She is from a family of musicians, so singing in an ensemble, she said — whether it was musical theater or show choir — meant learning to breathe with others and sound like one voice. This set her up for the moment she found improv comedy, because she already knew how to collaborate — and how not to steal a scene. “I was, I think, picking up all the pieces I needed to get where I was going,” she said.
After graduating from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2007, she began a Ph.D. program in performance studies at Northwestern University. She hated it and was anxious all the time, she said, so her parents bought her an improv class at the Second City comedy club in nearby Chicago to blow off steam.
When she took a comedy writing class there, a teacher pulled her aside to let her know she was a writer.
“People had been telling me, ‘You should try this. You should try this,’ and I had been uncomfortably trying it,” Ms. Black said. “But ‘you’re a writer’? I was like, ‘yes.’ I completely shifted my view of myself to be a writer first. And that was when everything started to fall into place.”
Chicago, Ms. Black said, is the best place in the world to learn comedy writing. There’s an “emotionality” she found in Chicago that she values in many of her collaborators, including Ms. Bee and Ms. Ruffin.
“What attracted me to Sam and Amber is that they’re admitting to you that they live in the world,” she said. “And they might be upset about it, and they might be angry about it, and they might cry about it on camera, because they’re not removed from it. They’re a part of it.”