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True Talk Comedy: Going Underground With 'The Second City'

Casey James Dunn |
December 6, 2014 | 8:16 p.m. PST

Staff Writer

The Second City Theatre on Hollywood Blvd. (Casey Dunn/Neon Tommy)
The Second City Theatre on Hollywood Blvd. (Casey Dunn/Neon Tommy)

Hello and welcome to True Talk Comedy. I, Casey Dunn, would like to welcome you to this Neon Tommy exclusive. Comedy is one of the fastest growing pieces of the Los Angeles entertainment scene. New clubs are popping up all over the place, making it hard to differentiate exactly what makes each individual club unique. How is Groundlings any different from Upright Citizens Brigade or Laugh Factory? Which ones are great for a date versus a family outing? Or even, how does someone get up on those stages and perform?

True Talk Comedy aims to provide a brief, but intensive, breakdown of how each theatre stacks up in regards to the quality of its performers and material, as well as what sets it apart from the rest. And unlike “Whose Line is it Anyway,” the points do matter.

An Introduction.

Second City does a terrific job of bringing their own flavor of comedy to each and every show, using the improv-to-sketch formula to bring outstanding laughs along with heartfelt moments. Founded by Bernard Sahlins, Paul Sills and Howard Alk, Second City controls the stage with grace, always providing laughs while giving unique and relevant performances.

Originating in the comedy mecca of Chicago, Second City has been around for over fifty years (founded in December of 1959) and has now expanded to Toronto and L.A. Speaking with Artistic Director Joshua Funk about his experiences with Second City gives a lot of insight into how each show is constructed and the grueling training that each actor must go through to perform. There are several stages of education with Second City and only the best find their way to the top, providing for some exceptional work to be seen. With alumni such as Chris Farley, John Belushi, Stephen Colbert, and Mike Myers, it is not hard to see why this comedy club has been so successful. Without any further ado let’s add up some points.

The Breakdown.

Performers: 4

Actors go through a rigorous education program before stepping onto the stage of a Second City theatre. Molding performers into actors who are comfortable with Second City’s style and then creating some exceptional performances; currently including “Undateable,” and “Ithamar Has Nothing to Say.”

Some notable Second City alumni. (@TheSecondCity/Twitter)
Some notable Second City alumni. (@TheSecondCity/Twitter)
These two shows are some of the strongest comedic productions going on in L.A. at the moment, with “Undateable” currently celebrating its one year anniversary with performances every Friday; a wonderful show with an outstanding ensemble that flows incredibly well together. “Ithamar Has Nothing to Say” is also phenomenal in its own way, a deliciously beautiful and daring piece of art... or theatre, whatever you may want to call it. Taking its style from Charlie Chaplin and early 20th century vaudeville, “Ithamar Has Nothing to Say” goes beyond what was once possible in the early 20th century and explodes into the modern era. A show that transcends one century and gracefully ignores the misconception that comedy can not have heart or dramatic passion. It is impossible to say enough about this show, but an immediate standing ovation by the whole audience certainly speaks to how great it truly is. Like all theatre, these shows will not be around forever, so everyone should take advantage of them while they last.

SEE ALSO: Social Experiment or Comedy? The Second City's 'Undateable'

Second City takes a lot of risks when it comes to content and style which unfortunately sometimes causes for the acting to feel a bit forced. Rather than playing the characters honestly, at times it seems more important to play for jokes. In these situations, stock characters are seen instead of fully fleshed out characters. This was most noticeable in “Miley Montana The Musical,” where some jokes that could have flourished were ruined when the actors felt distanced from the role, alienating the audience and the production.

Comedic Ideas and General Themes: 5

Second City soars when it comes to the eclectic and passionate shows that are produced. Every show has thematic elements that are only heightened by the rich comedy. Second City plays with expectations and gives shows that both shock and excite. “President Hillary” presents a raunchy and insane image of what the first day might look like for Hillary Clinton if she won the 2016 presidential election. With outlandish events and characters, “President Hillary” gives great insights into different presidential experiences and duties; Molly Erdman also gives a terrific performance as Hillary Clinton. “Yes Weed Can,” a show about legalizing marijuana presents some historically accurate accounts of the circumstances that made marijuana illegal. Absurd characters allow for comedy, while also struggling with love and ambition. The other great aspect of Second City is the consistency at which they produce shows that are socially and politically relevant. Never straying from shows due to fears of public reaction, anything is possible and no one is safe.

Originality and Creativity: 4

Second City sticks predominantly to their sketch to improv process with regards to their weekly shows. These productions contain infinite creative outlets, though there is a specific method to this chaos. Improv to sketch begins with a thirty minute improv segment where several actors perform while a director takes note of what they like. The director and actors then workshop those ideas until a few of them are solidified. Those ideas are further worked, eventually producing a show that is put up on stage. Improv to sketch gives a texture of spontaneity to the performance. Second City Artistic Director Joshua Funk explains, "We [Second City] teach how to use improv as a writing tool,” giving an example of the process. An example of a writing concept describes a couple who needs a loan so they go to a bank where they meet a crazy banker. This small concept is then fished out into a muriad of different possibilities. Improv to sketch gives way to a large variety of shows, from “Miley Montana The Musical” to a demented “Wizard of Oz,” in “Twistered.” There is also, “The Really Awesome Improv Show,” an enjoyable, family friendly show that takes place every Saturday at noon. The improv is rather good, with a lot of short form games that keep the pacing quick and to the point.

Final Thoughts.

Second City does an extraordinary job of providing shows for all ages, keeping the nightly shows edgy and more adult while still having daytime shows for the kids. Second City really succeeds in presenting shows that are more than cheap laughs. Each show has individuality, while also being refined. With run times averaging an hour, the shows have a lot of laughs in a confined amount of time. Second City should be on everyone’s mind when looking for a night out. Plus, the shows are between five and fifteen dollars, making it a pretty inexpensive night out for high quality performances.

Total Score: 13

A well-produced theatre full of interesting shows, Second City has been part of the comedy world for a long time and will not be going anywhere anytime soon. Out of a total possible score of 15 points, Second City exits with a combined score of 13 points, earning the ranking of “Breathtakingly Fun.”

On a side note, for any fans of the indie band Park: A Rock Band, when asked, Joshua Funk let out a hearty laugh and then thrashed any hope in the near future of a fourth album. Sorry.

HOW IT COMPARES: True Talk Comedy: Under Cover With 'Upright Citizens Brigade'

Comedy is a dialogue and if you would like to join the conversation please email Casey James Dunn about shows you've seen or comedy clubs you think True Talk Comedy should review next.

The Second City Theatre (6560 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles) Tickets are $5-$15. For more information please visit SecondCity.com

For more Theater & Dance coverage click here.



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