas camp sent a cease-and-desist letter.
“His ability to improvise a well-packaged story while at the same time providing inspiration for the improvisation that followed was astounding,” said Annoyance Theatre founder Mick Napier. “While watching him you also think, ‘This guy has that many great stories in him?’ He will be so dearly missed.”
Chin wrote a book on improv titled “Long-Form Improvisation & The Art Of Zen: A Manual For Advanced Performers” (2009). From 2009 to 2011, he wrote the blog “An Improvised Blog” for ChicagoNow, a Tribune property. More recently he wrote the blog JasonChinFTW.
Since moving into the theater’s new space in the Clybourn Corridor six months ago, Halpern said she’s noticed “little toy dinosaurs scattered around the theater.” Only recently did she learn that Chin was behind that, “just putting them throughout the theater to give the place some character.”
Jason Chin is survived by his mother Rose Marie Chin, father John Chin, brother Jonathan and sister Jennifer.
Here’s a particularly fun clip of Jason Chin performing on stage: