Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Chances are you watched the Super Bowl and saw the Groupon ad. Furthermore, chances are you saw Conan last night and saw the parody ad featuring Brian Stack.

Groupon employees a large number of the improv community in Chicago.
From entry-level scribes and senior managers to its front-desk receptionist, Groupon’s roster boasts visual artists, musicians and comedians. Improv actors, in particular, abound — many of them in the customer service department.

“It’s a starting point for people to build rapport here and to bond,” With says. “And I think it feeds into the work.”

Groupon’s artist-friendly atmosphere is old news in Chicago’s creative community.

“If you were to trace the lineage of every customer service and editorial employee referral, and list the outside accomplishments of each individual employee,” customer service rep and improviser Andrew Smreker says, “you would basically have a diagram of Chicago culture’s central nervous system.” He goes further, claiming that “every person in every Chicago scene either knows a Groupon employee or is a Groupon employee, and everyone has at least applied.”

There’ve been some notable breakouts, too, including recent “Saturday Night Live” hire and erstwhile Chicago improviser Paul Brittain, who temped at Groupon in 2009, and stand-up comic C.J. Toledano, a new Conan O’Brien script intern. Onetime staffer Amanda Velez now works for Lady Gaga’s Monster Ball Tour.

“Collaboration is huge at Groupon,” says Toledano, who’s “still involved with Groupon,” via e-mail during a “Conan” break. “Everyone is constantly doing ‘bits.’ And it’s not like other work environments, where there’s that one unfunny guy who keeps trying to be funny and no one likes him, because everyone who has been hired has more than likely been referred by a friend or collaborator. Thus, they check out and their humor has been approved. I hosted and produced a late night talk show called ‘The Late Live Show’ at Second City, and I can say that about 95 percent of the writing staff is working at Groupon in some capacity. If you go to an improv or sketch show, I guarantee you would see four or five people who work at Groupon either onstage or in the crowd supporting. It’s an amazing environment that makes going to work fun. I can count so many times where I or a co-worker have said something like, ‘Man, I have tomorrow off, but all my friends are at work. I’d rather just go in.’ ”

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