Chicago-honed chops pay off for Ellen Fox

Ellen Fox, who is now the co-host with Brett Erlich of “The Rotten Tomatoes Show” on Current TV, learned a lot from her years here in Chicago.

The personal initiative that Fox learned to cultivate during her 10 years in Chicago taught her, she says, “I may have a manager and an agent, but I’ve still got to look for myself.”

So she jumped when she saw the ad on Craigslist: “Strong comedic performers to serve as co-host for our new movie review franchise. Comedy writing background and a passion for movies a huge plus.”

Fox had started out in Chicago in 1997 after graduating from Rutgers. She interned at the alternative weekly New City. Stints as assistant editor and staff writer followed. “Film critic Ray Pride would let me go see movies he couldn’t make, so I started to do reviews.”

That in turn led to a regular gig freelancing for The Tribune. “I’d see the movies that Michael Philips or Michael Wilmington didn’t want to see. Lou Carlozo in the Leisure Section was really cool to me. I was like the sixth string critic, but it was a by-line in The Tribune.”

Fox had moved here to Chicago to pursue journalism, but at night she picked up the bad habit of frequenting comedy improv shows ? and she ended up studying at most of them.

She counts classes at Mick Napier’s Annoyance Productions, ImprovOlympic (now IO Chicago), and Second City Conservatory as formative experiences.

Her first job as a host was for a podcast series for “Inside” With director Andrew Ryann of Pixel Brothers, she shot 15 episodes, covering festivals, art shows and street fairs. “I had so much fun and learned so much working with Andrew,” Fox recalls.

But after 10 years in Chicago, Fox wanted more opportunities and moved to L.A. in 2007, and she soon signed with manager Scott Howard of Howard Associates and agency Ken Lindner Associates, which casts hosts, broadcasters and new anchors.

Her chief discovery when she moved to L.A.? “For any woman who is performing or doing improv or writing in Chicago, I found that women in comedy are a lot rarer out here. There’s definitely an advantage if you’re a female who is comedic out here in L.A.”

Fox’s audition rant about Tom Cruise’s crazy turn in “Tropic Thunder” led to her being cast with Brett Erlich, a co-host/producer of another Current TV show “Info mania.”

“The Rotten Tomatoes Show” draws on the strengths of the popular film review website, where dozens of reviews are aggregated to create a “Tomato meter” rating for each film. But just as important is the viewer-driven DNA of Current TV itself.

The deep website input, Fox and Erich’s fresh comedic chemistry and the clips of viewer reviews all combine to make the show a very fresh take on the movie review show formula.

“We want to see some webcam reviews from Chicago!” Fox concludes.

“The Rotten Tomatoes Show” on Current TV airs Thursdays at 9:30 p.m.