We Americans are fond of thinking of Canadians, if we think of them at all, as politer, drabber, cleaner versions of ourselves–Wisconsinites squared. We don’t think of them as particularly funny. But some Canadians at least have a very sharp if somewhat cerebral and literary wit–and even more important, a major chip on their shoulders concerning their neighbors to the south. Moreover, Canadians have been a major presence in America’s comedy scene since at least the early 70s. Dan Aykroyd, Martin Short, Mike Myers, Jim Carrey, and the Kids in the Hall are all Canadian. And with the exception of Carrey and the Kids, they all have connections to Second City. This isn’t a coincidence. Ever since 1973, when theatrical entrepreneur Andrew Alexander opened a Second City franchise in Toronto, Second City’s northern cousin has been a fertile breeding ground for new comedy. And from the beginning there’s been plenty of cross-pollination between the two places, with regular exchanges of actors, directors, and other key personnel. SCTV may have been produced in Toronto using a Canadian cast, for example, but many of the people behind the scenes–including the show’s producer, Sheldon Patinkin–were from Chicago’s Second City. The Toronto Second City’s current show, being performed here under the title The Canadian Invasion, is a similar hybrid, with a cast of young Canadians under the direction of Chicago performer Kevin Dorff. The show–which I caught a month ago in Toronto–features work at least as savage as anything on Second City’s main stage, particularly the Canadians’ political satire in the guise of a Miss Universe competition, which is so insightful and hilarious it puts any recent stabs at political humor in Chicago to shame. Theater on the Lake, Fullerton and Lake Shore Dr., 312-742-7994. Opens Wednesday, August 18, 8 PM. Through August 22: Thursday-Friday, 8 PM; Saturday, 4 and 8 PM; Sunday, 4 PM. $10.

–Jack Helbig

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Rick Alexander.