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‘Pitch Perfect’ writer returns to Chicago to hone her improv chops

In this image taken Friday Sept. 21 2012 from left actress Brittany Snow screenwriter Kay Cannactress AnnKendrick actress Rebel Wilsfrom

In this image taken on Friday, Sept. 21, 2012, from left, actress Brittany Snow, screenwriter Kay Cannon, actress Anna Kendrick, actress Rebel Wilson, from the film "Pitch Perfect," pose for a portrait at The London Hotel, in West Hollywood, Calif. Funny women are flourishing in comedies that are produced and written by women. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)

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When: 8 p.m. Sunday

Where: Up Comedy Club, 230 W. North

Tickets: sold out

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Updated: May 5, 2013 1:45PM

By her own admission, Kay Cannon has “pretty solid thighs. If your car’s in a ditch, I could push it out for you.”

The Braidwood, Ill.-bred ex-jock and burgeoning Hollywood player possesses other strengths as well, namely her lauded writing skills — the same skills that actor Alec Baldwin praised at the 2007 Golden Globes when he won for best actor in a comedy series.

After her several seasons of crafting crafty dialogue for NBC’s hit sitcom “30 Rock,” doors are opening for Cannon like never before. “New Girl,” Fox’s hit starring Zooey Deschanel, brought her on board to pen scripts and co-executive produce.

And the Emmy-nominated, Peabody Award-winning Cannon’s own creation, a comedy about college a cappella singing groups called “Pitch Perfect,” has attained cult status since its quiet release in 2012. To date it has grossed more than $112 million worldwide — on a $17 million budget.

Cannon, though, knows where her roots are: Chicago. She grew up an hour from the city. She improvised in the city, including at Second City and iO Theater. For reasons mostly nostalgic, she refuses to give up her local phone number of 15 or so years.

“It keeps me nice and grounded,” says Cannon, who’ll improvise Sunday with her former “30 Rock” mates and fellow locally schooled actors John Lutz and Scott Adsit on the final night of the 16th annual Chicago Improv Festival.

“I know it may sound weird, but it’s actually quite tough for me these days,” Cannon says of improvising, which she did weekly for five years with Adsit while the two were based on New York. “I start to think in terms of writing, especially when I’m watching from the side. I start to think, ‘How would I change that line?’ So I have to really force myself to just listen and be playful and not be too in my head.”

Calling her “very smart” as a writer, Adsit says that when improvising, Cannon “goes to the silly very quickly.”

Which isn’t a judgment call, he clarifies. And it’s certainly not a crutch. Cannon is no Harvey Korman.

“She’s someone who frequently breaks up onstage because she’s having such a great time.”


Cannon blames her friend Tina Fey — who hired Cannon to write and eventually produce on “30 Rock” — for stymieing her performance dreams “and giving me a life worth living.”

Says Lutz, “[Kay] worked really hard and was always writing a bunch of stuff. She’s one of the people who works harder than anybody I know, besides Tina Fey. But don’t tell Kay that. Kay needs to have two kids [like Fey], and then she’ll be up at that level.”

In fact, Cannon reveals, she is pregnant with her first child, and only a year after marrying comedy writer Eben Russell. Their relationship followed a 2010 divorce from Cannon’s former mate, “Saturday Night Live” star Jason Sudeikis. He and Cannon were splitsville, she recalls sans the use of “splitsville,” by 2008.

At this point she mostly ignores her ex’s tabloid-documented exploits, though it’s not always easy.

“People will send me stuff,” Cannon says. “They think I’m still interested or something. I’ll get Facebook messages. There’s a handful of ladies I finally had to tell, ‘I’m OK.’ ”

Not long ago, her sister called to issue a warning before Cannon boarded a flight.

“I’m a really nervous flier, and I always buy those tabloid magazines to do light reading when I’m up in the sky. And my sister said, ‘Don’t buy the tabloids.’ It was one of the few times that I was actually in them with Jason, with a big picture of ‘When They Were Happy.’ I don’t know who he was dating at the time or what it was about. So I didn’t [buy it]. But then when I was on the plane, I turned to the woman on my right who was looking at the magazines and I kind of couldn’t help it and I did see the picture.

“And thank God it was a halfway decent picture, because I looked terrible on the plane and she was not making any kind of connection to this lady on her left.”

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