CHICAGO — Chicago’s favorite party aunt is coming to Netflix next week with a show that will star the Twitter account’s raunchy and frank humor — and Chicago itself.
Chris Witaske, who stepped out of the shadows as the formerly anonymous @chipartyaunt account’s creator this summer, said his animated “Chicago Party Aunt” Netflix series is meant to be a love letter to Chicago.
Block Club Chicago spoke with the show’s lead actors and creators, many of whom are from or have lived in the city, about what viewers can expect once the show drops on Netflix Sept. 17.
The show centers around Diane Dunbrowski, a middle-aged woman who lives in Wrigleyville and is a proud Chicagoan and diehard Cubs fan. Viewers will watch her navigate an increasingly wacky life and see how she solves the challenges thrown at her with her eccentric ways.
Dunbrowski’s nephew, Daniel, moves in after deciding to take a gap year before going to Stanford. Though their personalities and approaches to life are different, the heart of the show revolves around their relationship and the ways they support each other.
Actress Lauren Ash, who voices the lead character, previously lived in Chicago and did comedy at Second City.
“If you aren’t familiar with Chicago, I think the themes that we present and the jokes are universal, and I think that people are going to really have the relationship between Diane and Daniel resonate with them,” Ash said. “I keep saying that people are going to come for the joke, but they’re going to stay for the heart.”
Cleveland actor Rory O’Malley, who voices Daniel and played King George III in Broadway’s “Hamilton,” said Diane and Daniel’s relationship is reflective of his own upbringing.
“I love the Midwest lifestyle, which is a lot about family, and I was raised by a whole pack of aunts,” said O’Malley, who is from Ohio. “I had a few ‘Chicago Party Aunts’ — Cleveland Party Aunts — and I love the relationship between these two characters, between Diane and Daniel.
“They’re hilarious because they’re opposites, but it’s also beautiful and heartwarming. And I think a lot of people in the Midwest are going to identify with it.”
Witaske will voice Kurt, Diane’s TSA agent second ex-husband and the first to initiate change in Dunbrowski’s life when he decides to leave her. The move leads to a whole host of changes the Party Aunt has to weather.
Witaske said making “Chicago Party Aunt” the loud, colorful show it is was helped by having many of the creators being from different parts of the city. It allowed them to have similar approaches to comedy while bringing their different Chicago experiences to the table.
“Now that I think about it, we kind of have the whole city surrounded,” Witaske said. “We’ve been able to draw on all our different experiences. But all did comedy together in Chicago at the Second City and another place called Improv Olympics.
“One thing they teach you at Second City is to be collaborative and to all work together, improvise, and so I think because we all had that background going into this project, we were able to collaborate and work together and come up with fun ideas and support each other and build this crazy world.”
For South Side actress Katie Rich, who voices Dunbrowski’s friend and hair salon co-worker Zuzana, the show is an opportunity to showcase a different side of Chicago than often gets portrayed in non-local media.
“I think Chicago kind of gets a bad rap, and people don’t understand that it is a huge, wonderful, amazing place to be. And so I think that’s what was so exciting about it, was that we got to showcase the people there as opposed to a new story there,” Rich said.
Chicago natives Ike and Jon Barinholtz are also creators and voices on “Chicago Party Aunt.” Hailing from Rogers Park and Lakeview, the brothers said growing up and living in Chicago has influenced multiple parts of “Chicago Party Aunt,” from the locations to the comedy to the Easter eggs, like references to Al’s Beef and the Blue Line.
They also thought a lot about how the Wrigleyville setting, brought over from the character’s Twitter account, could add dimensions to the Party Aunt’s storyline throughout the show.
“Jon and I kind of grew up not in Wrigleyville but a little bit northeast of there, about a mile away,” Ike Barinholtz said. “But I think I spent a lot of my formative years in that neighborhood, and I think it is — it’s changed a lot. Some people will say it’s for the worst. Some people say it’s for the better.
“But we kind of chose that as the primary location because it really provided us a great kind of metaphor for Diane. It gave her something to be reflective off of — this changing neighborhood which is going from little dive bars and a comic book shop to, you know, a matcha bar that’s connected to a nice hotel.
“To have a character that naturally resists change and then starts to accept it a little bit, we thought putting her in a location that’s changing would be a fun juxtaposition.”
With the show set to premiere next week, Witaske hopes every viewer finds something about it they can enjoy, whether they’re from Chicago or not.
“When we sat down to write the show, the first thing we said is that we wanted it to make it as funny as possible,” Witaske said. “Then we said we wanted it to be a love letter to Chicago ’cause we all have roots there and Chicago’s in our hearts. And then we wanted to make it universal. Everyone will be able to get it and enjoy it.”
Chicago Party Aunt premieres Sept. 17 on Netflix.
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