Improv from the Mothership: The Second City at Carolina Theatre
Adrienne: When I was a kid and showed signs of being a bit of a wise cracker, my dad, always one to blow things out of proportion, hepped me to the wonderful world of The Second City. I tell a funny story about making jokes with a kid at school? Well, maybe we are the next Nichols and May! Dad shared stories of going to Chicago’s Old Town in his college days when luminaries such as Nichols, May, Arkin, Paul Sills & Sand, and Burns & Schrieber were on the stage. Given to embellishment, I have no idea who he actually saw, but the idea was set early that The Second City was the one true source of the finest comedic minds. The SCTV show, featuring the Toronto company, only reinforced the family deification of The Second City as the fount of the best comedy.
Following this legacy, I have caught shows in Chicago at The Second City Mainstage, the springboard to SNL and other fame over the past 3 decades. I saw Rachel Dratch, Scott Adsit (Pete on 30 Rock), and Kevin Dorff (Conan’s Late Night) in a couple mainstage shows. I caught an all-star fundraiser there one summer that featured famous alumni Fred Willard, Tim Meadows, George Wendt, Jack McBrayer, Alison Tolman (fresh off her Emmy win in Fargo), David Koechner, and Aidy Bryant (then and now of SNL). Even TJ the Sonic guy was there! Part of the sport of seeing these shows is the excitement that one day you will be able to say you saw some breakout star back in the day.
So The Second City has companies and theaters in Chicago, Toronto, and Hollywood and several touring companies. Durham’s Carolina Theatre is a regular stop for the Chicago touring company. There is a hierarchy in The Second City world, and a national touring company seems to be pretty high cotton, beginning with classes, moving through the etc stage and touring companies and ending on the main stage on Wells Street, Chicago. The players are almost always clever and inventive, with some stars burning particularly bright.
This year the revue was called “Laughing For All The Wrong Reasons” and featured a crazy-talented ensemble of triple-threat plus performers, singing, dancing, improvising, delivery jokes and pathos in turn. In Chicago, the Mainstage shows are two acts of most scripted sketch comedy, much of it developed in improvisation, followed by a third act of improvisation that the audience is invited to stay and watch and contribute suggestions.
This week, Steve was in Durham for multiple Zub projects, so we added a stop at The Second City show to the itinerary. I think it’s best that he give us a newcomer’s perspective on a show.
Steve: My history with Second City mostly comes from the amazing Canadian TV series, and I know that the Second City mothership is a true pipeline of talent to Saturday Night Live. Unlike Adrienne, I had never seen a Second City live show, and this was a revelation. There were six performers, all excellent. My first impressions were that there would be a lot of stand-up type stuff, but there really wasn’t. The performers all sang, danced, and really worked together well. Every performer was excellent in their own way. Jumpsuited Megan Babbe was great at talking with the audience, and really shined in a sketch with Kiley Fitzgerald as they played “two eggs’ that were all over the crowd members. Kiley and George C. Owens shared a hilarious sketch where Owen’s kid asks his Mom (Kiley) lots of difficult questions, like “why does my friend have two moms?”
Jackie Southee and Evan Mills were excellent, Mills playing a lot of over-the-top characters, such as the randy waiter at Southee and Owen’s date (Owens’ character having such anxiety he must read all his answers from cards). Jordan Stafford was a true standout, getting his own soliloquy in one case and playing a disillusioned male exotic dancer in another. Throughout the show were recurring bits, lots of music, singing and dancing. They did a couple of improv things that were stellar as well. This was a very entertaining show. I left thinking that I could see any or all of these performers on Saturday Night Live, probably sooner than later.