(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 »
A fast-paced, sixty-minute comedy show that mostly follows the late-night talk-show format—but with eccentrically dark edges—”The Late Live Show” has an inspiring air of DIY ingenuity, from the guest couch balanced on bricks to the laptop used as a teleprompter. Along with sidekick Joe McAdam, host Joe Kwaczala (and a team of clever writers, focused audio/video technicians and quick stagehands) delivers a quality hour of comedy in the relatively tight quarters of the Cab theater at Stage 773. Featuring an introductory monologue embedded with jokes about current events, short features like a phony (and hilarious) Facebook feed and a few character pieces, along with a well-amplified musical guest and an interview with a (typically local) person of interest, it’s easy to forget that this isn’t actually a television show (especially with cameras filming from three angles at all times). 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 »
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 »
Photo: Robert Trachtenberg
At some point in Jeff Garlin’s free-wheeling stand-up comedy routine, he announces, “I’m the world’s most comfortable comedian. Not the world’s funniest, which is what you want, but the most comfortable.” That’s about right. Garlin’s show is less “show” (as he makes pains to point out more than once), and more like hanging out with him, at a dinner party or something. He tells stories—vignettes drawn from his life as comedian, TV star and, most significantly, someone with an eating addiction. (He’s also diabetic and new medicine, on opening night, led to spontaneous burps that he managed with reasonable grace.) Most hinge, not on punch lines, but on ironic turns or, often, just in his way of telling, in his timing. He bounces from story to story, as if he’s making it all up as he goes along, starting a tale, getting distracted, telling another and circling back, occasionally consulting a “set list” he’s got stashed behind his plastic jack-o’-lantern filled with water. His stories are not political, or connected to current events at all, and he’s careful not to lean too heavily on his experiences on Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” which is smart, since I imagine most of the audience members, like me, are fans of the HBO show and in doing so he keeps us hungry for more. Read the rest of this entry »
Tom Flanigan, Tim Baltz, Beth Melewski, Brendan Jennings, Christina Anthony, Mary Sohn
If there is one reason to see Second City’s thirty-fourth revue on the e.t.c. stage, his name is Brendan Jennings, one of the newer writer-performers in the cast who makes his presence known with a good-natured mania that is impossible to ignore.
Of the many talents who’ve worked on Second City’s stages in recent years, Jennings seems the most suited for “Saturday Night Live.” Whether that’s in his future is another matter, but Jennings has a lot of qualities that work well on TV. There’s an inherent sweetness to his comedy and, like Will Ferrell, he has enough personal charisma to play it broad—almost too broad—and still keep it interesting.
He doesn’t display much versatility, but he has the loose physicality of a frat-boy party animal, and a real knack for the comedy of humiliation. I will not soon forget his primal scream of rage as he stood dressed in a pair of Daisy Dukes hiked up his butt crack, wailing about his miserable life. Jennings screams like a girl, a trait that is both hilarious and a clever bit of comedy; you are always on his side, no matter how ridiculous and ass-cheek-exposing that side may be. Read the rest of this entry »