Category: Piper's Alley
A Clown Car Named Desire
By Brooke Breit, Punam Patel, Mike Kosinski,
Who Do We Think We Are?
By Mary Sohn, Katie Rich, Edgar Blackmon,
Spoiler Alert: It’s Good.
|Second City presents|
|Spoiler Alert: Everybody Dies|
|directed by Matt Hovde
at Second City, 1616 N. Wells (map)
through October 31st | tickets: $22-$27 | more info
reviewed by Keith Ecker
When I see a Second City revue, I watch it through two different lenses.
The first is the comedian. I’m a former Second City student, and I’ve done my share of stand-up, sketch and improv comedy around the city. So I can see the gears in motion as the actors are on stage. I know what reads as hokey, and I can spot a pot shot. But I can also identify what improv guru Del Close termed “truth in comedy,” that is the genuineness behind the joke.
The other filter is the audience member. There’s nothing less funny than deconstructing a joke, so I have to allow myself to sit back, pull the stick from out of my butt and enjoy the show. Besides, Second City gets a wide spectrum of attendees, from talent scouts looking for the next star to Schaumburgers.
Too hokey and you’ll trip my comedian sensor. Too self-aware and you’ll trip my audience sensor. Fortunately, Spoiler Alert: Everybody Dies strikes a near perfect harmony.
At the show’s opening, a red button sits on stage. A push from a brave audience member gets things going. We witness a human machine and are told through voice over that at the end of the show everybody dies. What ensues is a well-staged and masterfully executed montage of brief scenes depicting actions and consequences that result in various people’s deaths.
We then go into sketch mode. It’s a father/son scene. The son (the expressive Tim Robinson) is getting cold feet at his wedding. His dad (Tim Mason) attempts to convince him of the wonders of marriage, specifically the benefit of being able to use your wife’s brain to remember things you can’t. The sketch relies a little too much on stereotypical representations of Neanderthal men, but it has its moments.
Next there’s an ensemble song about people who skim the news, illustrating that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Later, there’s a cute bit about a matching sweatpants-wearing couple (Robinson and Shelly Gossman) who are an embarrassment to their Michael Jackson-loving daughter (Emily Wilson).
The best sketch of the bunch is a bit where one employee (Robinson) hems and haws when breaking the bad news that his co-worker (Gossman) is being laid off. The sketch works because it’s simple—just two talking heads—that are sharing a real genuine connection. Also, Robinson’s antics and inflections are so hilarious that he even cracks himself up.
Second City sketch revues by their nature must be fast-paced. The moment the energy drops in the room, you risk losing your audience. Director Matt Hovde manages to keep the show flowing even in scenes that stew a bit more, such as the heavier sketch about a woman (Grossman) who comes to terms with being an asshole after berating a man (Mason) who just lost his son.
The ensemble works well together, and there certainly are some standouts. It’s no surprise that Gossman was recently tapped to head East and write for “Saturday Night Live”. I wouldn’t be surprised if Robinson is on deck.
The one major criticism I have for the show is its antiquated reliance on racial jokes. Nearly every sketch with Edgar Blackmon (who was filling in for cast regular Sam Richardson) relied in part on the fact that he is black. True, nobody is colorblind when it comes to race. It’s an important and unavoidable element of our society. But when you beat it into the ground with every sketch with a black actor, you start feeling a bit uneasy—especially when the audience is almost entirely white.
Overall, whether you come from the entertainment industry or from Indiana, you’ll walk away laughing from Spoiler Alert.
|The Second City e.t.c. presents|
|The Absolute Best Friggin’ Time of Your Life|
|Directed by Bill Bungeroth
Musical direction by Jesse Case
The Second City e.t.c., Piper’s Alley, 1608 N. Wells (map)
Open run | Tickets: $22–$27 | more info
Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes
Second City e.t.c.’s new revue, The Absolute Best Friggin’ Time of Your Life, may not exactly live up to its boastful title, but it’s probably among the funniest times you can have for the price.
Like all such sketch-comedy shows, this one has its upsides and downsides, but when it works, it really clicks, and it works more often than not.
Much more musical than many Second City shows, Friggin’ offers some especially funny songs, delivered by a terrific cast who knows how to use their voices, backed by capable music director Jesse Case.
Beginning with a musical tribute to the "Good Old Days," the running joke of the revue, is a look back to the supposedly better days of the past — which seem to be the late 1990s, though few actual historical events are mentioned beyond general references to full employment, budget surpluses and no wars. That gives them ample scope to skewer the present, however. Christina Anthony, Beth Melewski and Mary Sohn, clad in stretch pants showing ample curves, take on the country’s idiotic "war on obesity" with a defiant song and dance on the joys of being "Rubenesque" that had nearly every woman in the audience cheering. Tom Flanigan is sidesplitting as a scat singer crooning to a group of dull-witted Tea Partiers. And Tim Baltz dramatically captures the all-encompassing and irrational rage of Obama haters in an office sketch.
Very little effort has gone into making this comedy politically balanced — the few digs at Dems are far outweighed by the arrows aimed at the increasingly easy targets of the right wing. I’m not sure this show would play so well in outside a liberal stronghold, but the Chicago audience ate it up. (Has any previous sitting administration ever been so lightly treated by comedians because their opponents made so much more compelling butts?)
A few skits don’t deliver, such as one in which Flanigan and Anthony play a race-reversed doctor and nurse — beyond the initial surprise when you realize the white guy is playing a black man, there’s not much there.
The evening culminates with an overlong skit in which Brendan Jennings, wonderfully expressive throughout, time travels to his high-school prom with an audience volunteer. Jennings carries it off impressively, but the jokes don’t match the premise of a nerd who regrets having skipped the dance in the first place, and I imagine much depends on how well the volunteer plays up.
Overall, though, Director Bill Bungeroth has given us a fast-paced and hilarious look at those times that, for many of us, have been the worst of our lives.