Steven Lyons/Photo: Tiela Halpin Photography
Chicago, as you may be aware, is the center of the universe when it comes to improvised sketch comedy. Stages are filled nightly by young comedians who are trying really hard to break into the upper echelons of the comedy field. Sadly, for the cast of “Antic’s Roadshow with Devon Myers,” trying really hard isn’t enough to make a performance worth watching.
The premise of the partly scripted performance is that an aging D-list celebrity, Devon Myers (Steven Lyons), has been tapped to host a PBS-like program conceived by Preston Antic (Scott Allen Curry). The program resembles what “Antiques Roadshow” would be like were it held on the Island of Misfit Toys. The show’s focus is primarily on the appraisers, rather than the items brought in by the studio audience. Each performer introduces themselves in a pre-written song which details exactly how messed up they are. Read the rest of this entry »
Lisa Beasley, Tim Ryder, Carisa Barreca, Rashawn Nadine Scott, Eddie Mujica and Scott Morehead/Photo: Todd Rosenberg
Satire works best when it has enough of a bite that even those laughing can feel the teeth marks. Too gentle and the jokes just feel safe and congratulatory for those in agreement, but too much and it’s hard to keep laughing. This narrow playing space is what keeps a lot of sketch stuck in the relative safety of an inoffensive nonsense land (where, to be fair, some of the funniest concepts and characters live and flourish—not everything needs to have a point). Still, Chicago audiences are lucky that the cast members of “Soul Brother, Where Art Thou?”—a slow build of a revue that starts out a bit flat and rises to some impressive peaks—know exactly when and how to push things for the sake of comedy serving as a message delivery system.
To be clear, “Soul Brother” nails some easy targets (and nails them well): the NFL’s record (or lack thereof) of supporting their players, Scientology, the George Lucas museum. But it also delves into much headier territory with equally funny aplomb: remembering 9/11, the dark underbelly of the sex trade, words white people can say that black people can’t, laws based on religious beliefs. And, surprisingly, there’s even a wordless sketch that hits many of the same emotional high-points as the legendary intro to “Up,” delivering more of a gut-punch than a punchline. Across the board, this is very smart, intentional writing. Read the rest of this entry »
Some people, when moved to frenetic laughter, are prone to requiring so much air to replace the air lost due to their audible guffaws that they suck in through their noses, creating a snorting sound that usually does little to stifle their laughter and is often a source of enjoyment to all who surround. Everyone has experienced this. Some lady behind me was snorting during this show, and I laughed, because she was having a great time. It was funny to hear her snort. Unfortunately, this woman’s snorting might have been the high mark of laughter throughout the show.
“AWK Presents… The Yuk Yuk Hour” is a collection of sketches that range in value from intriguing concepts with loads of potential to semi-disastrous recycled drivel. Sometimes, shows are just flat-out terrible and you walk away feeling fine because, hey, you can’t win ‘em all. This show was somehow more frustrating because the concepts had some legs, at times long, toned legs with supple quads and sculpted calves. You root for the sketch to pan out because the concepts are worthy of great writing and acting. The letdown is then perhaps greater when, out of maybe twenty sketches, only three end up providing genuine laughter. Back into your corduroy jeans, svelte gams. Read the rest of this entry »
At the beginning of “DRINK! The Sketch Comedy Drinking Game—Chicago Edition,” the performers set a couple of stringent ground rules: you must drink, no puking (complete with directional info on where you can puke) and don’t be an asshole. These set the tone for a show that is as serious as the disclaimers. Corn Productions isn’t trying to go over your head with much in this show. They may, however, try to go through your liver and into your blood stream (biological process not fact-checked) with an impressive number of scenes that call for a drink per mention of a specific phrase or sound. Full participation in the games could potentially lead to a broken rule, but at no point does the cast allude to disapproval of more boozing. So, follow the rules, or at least puke in one of the designated toilets.
The show starts with an opening song and dance that I can’t remember because, well, I played the fucking game. The first actual sketch is some of the cast’s strongest material with impressions of Jason Sudeikis, Kathy Griffin and Mike Ditka—all of whom are trying to make it onto David Hasselhoff’s “Baywatch—Chicago!” Kallie Rolison’s Kathy Griffin is as on-point as Nifer Honeycutt’s Ditka is utterly ridiculous. No judgement; Ditka pops up a couple times throughout the show, gorging a hot dog drawn from his shorts and expertly hawking his special Ditka wine (“Wine is like a beer made out of grapes”). Read the rest of this entry »
Greg Callozzo, Sam Howard and Mollie Rehner/Photo: Kevin Mullaney
The show’s setup is simple: the Card Czar (director Angie McMahon, also acting as emcee) reads a Cards Against Humanity prompt and if an audience member—all given three response cards upon entering the theater—thinks one of their cards is the best answer to that prompt they hold up their hand and are brought up on stage to read the card to the audience. There are two teams and each team gives a series of scenes based on either (or both) cards. Whichever team gets the most points wins. Fun stuff, right?
The “Comedy Against Humanity” website clearly states that “Audience members who show up drunk or otherwise intoxicated will be refused entry and their tickets will not be refunded.” A valid restriction for a rowdy improv show in Wrigleyville. Who wants belligerent audience members ruining a show? But Friday night the biggest interrupting force was one of the performers. She consistently talked over the emcee, yelled at the audience and even called a “time-out” mid-scene to awkwardly threaten another cast member for a perceived slight. Properly managed, this kind of acting out could potentially enhance the comedy, especially for a show like this, but here it just felt unnecessarily aggressive, with McMahon frequently shouting down spats so the show could move on. Read the rest of this entry »
Danny Catlow, Alison Banowsky, Tim Lamphier, CJ Tuor, Tyler Davis, Ryan Asher
There are a number of well-recognized long-form improvisation structures. A good number of those were developed here in Chicago. When a theater company claims to have created a new style of long-form improv, in the land that gave the world “The Harold,” it is bold, indeed. What could this new style bring to the table that makes it novel and interesting?
Well, “Trigger Happy” puts forth a new style that is based on what director Mick Napier calls “a show that, although completely improvised and funny, still provides for the audience the look and feel of a staged production.” Since an improv show is different each time it is performed, and performers have on and off nights, I cannot really tell you if you’ll see a show of the same caliber as the one that I did on the night I attended (it was good—not side-splittingly funny, but still enjoyable and worth attending). What I can more fairly review is the structure of this new style and whether it appears to have staying power. Read the rest of this entry »
Susan Messing and Mick Napier
“Sorry I’m dressed like an S&M nanny,” Susan Messing announces in her smokily enticing voice as she takes the stage. She’s introducing the weekly improv show in which she and a fellow improviser (the titular “friend”—a new person each week) “fuck around for a while” on a set consisting of a door and two chairs. It’s been running late on Thursday nights for almost a decade now, originally at the old Annoyance space on Broadway and now in their new space on Belmont. And she’s still as fresh and foul-mouthed as ever, tapping into her own darkly funny psyche with a rambling set that gets better the darker and later it goes. Read the rest of this entry »
Beth Melewski and Francis Guinan/Photo: Liz Lauren
It’s not a bad script that renders “Twist Your Dickens, Or Scrooge You!” an unfunny, lackluster mess. It’s a terrible script. Penned by Peter Gwinn and Bobby Mort (Emmy Award winners for their work on “The Colbert Report”), this slapdash comedy show doesn’t know whether it wants to fully commit to skewering the classic Dickens tale or just throw together a slew of vaguely related holiday sketches and hope audiences are in good enough Christmas spirits to laugh at them. The result is a surprisingly awkward evening of almost-comedy.
I say “surprisingly” because this is an exceptionally strong cast of comedians, led—and given gravitas—by Chicago stalwart Francis Guinan (who wouldn’t be out of place playing Scrooge in Goodman’s annual rendition of “A Christmas Carol” in the next theater over). But while the cast mostly throws themselves into the various bits—nineteenth-century commercials! A Dickensian orphan protest! Taylor Swift and Kelly Clarkson?!?—even their engagement with the material flags at times. Director Matt Hovde has not found the rhythm of this piece—if there is one—and it shows in various awkward lulls throughout. Even a nightly celebrity cameo—filled by Rick Bayless the night I saw it—feels shoehorned in and uninspired, leaving the celebrity bookending a brief “Peanuts” sketch by introducing it and then quickly saying goodnight afterwards. Read the rest of this entry »
John Thibodeaux, Lisa Beasley, Scott Morehead, Marlena Rodriguez, Alan Linic, Liz Reuss/Photo:Kirsten Miccoli
There’s an internal tension with the holiday season between what everyone is supposed to feel—joyous, thankful and free—and how everyone actually feels—miserable, stressed-out and massively in debt. Whether it’s binge-eating on seasonally appropriate chocolates, comparing holiday bonuses, fretting about the inevitable failure of New Year’s resolutions or questioning the very theological basis on which the whole “Christmas” thing is conceived, people deal with this tension in different ways. And most of those ways are not very healthy. If there is a thematic backbone to Second City’s “Holidazed and Confused,” these myriad splinterings of the holiday cheer façade is it. (The thematic backbone is distinct from the business-side backbone which is, quite simply: “Holidays + Comedy = $$$.”)
Performed in the intimate app-and-a-nightcap environs of the UP Comedy Club, “Holidazed and Confused” is the standard Second City cocktail of sketch, improv and music. The material is consistent overall even if the quality is not totally homogenous; there are equal parts surprise and obviousness mixed in with a whole lot of solid work. There are jokes about Ebola and Tinder and pumpkin spice lattes and even one about Ferguson (which… yeah) and there are some very charming bits of audience interaction. Which reminds me, if you are planning on giving someone you love a gift card this holiday season, do not tell them that. They will make fun of you. In song. And everyone will laugh. Because it will be very funny. Read the rest of this entry »
Chelsea Devantez, Paul Jurewicz, Emily Walker and Christine Tawfik/Photo: Todd Rosenberg
As the title suggests, the writer/performers of this 103rd Second City Mainstage revue don’t just throw bits together based on recent headlines, they very carefully string them together to highlight the unending stream of media-enhanced panic that most Americans have been subjected to in recent memory. Gun violence, disappearing airplanes, Ebola, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, bullying, hacked cloud storage… the list goes on. And perhaps there is cause for panic when even comedy oases are intentionally reminding you about all the shit that’s going down around you.
Luckily, this collection of sketches, directed by Second City stalwart Ryan Bernier, is calibrated to induce fits of laughter rather than panic attacks. And while there are a few unfortunate misses, the cast spends the majority of this two-hour show delivering hilarious hit after hit, with a few surprisingly emotional moments woven in for good measure. It’s worth noting that though the sketches flow together nicely, each new scene has a different vibe to it and, more so than any Second City revue I can remember, you can begin to pick up on the influences of various cast members (assuming they’re writing the scenes they’re in). Read the rest of this entry »