Chicago lost a longtime member of the city’s sketch and improv scene last week. Performer and teacher Mike Enriquez, who mentored current “Saturday Night Live” featured players Vanessa Bayer and Paul Brittain, died Thursday at St. Joseph Hospital after a six-month battle with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. He was 42.
The Newkirk, Okla., native moved to Chicago in 1999 to study improv, eventually landing work at major comedy hubs in town including Second City and iO Theater. He was also an assistant artistic director for ComedySportz Chicago, where he performed, as well.
Enriquez’s influence extended beyond the world of comedy. “I spent 2003 calling you my improv dad, as you welcomed me into the Second City staff fray, showed me how to unlock the coat check, sell t-shirts to French people, and work for (general manager) Alison Riley. For all that and more, I thank you,” Dan Jessup, a one-time improviser and Groupon’s head of hiring, posted on the donation website Go Fund Me, where friends of Enriquez’s had set up a fundraising drive.
“The first impression I had of him was, ‘That Asian kid is kind of funny,’ and it turns out he’s half-Mexican, half-Scottish,” said fellow performer Tim Whetham, who became best friends with Enriquez when they met in their first improv class 12 years ago. “I guess he got that a lot. Even his mother and I were laughing about it this week.” As a coach and mentor to hundreds of budding performers, Enriquez emphasized comedy based on a strong wit. “He was one of those people that you noticed on stage, but he wasn’t the center of attention until he would steal the scene with just a line or two,” said Whetham.
As a shout-out to her former improv coach, Vanessa Bayer wore a T-shirt this past weekend with a photo of her and Enriquez on it during the good-bye portion of “Saturday Night Live.”
“When I got hired at ‘SNL,’ he left me the most beautiful message and I played it for my mom and we both cried,” said Bayer. “I had been planning a time for him to come (to New York) and see the show, so this was a way for him to be there. I wanted to pay tribute to him in some way.”
Bayer remembers a group outing to a bowling alley when Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” came on the sound system. “We got everyone at the bowling alley dancing and singing - and it was all because he was there. This whole bowling alley erupted in dance, because of Mike. He had such a sassy attitude, in a really great way. And he definitely had such an enormous impact on me. He made me feel like I was a good performer and I just needed to go out and be confident in what I was doing.”Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times