I’m second row and center for The Second City. It’s really the best seat in the house, because sitting front row risks getting heckled by the troupe. Before the show starts, the crowd is already pulsing with noise and laughter, eagerly awaiting the comedy stars of tomorrow. I held expectations of seeing something similar to “Saturday Night Live,” a favorite show of mine. Since this performance was actually live for me, I feel no remorse in saying that The Second City blew present-day “SNL” out of the water.
Tina Fey, Steve Carell, Bill Murray, Keegan-Michael Key — these are just a few of the hilarious stars born out of The Second City. Based in Chicago, the comedy troupe has produced original, satirical and comedic pieces for nearly sixty years. This past Friday, the national tour “The Best of The Second City” made a stop here at Ann Arbor’s The Ark, which was recently renovated. Amid the typical musicians and theatrical plays, we finally had a notable comedy revue in Ann Arbor, bringing diversity to the entertainment scene.
Improv is what makes The Second City legendary. The actors can instantly come up with a catchy song in relation to whatever an audience member shouts out, like a dog eating your boyfriend’s plant and having a fight about it (true story). The actors can flip between two separate scenes, from a horror porn movie with a boob-sucking dracula to two astronauts trying to contact Houston while it’s underwater. Both scenes are given to the actors on the spot and they immediately make it uniquely hilarious.
Not many actors are comfortable with calling an audience member a bastard or having an elderly audience member (deemed the "baddest boy") spank them on stage. Both were achieved during the performance, and both had me laughing until my mouth hurt from smiling. This troupe of comedians is able to connect personally with the audience, making local references, shaking hands, asking questions and being real. It’s this connection that lights the audience on fire, creating moments of high energy and fun that you wish would never end.
With three girls and three guys, the faces of comedy’s new generation are memorable. Each has such likable charisma, the kind I want to see more of in the film industry. Alison Gates, Adam Archer, Danny Catlow, Eve Krueger, Greg Ott and Lauren Walker are all experienced comedians; many participate in iO Chicago and The Annoyance. Director Tyler Samples teaches and performs at The Second City and hosts the “Rabbit Hole” podcast with other Second City guests.
“The Best of The Second City” features classic skits that helped launch the careers of comedy’s best and brightest, along with skits distinct to this tour. The style of the show was very similar to that of “Saturday Night Live”; both have an arrangement of different comedy sketches that usually reflect on current political, social and economic happenings in America. Many of the actors currently performing with “SNL” made their start with The Second City.
I’m not sure how anyone else feels, but to me, “SNL” has been lacking in delivery in recent years, dwindling down to repetitive skits and jokes that just aren’t that funny. After seeing The Second City, I have hope again for a better comedic future — a hope of “SNL” returning to the hype of Will Ferrell, Eddie Murphy, Amy Poehler and Chris Farley. I think we all miss those days.
With classes not quite in full swing, now is the time to explore all the amazing venues that Ann Arbor. While comedy may not be as common as other shows, nothing will bring you into good spirits better than laughter. People love The Second City not just for its humor, but for its creativity. It’s different every time, and it’s different from the comedy you see on TV. You may have to reach into the deep corners of Ann Arbor to find comedy, but I assure you, the search is worth it.