Comedian Cynthia Levin takes one rather giant career step -- all the way to London

  • Pin It
Cynthia Levin

Chicago-born comic Cynthia Levin in the back of her Toyota Tacoma (which she is trying to get rid of) before she heads off for adventures on the London comedy scene. (Phil Velasquez/Chicago Tribune / September 13, 2012)

In a couple of weeks, Cynthia Levin will be leaving Chicago and moving to London.

This may not mean a great deal to you, since the actress and comic has spent most of the past couple of decades living in Los Angeles.

The last time she performed here was in 2009, when she came for a weekend run in the cast of the national touring company of "Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad," which played the Lakeshore Theater (now the Laugh Factory).

"That did remind me of what a great community of comedians we have always (had) here," she says. "And the audiences here are sweet and tolerant and open to so very much."

Listening to her talk about her life and career, one can learn a great deal about what it takes to devote oneself to a creative path, full of ups and downs.

When you watch her — as you can in various clips on YouTube — you see an act that is distinguished by a palpable honesty. Her delivery is polished (sometimes profane), and she can weave in and out of characters with ease. This is a performer both self-assured and smart.

"I am not an intellectual," she says. "But I am intelligent."

She has been staying here for a few pre-London weeks with an old friend from her days at The Second City, which began when she was only 15 and a student at Mather High School.

"I lied and said I was 18 in order to start taking classes," she says. "The only problem with that is that all my friends from those days think I am three years older than I am."

Unlike many in the entertainment business, she is not reluctant to divulge her age.

"I will be 47 on Oct. 8," she says. "And I will be celebrating in London."

One of six children raised in the West Rogers Park neighborhood, she says she had "no real guidance at home and did whatever it took to get out of the house. Humor became my survival mechanism."

She has wanted to be on stage since she was 4 and started to realize that pint-size ambition at 11, when she enrolled in acting classes.

"Four years later at Second City, that was the best time ever," she says. "People were so supportive. If you were funny, people would tell you you were funny, and that meant so much."

She spent a couple of years at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, dropped out and started performing on local stages. "But I kept hearing from friends who would call and say, 'You've got to come out here. There's no one like you out here,'" she says. "So I moved to LA."

There she has fashioned a solid career that included performing at that city's major comedy clubs, touring nationally and internationally, getting TV and film roles, staging one-woman plays, winning awards, teaching acting and stand-up, and writing a film script based on her life, titled "Unprepared for Life (An Almost True Story, Except for the Good Parts)."

In London she will be staying with British comic Kate Roxburgh, who is, Levin says, "short, blond, blue-eyed … and owns a giant dog." They are going to collaborate on a film script, and Levin is excited about that and about exploring what she says is a very lively stand-up scene.

"It is my understanding that you can actually make a nice living as a comic there," she says. "I hope to do well."

Making this sort of serious life/scenery change can put a person in a contemplative mood. As Levin says: "I have learned a lot in life, in this business. I've wanted to be a star since I was 4. But it is such a silly word, 'star.' Now it is more important that I can think of myself as a worthwhile person. I appreciate what I have, and it means a lot for me to be able to help other people in this business, do what I can to help them succeed."

She is not rich. Indeed, in order to make her move she needs to sell the pickup truck in which she posed for the photo that accompanies this story. It is a 2000 Toyota Tacoma. She has owned it for five years. It has, give or take, 140,000 miles. The Kelly Blue Book says the car's value is $6,500, but she's asking $6,000.

"And it's in that great California shape too," she says. "No rust."

Listen to poet Marc Smith, essayist Gail Isaacson, comic Tim O'Malley, strip tease artist Michelle L'Amour and a Casey Baker theater review on "The Sunday Papers With Rick Kogan," 6:30-9 a.m. Sunday on WGN-AM 720.

rkogan@tribune.com

  • Pin It
 
Find it fast

ENTERTAINMENT VIDEOS