From Computer Science Nerd to Professional Comedian
A quick glance at Magic Negro director Anthony LeBlanc's resume reveals a robust string of jobs and achievements likely to be the envy of any comedian in the business—sketch director and performer for the famous Chicago-based The Second City improv group, as well as the Associate Artistic Director for its Training Center, faculty member of Columbia College Chicago's theatre department, teaching courses in comedy writing.
One particular credit to his name may cause others to take pause: a Computer Science and Physics B.S. from Loyola University in New Orleans.
"Ever since I was five years old, I've been obsessed with science," notes LeBlanc, fresh from an all-day Magic Negro rehearsal. Growing up in Beaumont, Texas, a small city teetering near the Texas-Louisiana border, LeBlanc became immersed in the world of science through the neighboring NASA Johnson Space Center and the popular PBS TV show, 3-2-1 Contact. At the ripe age of seven, he wrote his first computer program. Artificial intelligence became LeBlanc's focus in college, with most of his degree electives taken in operating systems and space sciences. LeBlanc was gunning for his master's degree when the time came for him to graduate. It seemed that his fate as a scientist and engineer was all but decided.
But a small invitation during the latter half of his college career opened up a new passion. A passion he certainly didn't see coming.
During his days as a resident assistant (RA), LeBlanc had a large group of theatre students on his floor. After a short comedic Whose Line is it Anyway?-inspired show with a few other RAs in a dorm common room, he was approached by the performance majors. "They said, 'Oh, you're funny. You should be a part of this new sketch comedy group we're starting with the other theatre folks.' So I joined. At the time, we were the only sketch group in New Orleans, so we did a ton of performances," LeBlanc recalls.
After graduation, LeBlanc pursued service non-profit work in the city of Chicago. Still viewing comedy as a side hobby, he took improv classes at iO Chicago (formally known as ImprovOlympic Theater) to unwind from his full-time gig. A few years later, it was time to prepare for graduate school. But an opportunity to attend general auditions for The Second City improv was too tempting to pass up. LeBlanc left his future up to chance —"I really liked this improv thing, so I thought I'd audition and see what happens. If I get called back, maybe I'd stay in the area and look for a school. If not, I'll make that choice to pick a school where I can join another improv group."
The annual Second City audition process narrows the pool down to around 500 candidates, then down to a mere handful of people to work with the understudy program, where improvisors work onsite and also tour the company productions. LeBlanc landed a spot among those lucky few. "I got this job for three years, but I didn't decide to actually do this for a living until the night my first (Second City) mainstage opened. I initially thought this little detour would just be a nice story to tell my kids one day, 'I traveled around the country doing comedy. It was fun.'" But that opening night I realized that this was it." Since that moment, LeBlanc has thrown out his previous plans to focus on the field.
When favorite local comedian Mark Kendall attended Northwestern University in Chicago, he signed up for a Second City workshop headed by LeBlanc, which placed the wheels in motion for the director's arrival here in Atlanta years later to direct The Magic Negro. "Mark is great to work with—he's very genuine. That's why the show works. He uses his likeability and charisma to help push the audience to listen to what he has to say." As a proponent for diversity in comedy, LeBlanc celebrates Mark's production in bringing those types of material to the overall conversation in that space.
Though he calls comedy home nowadays, because of his expertise in both comedy and programming, LeBlanc has been approached for some unique projects. "If there happens to be this cool robot that needs to talk like humans, then I can ask the right dialogue, but then it's also built in code, so I can also help parse it out to what it's supposed to be."
Drawing the connection between science and art is a no-brainer for LeBlanc. "Science is based off of creating and discovering the conditions of where things can happen that can break the laws as we know it them to be. Improv and comedy is the same thing. Anything is possible on stage. There's a magic of creating something out of nothing."
When audiences catch the show, it's no surprise who LeBlanc thanks in his program bio—Stephen Hawking. "He is the best. As a young kid, I found that he does a great job at explaining science in simple terms, which then sent me on a journey to dive into physics. He refuses to allow his health to hinder his work, which inspires me to work harder."
by A'riel Tinter, Brand Journalist
(Artistic Director Susan V. Booth, Director Anthony LeBlanc and Mark Kendall on the first day of rehearsals for Magic Negro and other Blackity Blackness, as told by an African-American Man who also happens to be Black at the Alliance Theatre. Photo by A’riel Tinter.)