Laughter is pretty much a constant in the way Kay Cannon speaks. A conversation with the improv performer turned screenwriter, and now TV show runner and film director, invariably has her chuckling or outright guffawing — in nearly every sentence.
It’s clear that humor is a very integral part of Cannon’s life. The native of Custer Park, Illinois, made her mark appearing at Second City and the iO Theatre here before becoming a full-time writer and producer — responsible for such successful projects as the “Pitch Perfect” films and TV’s “30 Rock” and “The New Girl.”
That all said, Cannon was quick to credit her improv comedy background — “which, of course, I learned in Chicago, as being the only reason I’ve been able to go on and do everything else I’ve done since.
“If I didn’t have the skills I learned from improv-ing, I never could have become a successful show runner or screenwriter. Improv teaches you to be a good listener and teaches you how to get ideas from others.
“It also teaches you — and this I think is a Chicago thing — is that if you make another person look better, you look better and you become better.”
Cannon is the creator and show-runner of “Girlboss,” a 13-episode series launching Friday on Netflix. It’s based on “#Girlboss,” the best-selling book by Sophia Amoruso, the founder of the fashion brand Nasty Gal. “Girlboss” stars Britt Robertson as Amoruso, who made a huge splash online by selling vintage clothing on eBay — building a multi-million dollar fashion empire by the time she was 28, but later running into serious financial woes.
Along with Charlize Theron, Amoruso is an executive producer of the “Girlboss” series, which Cannon said was a big blessing to the project.
“I was so nervous the first time I had to meet [Amoruso],” said Cannon. “I had just had a baby a few months before. I didn’t know what to wear. I really became obsessive about it!”
Yet, once the two women met, Cannon noted things truly clicked. “Sophia is a great resource for the show. She’s very open and vulnerable, and allowed me to both talk about her successes and her failures. She takes total ownership of her flaws. Think about it. It’s a rarity to be telling the story of a woman who is only 33 years old now. We relive the last 10 years of her life. She’s so young to have experienced so much success — and failure — in that brief amount of time.”
While “Girlboss” is a comedy, Cannon and her team want to get across the idea that Amoruso “broke the rules, and achieved initial success, but we’re not telling a fairy tale here. We do show that while you should go for your dreams, things don’t always turn out perfectly.”
Now Cannon is in the process of directing her first feature film. “The Pact” is about three high school senior girls who vow to lose their virginity on prom night.
Leslie Mann, Jon Cena and Chicago native Ike Barinholtz play parents of the girls who discover the plan, and then go about trying to stop their daughters.
Issues about empowering women are important to Cannon, but she thinks “if you get people laughing, you can more easily get a message across — rather than in a straight conversation. Those kinds of messages often fall on deaf ears. If you get them laughing, you can tell the same story but perhaps more successfully — and that’s a good thing!”
The past year was a landmark for Cannon. “You know, being the show runner of a TV show is about the hardest thing you can do in television. Directing a movie is the hardest thing you can do in film.
“I’ve done both in the same year,” said Cannon, again letting loose with a big laugh.
“Plus I’m a mom to boot! I’ve got my own little ‘Girlboss’ at home — even though she’s only 3.”