Second City comedy troupe presenting 'best of' retrospective at The Ark
After 52 years, the Second City sketch comedy troupe has a rich vein of comedy gold to mine.
And they’re definitely drawing on that treasure trove on their current tour, “The Second City: Laughing Matters,” which is an anthology of sorts: The troupe is performing some of the best sketches, songs, and improvisations from its history.
And, they’ve pulled together a special ensemble for the tour. This cast “is an assembly of veteran performers and newer faces, all of whom are usually unavailable for long-term road commitments, but who we put together for specific road dates throughout the year,” says stage manager Joe Ruffner.
“The Second City: Laughing Matters,”comes to The Ark for two nights, on Friday and Saturday.
For those who might not be familiar with the details of Second City’s history, it formed in Chicago in 1959, and its humor was more experimental and improvisational than most of what was happening in the comedy mainstream at the time.Before long, Second City also had a sister theater in Toronto, and Second City had become the comedy troupe to join. It has spawned a few generations of big-name comics and writers who went on to become stars on “Saturday Night Live” and “SCTV,” Second City’s sketch-comedy TV series—folks like John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Dan Aykroyd, Catherine O’Hara, John Candy, Mike Myers, Tina Fey, Martin Short, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin and Rick Moranis.
Other famous Second City alums who went on to successful careers as stand-up comics or comic actors over the years have included Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Alan Arkin, Robert Klein, David Steinberg and Fred Willard.
And the Second City theaters in Chicago, Toronto and Los Angeles have continued to produce top-notch, without-a-net comedy, both at their home theaters and on the road. The aspect of their performances that is the most exciting is the improvisation: Each show, in addition to including scripted sketches, also includes a few slots for improvisation, and the improvs are based on scenarios that the actors solicit from the audience.
And even the scripted sketches have pre-arranged “open” sections that allow the actors to delve into some improv before returning to the script.
One of the actor-writers participating in “Laughing Matters” is Neal Dandade, 28, a resident at Second City’s Chicago-based troupe. A native of El Paso, Texas who was born to Indian-immigrant parents, Dandade has lived in Chicago for 10 years, and has a master's degree in screenwriting in addition to his acting training.
In addition to Dandade, the cast for this tour includes Jimmy Carlson, Punam Patel, Dana Quercioli and John Thibodeaux. Jessica Mitolo is the director, T.J. Shanoff is musical director, and Ruffner will be on hand as stage manager.
“Some of the sketches we’ll be performing were written and / or performed 10 or 15 years ago in Chicago, by people like Colbert, Fey, Rachel Dratch and Carell,” says the high-energy Dandade.
But even though some of the sketches date back that far, the troupe wants to be current, so they’ve updated the classic bits with more contemporary references to modern-day politicians, artists and current affairs. And, of course, they’ll also be performing more recently written bits.
Political and social issues have always been one of the targets of Second City’s comedy—as have social relationships. So, now that we’re in the home stretch of the presidential campaign, expect a lot of political humor at the Ark show.
“We try not to exclude anyone, though,” says Dandade. “We don’t try to target either party more than the other. And, since we do so much improvisation—which is based on audience suggestions—the political issues we riff on depend on what the audiences toss out. So, if someone in Ann Arbor suggests a topic they’d like to see us improvise on, we’ll do it. The audience really does dictate the tone of much of the show.”
Put another way, since Ann Arbor is a more progressive-minded city, with a more progressive-minded population, you’re likely to hear more jokes skewering Mitt Romney and the Republicans at The Ark shows than bits that lampoon Barack Obama and the Dems: All you have to do is ask.