(l to r) Alex Goodrich, Dara Cameron, Renee Matthews, Tim Kazurinsky/Photo: Dan Rest
Talk about high-concept. If you can’t gather what this show is about based on the title… what kind of a dumb schmuck are you? Based on the popular website OldJewsTellingJokes.com (guess what’s on the website), the original production of “Old Jews Telling Jokes” just closed in the middle of last month after running for almost a year and a half Off-Broadway before opening in Chicago at the Royal George Theatre with plans to run through mid-February of next year. And this goyim loves it.
Though the concept and presentation are blatantly Jewish (even the program looks like a deli menu while the logo is a monstrous pastrami sandwich with a gherkin perched on top of it) the main conceit here is just to throw out as many jokes as possible (along with a few song-and-dance numbers and some brief monologues) and keep the laughs coming. Stripped down, this show really isn’t much more than a long series of jokes: puns, one-liners, anecdotes and stories. Read the rest of this entry »
Brianna Baker and Shad Kunkle/Photo by Samual Roberson
As a sketch toward the end of this gentle send-up of Chicago makes clear (with a self-referential punchline), Second City has been making audiences laugh (and casting directors take note) since 1959. And “What the Tour Guide Didn’t Tell You” is not so much a standalone revue as it is a “best-of” collection of sketches about Chicago from the last five decades or so of revues—which means they have a lot of material to choose from.
References are made to both the current and previous mayors (the former gets some quick sketches while the latter gets an entire song), potholes on Lake Shore Drive, Wrigleyville, da Bears and da Bean, among other Chicago notables. Still, the focus is always more on comedy than Chicago and even non-Chicagoans should have no trouble following along with the cracks and one-liners. They might even learn a thing or two about Chicago that the tour guide may, in fact, have neglected to mention; the out-of-towners I went with asked me afterward, “So, Lincoln Park is a snooty neighborhood?” Point made, Second City. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Todd Rosenberg
There is a sketch early on in the second act of “A Clown Car Named Desire” that starts out seeming like your standard hipster-mocking (and let’s be honest, who doesn’t enjoy a good hipster-mocking?), but then it ever-so-slowly and subtly morphs into what has to be one of the funniest sketches the e.t.c. stage has hosted in its illustrious history (“Clown Car” marks the stage’s thirty-seventh revue).
It takes place in an American Apparel, where two employees (Mike Kosinski and Brooke Breit) indifferently greet a customer (Chris Witaske) only to discover that he also works at American Apparel. The trio then begin an epic marathon of idle one-upmanship and “top that,” while languidly pacing the stage, attempting to look unimpressed with each other and using as little energy as possible to speak (Breit declares her hate for a four-legged adversary in one breath: “ifuckenhatethatgoat”). At one point Witaske, sporting a fanny pack and colorful tights, declares “I’m exactly where I want to be for a thirty-five-year old man.” And we believe it. Both for Witaske and for his character. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Todd Rosenberg
The pre-show music for Lyric Opera shows don’t typically include selections from Deltron 3030. And you can’t usually order mixed drinks with clever names like The Boozy Baritone or The Icy Maestro from the comfort of your seat (on the stage). And, most notably, it’s certainly not common practice for an usher to say, “Welcome to Second City” as you walk down the aisles of the expansive Civic Opera House to find your seat.
That’s because this isn’t a Lyric Opera show. Not exactly. It’s “The Second City Guide to the Opera,” a month-long run of an opera-themed Second City revue based on the sold-out one-night show of the same name that played the Civic Opera House in January, announcing the unlikely pairing of two very different Chicago stalwarts: the Lyric Opera of Chicago and Second City. And though this reincarnation doesn’t feature special celebrity guest artists Patrick Stewart and Renée Fleming, it’s still a unique experience. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »