kat kuehl | second city | april 2015
What do Gilda Radner, Mike Myers, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey and John Candy all have in common? Besides hilarious wit and legendary comedy careers, they're all alumni of The Second City, the famed and prolific comedy theatre based in Chicago. The troupe's touring company is bringing their show, “The Best of The Second City," to the Weidner Center on April 16.
The Second City is, without a doubt, one of the most influential comedy theatres, and “The Best of The Second City" will celebrate some of the best sketches from the troupe's 52-year history. Cast member Jasbir Singh shares, “The show is a mixture of sketch comedy, like what you see on Saturday Night Live, with improvisation. You know, things that are made up right on the spot."
While the show places a focus on highlighting great moments and skits from The Second City's history, audience members don't need to worry about repetitive or tired material. “Absolutely, no show is the same," continues Singh. “We will do the archived Second City sketches, but we've modernized a lot of them. Some of the sketches are from the early sixties, so we've had to modernize it to include technology and stuff like that." The heavy improvisation also guarantees that no show is ever the same. “Every time you improvise, it's the first and last time that will ever happen," says Singh.
Audience members shouldn't plan to sit idly in their seats and just watch the show happen, either. “We definitely interact and connect with the audience," states Singh. This can include everything from bringing volunteers up on stage to asking for suggestions for scenes. One of Singh's favorite examples is when cast members find a couple in the audience. “We ask them to tell us about their first date, and then we improvise a scene about it," he says, “that's always really fun for everybody, because it's usually really inaccurate." The show also consists of other improvised scenes and short form improvisational games.
As mentioned, “The Best of The Second City" pays tribute to the legendary history of the renowned comedy theatre, and, undoubtedly, there is plenty of material to work with. The Second City was founded in 1959 by a group of students at the University of Chicago, who called themselves the Compass Players. “They wanted to see if they could do an improvised play," explains Singh. “The play they improvised ended up being very comedic. So, they ended up doing improv comedy and founded The Second City. Eventually it ended up becoming a theatre and a school."
Perhaps the Compass Players couldn't have foreseen the huge comedy force The Second City would become, turning out the most impressive comedic talents in our nation's history. Producing big names like John Belushi, Bill Murray and Steve Carell, much of The Second City's attention is usually focused on the famous and accomplished alumni. Those can either be incredibly exciting or incredibly intimidating shoes to fill. “It's very different for each performer," shares Singh, “for me, personally, I still can't believe I'm doing this." Singh believes that it's a thrilling and humbling experience to follow in the footsteps of comedic legends. “The thing is, a lot of us were Second City fans before we were ever hired," he continues. “So, to be able to do a scene that Tina Fey wrote, it's such a cool thing to know that you're doing that."
It's no secret that The Second City offers unmatched exposure for its actors, but they also provide plenty of opportunities for artistic and creative growth. “We get a chance to write and present our own stuff, and Second City will have our backs and let us try it out at least," Singh explains. “That's a very exciting thing, to be able to create art there." The Second City also offers numerous improv programs and classes, which is actually how Singh found his way to performing professionally with the troupe.
Singh, who was raised in Sheboygan, notes that he wasn't always a performer. “I was kind of a class clown," he shares, “I always really loved comedy, but never really thought about how much I loved it until it was consuming my life." Following graduation from UW Madison with a degree in graphic design, Singh made the move to Chicago. “I wanted to try to take some Second City classes to see if maybe I was funny enough," he says. “I had to take beginner classes, because I never did acting or improv before. I took their yearlong program, which has a bunch of different levels." Following the program, participants can enroll in a conservatory program for another year. “In the conservatory program, they really dig in and teach you how a Second City show works, and how to create a Second City style show," shares Singh, “At the end, you do a show with your classmates. I also took writing and acting classes through Second City."
Singh started to perform shows with The Second City through their House Company, which acts as a training center for people who graduated from the conservatory program. “Eventually, I was hired as an understudy for the touring company, and after that I was hired full time to be on the touring cast."
The touring troupe for “The Best of The Second City" features six cast members, three men and three women. While all of them share a passion for performing and improvisation, they also come from varying experiences and parts of the country. “I was never really into plays and stuff in high school," shares Singh, “but a lot of cast mates are theatre majors. All of us come from really different backgrounds."
Despite the varying backgrounds, touring leaves plenty of time for bonding, bringing the troupe all across the country. “It's a really cool experience, because you get to see how enormous our country is. Sometimes it feels like you're in different countries within the United States," Singh says.
Being a Wisconsin native, Singh was excited when he learned the troupe would be visiting Green Bay. “We have cast mates from all over the country," he continues, “so, when I saw Wisconsin come on the touring schedule, I was like, 'Yes, finally!'" Being that Sheboygan is just a stone's throw away, Singh has visited Green Bay plenty of times before and is looking forward to coming back and performing. “One of my best childhood friends lives in Green Bay now. I was just there this Christmas, and it's just always really great to go back home."
Even though the extensive traveling is a blast, Singh's favorite part of being on tour is the opportunity to share comedy with a huge variety of audiences. “You get to experience doing shows in front of all different types of audiences. Everything from differing ages to political views," he says. “That's one of the more rewarding parts, being able to perform our Second City style improv comedy and share it with people that are all very different from each other."
With The Second City's reputation for nurturing unmatched comedic talent, it's guaranteed that “The Best of The Second City" at the Weidner Center will make for a hilarious and entertaining evening. Singh says it best when he shares, “Our cast is really unique and talented. In general, the show is really interactive and just a lot of fun."
“The Best of The Second City" will visit the Weidner Center on Thursday, April 16 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $38.50 and can be purchased online at ticketstaronline.com or by calling 800-895-0071.
Kat is a freelance writer living in the Appleton area. She received her B.A. in Communication with a minor in Journalism from UW-Milwaukee and spends her days crafting content for local publications, national websites and area businesses. When she's not behind her computer screen, she enjoys reading, babying her rescued terrier mutt and being a chronic blanket hog. Check out more of her work at www.burst-communications.com or follow her on Twitter at @kat_kuehl.