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Chicago improv performer, teacher Jason Chin dies at 46

Jason Chin, a prolific and influential Chicago improv director and performer for almost two decades, was found dead in his Chicago apartment Thursday night.

The loss of the vibrant artist at age 46 came as a shock to the local improv community, and the cause of death was not immediately known.

Most of Mr. Chin’s work was centered at iO, the improv house that concentrates on the philosophies of the late Del Close, once Mr. Chin’s teacher. The longtime Wrigleyville fixture moved last fall to a new site at 1501 N. Kingsbury.

“He was a wonderful friend and a huge part of iO,” iO co-founder Charna Halpern wrote on Facebook. “I miss him already and can’t believe this has really happened.”

A native of Flushing, Queens, Mr. Chin had served as the theater’s associate artistic director and director of its training center. Among his creations is “Whirled News Tonight,” a round of improv playing off the week’s news, which began in 2003 and continues Saturday nights at iO. One former “Whirled” performer, Jordan Klepper, is now a correspondent on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.”

Tina Fey, who improvised with Mr. Chin at iO when it was still called ImprovOlympic, praised him personally and professionally.

“Jason was the kind of pure improviser you can only meet in Chicago,” Fey said via email. “He put up shows for the love of doing it. The way it should be. I also just remember him to be a really nice, upbeat guy. ”

Chicago improv alum and veteran Conan O’Brien writer Brian Stack first met Chin in the lobby of Second City on Wells, where Chin sold T-shirts, in the mid-’90s. A couple of years later, just before Stack moved to New York, Chin asked him if he’d come to see a show Chin directed at ImprovOlympic called “Jedi! A Musical Tour-de-Force.”

“I’m not a ‘Star Wars’ obsessive myself, but the performers were having so much fun onstage, and the show was so funny that I loved every minute of it,” Stack recalled. “Jason always seemed to put his whole joyful self into everything he did, from performing to teaching, and that show was just one more example of that.”

Mr. Chin also fondly remembered another of his directorial projects, “Dinner for Six,” which on his blog he called “one of my favorite all-time shows.” The cast would play three couples, improvising their dinner and related events. “No other characters, no walk-ons, no tag-outs, just a mix of relationship scenes,” Mr. Chin recalled.

He directed annual Halloween sketch shows at iO that usually culminated in a re-creation of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” dance and made a splash in the 1990s with “Jedi!,” an imaginative musical version of the original “Star Wars” trilogy ultimately shut down on copyright issues.

Last August, shortly after news broke of comic Robin Williams’ death, Chin and his upper-level improv students devised a fun warm-up game in Williams’ honor that involved saying the catchphrase “nanu nanu” and singing “You Ain’t Never Had a Friend Like Me,” from Aladdin, while pretending to surf on magic carpets.

An unabashed devotee of nerd culture, Mr. Chin collected and celebrated comic books, extolled the legacy of President John Adams and devised a fake resume on Facebook that had him graduating from Starfleet Academy and advising Jurassic Park.

He delighted in recounting his boyhood experience of appearing on “The Cosby Show,” as a classmate of Theo mixed up in the discovery of a joint.

Plans for a memorial are pending, but Monday’s performance of “The Armando Diaz Experience” will be dedicated to Mr. Chin’s legacy. He was a regular cast member in the weekly monologue-based improv show at iO.