As The Second City alum Tina Fey mentions in her autobiography Bossypants, "improv will not significantly reduce belly fat."
Laughing, however, is a great ab work out. And luckily for audiences there is no shortage of laughter during The Second City’s “Laughing Matters” tour, which I happily saw at the Montalvo Arts Center on Saturday night. Full of wit, mischief, relationship humor and meditations on the future, The Second City show was a true comic treat showcasing some of the best of The Second City’s scripted skits and lots of improvisation.
At any The Second City show, one can rest assured that they are watching the cream of the comic crop. Started as a small comedy theater in Old Town Chicago in 1959, Second City grew because of its reputation for continually nurturing and showcasing the most talented comic voices of its generation (see alumni list which includes Amy Poehler, Dan Akykroyd, John Belushi, Bill Murray, Joan Rivers, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert and formerly mentioned Tina Fey. To name a few.) Nowadays, The Second City has venues in Toronto, touring ensembles throughout the United States and world, and the largest training center for improvisation and acting in the country. It is a truly remarkable and laugh out loud funny operation.
So on Saturday night, as I took a seat amongst a sold out audience in the Montalvo’s Carriage House Theater, it came as no surprise that the chatter around was only complementary. People who had come last year and loved it, people who had bought their tickets three months ahead of time, people waiting in anticipation for the show to start.
When the five performers jumped into their performance, a mix of rehearsed skits, improv games, and a few funny songs, they played off each other with wonderful ease. The cast was well rounded. There were two girls, a feisty redhead and a wry brunette, who was often cast as a dog. The three boy players were all funny of the gangly geeky variety. Together or individual, whether singing a song about being a positive man as his dog, wife, and job are taken away, or acting as an interviewee whose worst quality is interrupting, whether performing a skit about an Applebee’s wedding proposal or improving scenes with one another, each The Second City cast member used his or her individual skills to collectively propel scenes.
Skit topics focused on relationships of all sorts, be it two people sitting next to each other on a plane ride, or a well-intentioned stepfather attempting to bond with his stepchildren. Particularly fun were skits that departed slightly from reality. These skits included a researcher of an amnesia experiment whose subjects were shocked until they figured out their true-life situations. Another was an adorably good-natured skit about airport security that began as two players repeatedly caused the safety meter to beep, and ended with the whole crew dancing to a song made out of safety meter beeps.
Speaking of beep noises, I would like to mention the piano guy, who rarely gets credit and adds so much to these scenes. Hunched over his keyboard, in the back corner of the stage, he played throughout the whole performance adding sound, texture and color to the skits both improved and rehearsed.
Yet amidst all silliness one of the most memorable pieces of the night was a more bittersweet number, a song a mother sings about her fears for a world where children won’t know the smell of books, amongst other things. Skits such as this one showcase the fact that underneath its humor, The Second City has a soul. A thoughtful, sarcastic, slightly hyperactive and very bawdy soul.
The Second City tagline for “Laughing Matters” is this:
“In this time of economic uncertainty, political gridlock, and reality TV run amok, laughter has never mattered more. The Second City...is here to bring some much-needed silliness to a world in serious need of comic relief.”
In this mission they succeeded and their jokes, if once in a while a tad negative, rarely fall flat. By the end of the performance it was clear why The Second City comedy troupe is internationally renown. Could it have been better? Perhaps. Perhaps if Tina Fey had guest starred.
For more information about The Second City visit: http://www.secondcity.com/
For more information about upcoming concerts and events at the Montalvo Arts Center visit: http://montalvoarts.org/performance/ or visit at:
15400 Montalvo Rd Saratoga, CA 95071
Phone: (408) 961-5800