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 »
Photo: Jane Nicholl Sahlins
By Dennis Polkow
“If Aristophanes were alive today,” says an elderly but still twinkling Bernard Sahlins, “he would be on cable television.” It may a seem a long way from the satirical ancient Greek playwright to the Second City some two-and-a-half millennia later, but Sahlins, a founder of Chicago’s legendary comedy troupe who is directing a production of “Lysistrata” this weekend, puts the timeframe in perspective: “Long before Second City, when I was directing ‘straight’ plays, including the Greek tragedies, Claudia Cassidy [then Chicago Tribune critic] wrote that I had directed the worst production in 2,000 years.” Well, she ought to know.
Sahlins says that he has always been interested in Greek drama, a love that was in part fostered by his time studying the classics at the University of Chicago, where he graduated in 1943. “A University of Chicago education was once described as ‘Casting imaginary pearls before real swine.’ But don’t use that.
“You know, the high point of Greek drama only lasted for about eighty-six years. The period of Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylus and Aristophanes passed quickly and then there was nothing except street theater until the Middle Ages and the development of church plays. The era of the playwright, the individual dramatist, did not emerge again until the Renaissance and the phenomenon of the playwright as we think of it is a fairly modern phenomenon that really fully came about in the nineteenth century.” Read the rest of this entry »
Andy St. Clair, Brad Morris/Photo: Bob Knuth
If the comedy revues at Second City hew to a familiar pattern, it’s for a purpose. I don’t always agree with that purpose, but the theater just reached its fiftieth anniversary, so something’s working. The company’s latest mainstage show may not be its strongest, but it is worth seeing for two reasons: Brad Morris and Andy St. Clair.
“Taming of the Flu” feels especially traditional in its Second Cityness. (Longtime director Mick Napier is at the helm.) This isn’t humor that comes from uncomfortable introspection. The material and its execution is standard stuff. Ultimately it’s up to the cast to differentiate their show from years past and, on that score, Morris and St. Clair do most of the heavy lifting.
I barely noticed Morris three years ago when he joined the mainstage. It can take a little while for performers to figure out where they fit in, and Morris sorted things out by the time he hit the stage in 2008’s “No Country for Old White Men.” Read the rest of this entry »
It’s mostly inaccurate to label Bill Cosby as a “stand-up comedian” anymore. First off, no way in hell is he going to be standing—the 72-year old understandably plops himself into a chair for his shows. Second, Cosby doesn’t fit the traditional mold of stand-up’s set-up/punchline structure—he’s more of a storyteller with humorous tangents and an overtly slurred delivery. (Here’s part of a joke, transcribed verbatim, he told on the “Late Show”: “I remember, 47, uh, two years ago, I swear, they came, they came. We we we we we—our children—we we we want, we want a dogggg.”) That said, even as a temperamental, grumpy old geezer who keeps making controversial comments about socioeconomic issues, Cosby’s still kind of a goofball, certainly capable of inducing fits of laughter, even if it is after dredging up clips of his New Coke ads. (Andy Seifert)
November 14 at Genesee Theatre, 203 N. Genesee, Waukegan, (847)782-2366. $39-$75.