Photo: Clayton Hauck
Second City’s Dalmatian-free one hundred first revue, “Let Them Eat Chaos,” hits the hyperactivity of its titular chaos squarely on the head, but, for all its unneeded projections, “Band of Brothers”-style trench scenes and deviations into the creation of the Panama Canal, the show misses the underlying joy of frenzy. Easily among the most distinctive and likable casts of the past several Mainstage revues, their efforts are appealing but ultimately only somewhat funny. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Todd Rosenberg
The theme for the Second City’s thirty-sixth revue on the e.t.c. stage is introduced solidly enough, tying into the “live” aspect of theater by pointing out that even though this show might happen over 300 times, the specific instance of the show that you’re seeing on any given night will never happen again and then making audience members touch their hands to prove that they’re in an actual physical, interactive space, and not just watching Hulu at their desk. But while some of these sketches take that concept and run with it, there’s less theme exploration than the title and the opening moments promise. That’s not to say that the bits aren’t funny. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Clayton Hauck
Second City’s one-hundredth revue jumps right into election year by kicking off with a bit where race, religion and Fox News take the forefront. From the opening moments, director Matt Hovde has shot the entire show through with a fast-paced, slightly unpredictable quality that makes for the best kind of sketch comedy. Even when we find ourselves in a familiar place (a pool hall or a couple’s living room) the characters we meet are captivating and original (without being caricatures… okay, without being complete caricatures). Read the rest of this entry »
Kellan Alexander, Cody Dove, Chelsea Devantez, Hans Holsen/Photo: Clayton Hauck
For years, if you’d ask the average Chicagoan to name the best place to see improv, they’d answer Second City. The problem was, Second City did not produce improv shows; sketch comedy is their thing. So with the UP Comedy Club, their new upstairs venue with a focus on stand-up, they’ve added a regular Monday night improv show in a sort of “if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em” move.
Acclaimed comedy director Mick Napier has crafted a tightly rendered introduction to the basics of improv, broad enough to appeal to the tourist set, with bits and sketches built around audience suggestions and a recurring run of ” freeze tag,” a common improv game. Read the rest of this entry »
In a remount of their well-received 2011 improv format, Playground Theater ensemble member K.C. Redheart once again takes the audience through “the entire process of bringing a show to the stage,” breaking the action into three parts: the initial table read, a tech rehearsal and opening night. Working from an audience suggestion of the title of a show that has never been written or produced, the troupe (all sporting blank paper “scripts”) kicks off sitting in a semi-circle with the “director” welcoming his “cast” and letting them introduce themselves. Read the rest of this entry »
If alcohol did not exist, sketch comedy would have to invent it. I arrived at this brilliant insight sitting alone at a cabaret table on a Sunday afternoon watching the charming duo of “Gretchen and Regina” deliver a set of clever, funny songs about romance and heartbreak to a roomful of Sketchfest patrons swigging PBR Tallboys. (Three dollars at the lobby bar and from hawkers standing on coolers amidst the crowd lining up for the next show. The festival’s organizers are clearly a mile ahead of me in the revelation department.) It didn’t help my increasingly parched brain that Hillary Williams—apparently there is neither a Gretchen nor a Regina—systematically drained one cocktail after another between songs as part of her act. If Hillary’s character is “the drunk,” her partner, Emily Claiborne, is the guitar-strumming boyish “lesbian,” which informs their dialogue more than their songs, I recall. Though their casual banter sometimes seems a bit clunky, they’re actually quite endearing, as are their folky songs. I bet they’re even funnier if you’re drinking along. Read the rest of this entry »
The lightheartedly ominous backdrop (the Chicago skyline with a colorful storm bearing down on it) of the Second City’s thirty-fifth revue on the e.t.c. stage nicely sets up the theme of impending disaster that runs through this series of sketches and songs. Whether it’s a zombie apocalypse, an unexpected pregnancy or a couple arguing after getting kicked out of Wrigley Field, it seems the world is always on the brink of falling apart. But the energetic cast (made up of e.t.c. veterans Tim Baltz, Brendan Jennings and Mary Sohn along with newcomers Aidy Bryant, Jessica Joy and Michael Lehrer) handle it all with big smiles and the occasional shot of quirky emotional depth. The lightning-fast “pop quiz” bits that open each act are engaging and demand that the audience “pay attention” but, although the first act is strong and takes a number of risks that pay off, the show loses some of its momentum after the intermission and never quite gets it back. (Zach Freeman)
At SecondCity e.t.c. in Piper’s Alley, 1608 North Wells, (312)337-3992. Tue-Thu/8pm, Fri-Sat/8pm & 11pm, Sun/7p. $22-$27. Open run.
If you enjoy the loose vibe at Second City shows—the cocktail-lounge atmosphere, the audience-performer interaction—then you might just love the shows being produced in a Pilsen backyard by the Southside Ignoramus Quartet (SIQ) on June 25, July 9 and July 16. SIQ offers all the trappings of a great North Side show—special guest comedians, improv sets based on audience suggestion and sketch comedy—from the backyard of the South Side, in the comfort of a fully equipped and air-conditioned tent.
Founder David Pintor, a Pilsen native, discovered at the Second City Conservatory that South Side humor “didn’t always fit in with what you see with groups on the North Side.” His fellow students were often unsure how to react to characters drawn from the people of his neighborhood. In response, Pintor says, “I started training people and started my own group here.” Inspired by his father’s stories of traveling theaters in Mexico, he scraped together the money for a tent and equipment, he and his father built the stage and SIQ saw its first performance in June 2010. Read the rest of this entry »
Paul Barrosse always intended to return to Chicago, the place where he made a name for himself in the 1980s creating improv comedy revues while helping found the Practical Theatre Co. When the group—which for a time in the early part of the decade rivaled Second City as members like Brad Hall, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Barrosse himself all landed gigs on “Saturday Night Live”—closed its last show in 1989, its members were scattering across the country with other career obligations. Still, Barrosse knew it was just a matter of time before he found himself back on Chicago stage.
Turns out, it would be twenty-two years.
“It’s like anything, we always intended to do it, there just comes a time where you turn around and go, ‘Oh my God, it’s been twenty years,’” he says.
Barrosse, along with his wife and fellow Practical Theatre alum Victoria Zielinski, is returning to Chicago for the first time since leaving for Los Angeles in 1990 with “The Vic and Paul Show.” It’s essentially a return to their Practical Theatre manic oddball roots, but is now mixed with the experience and worldview of adulthood. Read the rest of this entry »
Timothy Edward Mason, Tim Robinson, Sam Richardson, Edgar Blackmon/Photo: Michael Brosilow
“God works in mischievous ways” seems to be the subtext of an ambitious attempt to take the sketch-comedy-revue format beyond its traditional contours in the ninety-ninth mainstage show at the Second City. This ensemble, along with director Billy Bungeroth, has created a through line in the sketches, something about the inevitability of fate and the intertwined blend of heaven and dreams, of divinity and subconscious. While the ambition is compelling, the outcome is a few too many flat, over-long sketches with messages that border on maudlin, like the mother who counsels her son on bullying or the bit where a dead man reunites in heaven with a dead son. And short bits riffing on Jay Cutler and Brett Favre seem especially disconnected from the larger premise, not to mention out of season. More effective is the sense of fractured chaos rendered by “God,” i.e. the control booth, in seemingly random bursts of explosive sounds, “technical difficulties” and spotlights that intentionally miss their mark. It’s unsettling in an intriguing way, a sensation underlined in a few strong sketches that seem as much performance art as comedy. In one, a typical Second City premise—a swooning couple enters a horse-drawn carriage—devolves into a sadistic display of man-versus-animal brutality with a bizarre ending that tweaks the idea of fate’s inevitability. A sketch exploring the contemporary place of privacy in our culture, inspired by the TSA’s new full-body x-rays, is as fascinatingly disturbing as it is funny. Read the rest of this entry »