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The Entertainer

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T.J. Shanoff does it all 
11/18/2008

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T.J.’s super serious headshot

Whoever said you can’t have your cake and eat it too has not been in the shoes of T.J. Shanoff. He is passionate about his work, has never had a day job, owns a home in the city he loves, travels the world and has a flexible schedule. Jealous?

So what does he do? Apparently, it’s complicated, says T.J.: “If after I tell you, if you could please call my mother and let her know…I’m serious, would you?”

So this story goes out to T.J.’s mom.

In no particular order, T.J. is…

A Director

T.J. is the co-creator and director of Jewsical! The Musical , a sketch comedy show about Jewish life and culture for all ages, with songs of course (see A Musician, below). “One of the biggest projects I’m proud of is Jewsical. We just did a run in Michigan – we’ve been touring the country for three years."

Revamping and touring Jewsical is the next big thing on T.J.’s plate. After the last tour – “mostly in crappy rental cars with cassette decks” – he learned that the show can be easily customized to the venue and event. “One of the fun things about Jewish society is that it never stagnates- there’s always something going on. We want to make the show elastic.”

T.J. directs many other shows for Second City. He just returned from a Second City gig on a Norwegian cruise line where he directed a new show. Though he was only on the ship for eight days, the show will run for four months. He’s set to direct another cruise ship show in the Bahamas this January.

A Corporate Talk Show Host

Second City often sends T.J. on MC or hosting missions for corporate events all across the country. For this type of show, a 45-60 minute classic Second City show gets intertwined with scenes written specifically for that company. He’ll host meetings or talk shows for big events where he’ll interview the CFO or the Company’s President about serious topics and make them entertaining. Just back from Richmond, VA, he will soon visit Arizona and Florida during our coldest months.

A Chicagoan

On why he lives in Chicago: “It’s a simple answer. I grew up here, in the Gold Coast – though I hate calling it that – right by the Latin school. Since I’ve been a kid I loved the city. Almost every close friend I grew up with lives here still. If a job came up I would go, but I’m not looking to move. I’m very content here. And I’m a die hard Cubs fan.”

A Musician

Though he doesn’t gig in the typical sense, T.J. incorporates his piano skills as a musical director, song writer and on-stage performer in many Second City shows.

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T.J. directing Jewsical! The Musical on the road in West Palm Beach

A Writer

T.J. and another Second City writer work with theaters in other cities to write shows that blend classic Second City scenes with custom scenes about that city.

The two writers do research in the city for three days. They tour the city with tour guides who take them to all the touristy places that the locals never go to. This is not helpful in writing a funny show for the people of the town, so instead of paying attention to the locations, they listen to what the tour guides are saying – what they like to do, where they like to go, how they feel about the political spectrum. That insight is what gives them good material for the show. A custom show at the Alliance Theater in Atlanta just closed and got great reviews. “What’s really funny is at least one review said, ‘we were so offended that these two Chicago writers were coming in to write the show and then we saw it and we loved it.’”

A Camp Lover

T.J. is co-creator of the website mycampfriends.com discussed in depth here. One friend from camp now writes for the Colbert Report and talks about how camp makes you a stud, even if you’re not one back home. Eventually he sees this site as “the ultimate destination for all things camp.”

An Entertainer

Above all, T.J. calls himself an entertainer. (Anyone else hearing a Scott Joplin piece right now?) “One month I’m a musical director, one month I’m performing, in a good month I’m doing everything.”

The second project he’s most proud of is “The Roof Is On Fiddler,” a parody that he co-wrote and directed. The show uses the original script of Fiddler on the Roof, but with songs from the 80’s instead. Like a Virgin or the Who’s the Boss Theme might surprise you after a tearful scene, leaving you crying tears of laughter by the end of the show. It was a hit at Improv Olympic in 2001, playing every Thursday at midnight.

The projects he is most proud of are Jewishly themed, not surprising considering his strong affiliation to cultural Judaism. “I’m by no means the most religious of Jews, but I’m very culturally Jewish and tremendously respectful and proud of my Judaism. It’s not a coincidence that the two things I’m most proud of are Jewsical and Fiddler.”

What future entertainment does T.J. have in store for us? “I have a couple of projects coming up – one hopefully on television with the Second City. That’s all I can say for now.”

This is only a snapshot of what T.J. does. T.J.’s mom, take note. He has also been a radio personality, a lyricist, and a talk show co-host. That said, his self-assigned professional title of Entertainer seems to encompass it all.

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