As everyone’s favorite Twitter merrymaker nears her Netflix debut, her creator reveals she was inspired by relatives of his own as well as some regulars at Ditka’s.
There’s no easy way to put this: Chicago Party Aunt, the world’s most aggressive lover of all things Windy, was not born here.
It was in Los Angeles, on a lonely night a few years ago, when the bawdy Bears booster emerged into the world.
Chris Witaske, the actor and writer who created her, had just moved West from Chicago. “I had a lot of free time on my hands,” he recalls, “and I was feeling homesick.”
So he started the @chipartyaunt account on Twitter and soon was sharing the hilarious thoughts of a fictional, foul-mouthed, hard-drinking, sex-positive woman in middle age who can’t let go of her rambunctious adventures in the ‘80s and cherishes her hometown even more than a Portillo’s combo dipped in Malort.
“Excited to get back to a time when Saint Patrick’s day parades are canceled for the right reasons: public intoxication, underage drinking and street fighting,” she tweeted last spring. When news breaks, she comments on it. When @Chicago_Scanner reports some drunken behavior, she takes credit for it.
“It’s based on a couple of my actual aunts, my actual Chicago party aunts,” says Witaske, who grew up in St. Charles. “Also, I worked at Mike Ditka’s restaurant for five years out of college, so I saw a lot of party aunts come through that place.”
As the account grew to more than 50,000 followers and was retweeted by the likes of Stephen Colbert and Wilco, Witaske stayed anonymous, revealing his secret identity to just a few funny friends with enough Chicago history and savvy to contribute ideas of their own. Several of them — veterans, like Witaske, of iO and Second City stages — joined him in making the “Chicago Party Aunt” TV show, an animated, adults-only sitcom premiering Sept. 17 on Netflix.
One is former “Saturday Night Live” writer Katie Rich, who says hard-living relatives were “all across the board in my family and in my world” during her childhood near 80th and Pulaski.
The rowdy person in your life “might not be your aunt,” adds former North Sider Ike Barinholtz, the “Mindy Project” actor and producer who’s also working on the show. “It might be your uncle, it might be your cousin, it might be your neighbor, it might be you.”
The series gives the aunt a name — Diane Dunbrowski — and establishes that she’s been dumped by her husband, Kurt (voiced by Witaske), and will be roommate and mentor to Daniel (Broadway actor Rory O’Malley), her gay, anxious nephew.
Providing Diane’s voice is Lauren Ash, the Ontario-born actor who just concluded a six-season run as high-strung Dina on NBC’s “Superstore.” During her two years in Chicago performing at Second City, she got to know the city’s dialect and was ready when her friend Witaske asked her to audition.
“I kinda said (turning on the Chicago accent), ‘What kinda level do we need to — like, how far are we goin’? Are we goin’ full Chicago Bears/‘SNL’ territory?,’ ” Ash recalls. “So it was really just a conversation about what level we wanted her at — how cartoony, how character-y, that kinda thing. It was really fun to discover her voice.”
Barinholtz’s brother Jon, another of the show’s creators, worked with Ash on “Superstore” and calls her a “powerhouse.” Adds Witaske, “Even though she’s a Canadian, she nailed it.”
When it comes to hometown details, “Chicago Party Aunt” isn’t afraid to name names, setting scenes at Guthrie’s and Gibsons and noting Diane’s sexual history with Jim Belushi, Scottie Pippen and Sammy Sosa. But the humor will be relatable outside the city limits, says O’Malley, who grew up in Cleveland.
“Everyone in the Midwest loves their hometown,” he says, “and will be able to identify with Diane, a diehard sports fan and lover of her neighborhood. And her local bar.”