Dave Urlakis ’03 considers himself a fortunate man. After years of working in improvisational comedy and theater, a Knox graduate holding a double major in theater and economics, Urlakis has been able to find work that indulges both his interests.
“Whether it’s with my day job or with my writing or acting job,” Urlakis said. “I get to play around with ideas and see what makes them work.”
By day, Urlakis works as the head of marketing and analytics for Jellyvision Labs. Jellyvision Labs is a company which uses simple questions and easy-to-understand interfaces to help people figure out what they need when companies’ employees pick healthcare plans or their clients’ customers want to find out which one of their clients’ products is right for them.
By night he is a member of Chicago’s thriving improvisation (improv) and sketch comedy scene. The show he produced with Sean Cusick, “Urlakis and Cusick” had a six-week run on Stage 773 before moving onto the Chicago Sketch Comedy Fest. He also has an online presence as user Awkward Spaceship, whose YouTube video “If Computer Problems were Real” has received over 750,000 views.
As a child, Urlakis loved to do impersonations and picked up impressions easily. When he was in junior high school he saw a friend in the musical “Oliver.” He was inspired to join his friend’s children’s theater group and has not left the stage since. Since it is difficult to teach dramaturgy to junior high school children, the troupe used improvisation, and Urlakis fell in love with the form.
At Knox, he got into acting, both on the stage of Harbach Theatre and in the Black Box. Although he entered school as a biochemistry major, he found a love for economics and promptly switched.
“One of the things I think is great about Knox is that it is very interdisciplinary,” Urlakis said. “You meet a lot of people doing a lot of different things and find something you really like.”
When he left Knox, he found an internship with the Chicago Shakespeare Company using his economics major, then took a job at the Steppenwolf Theatre where he combined his knowledge about the theatre and economics to set ticket prices and work on electronic marketing.
At the same time, he was feeding his love for acting by taking classes at Chicago’s IO (whose alumni include Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler) and Second City.
“I’m very lucky,” Urlakis said. “I’ve gotten to use both my majors pretty extensively since I left school.”
Although luck helped, Urlakis got where he was through hard work. He said his key to success is “working harder than you think you have to.”
“I’m a big believer in the 10,000 hour rule,” Urlakis said. “If you want to become world class at anything, it takes 10,000 hours of hard work.”