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The Improv Show That Dramatically Changed Julia Louis-Dreyfus' Life

Julia Louis-Dreyfus has won an astounding 11 Emmy awards and earned 15 other nominations in her 30-plus-year career as an actor, writer, and producer; her collection of 11 statuettes is larger than any other in television history.

She's known mostly for headlining the hit sitcoms "Seinfeld" and "Veep" and has a strong improv pedigree, having performed as a member of Chicago's famed Second City troupe and as a cast member on "Saturday Night Live." But her Chicago-area improv experience goes beyond her time with Second City, as she studied in the theater department at Northwestern University before leaving for the chance to work on SNL in the early '80s. In between bites of spicy chicken wings on "Hot Ones," Louis-Dreyfus told host Sean Evans that while her time at Northwestern was short, she performed with a group there that served as an important and memorable experience for her. 

"I did an improv show at Northwestern called the Mee-Ow show," Louis-Dreyfus said. "And that was the show that changed my life, dramatically." She described the project as a send-off of another Northwestern improv production. "It was born out of making fun of the Waa-Mu Show, which is pretty straightforward sort of musical comedy review kind of a show," she explained. "I'm not dissing it in any way, but Mee-Ow was just a parody of it in a sense it was borne out to be sort of a you know, anti-that."

Julia Louis-Dreyfus left Northwestern to join the cast of Saturday Night Live

Northwestern's Waa-Mu show bills itself as the university's "longest running theatrical tradition." It was formed in 1929, when the school's Women's Athletic Association and Men's Union joined to form a theatrical performing group, taking its name from the initials of the two originating groups.  

The group is entirely student-run, and Dominic Missimi, who served as Waa-Mu's director from 1994 until 2013, said in a video tour that after its founding, the group rapidly evolved from a Broadway-style company to its current form of improvisational sketch comedy. "That's really the kind of revue that I inherited when I started in 1994," Missimi said." I think Waa-Mu is an incredible educational experience for the students." 

Julia Louis-Dreyfus left Northwestern after her junior year to join the cast of "Saturday Night Live." She returned to Evanston in 2007 to deliver the University's commencement address, even fitting in a joke at her own expense. 

"You have managed to do something today spectacular, something important, something I never did after years of trying," Louis-Dreyfus said in her speech. "You have graduated from Northwestern University."