WTF is Black Joy, anyway? Rob Wilson aims to get into specifics with his Second City directorial debut, Dance Like There Are Black People Watching: A Black Excellence Revue. Second City has long been revered for being an improvisational comedian factory: many comics sharpen their steel within the hallowed halls and go on to have long-lasting careers. Boasting an all-Black cast of six rising stars with brand-new sketches, DLTABPW is a fast-paced blast of commentary on Black folks further proving that—gasp—we are not our stereotypes. Or are we?
Dance Like There Are Black People Watching: A Black Excellence Revue Through 4/1: Fri-Sat 8 PM, Second City UP Comedy Club, 230 W. North, 312-337-3992, secondcity.com, $29-$68
In line with its vivid title, the revue contains footworking, the ubiquitous Electric Slide, Chicago stepping, and a nod to the (west-side, not the south-side) Percolator. The sometimes lightning-fast jokes fly throughout the almost two-hour production: bits include a fake Family Feud round that asks the question, “What makes Black people cuss?”; the musings of two overzealous Chicago parking attendants; and a great motivational song about stealing from the self-checkout line.
Never straying from their improv roots, the nimble ensemble invites audience members to contribute to the night. When seated, patrons of Second City are encouraged to fill out questionnaires asking about their favorite hobbies, which are in turn read back to the audience within the context of things Black people DON’T do. Considering the racially mixed but heavily African American crowd, the results are hilarious. “Did you know that Black people don’t quilt?” and “Did you know that Black people don’t go bar crawling in Wrigleyville?” are statements equal parts amusing, ridiculous, and again quite believable if you have no Black friends.
Other shocking revelations in the show include a Batman bit exposing the Caped Crusader’s fear of the south side (“Batman doesn’t go to 69th and Stony!”) and a thought-provoking, conflicting sketch highlighting aspects of the Black mental health/therapy experience. The idea of going to a Black therapist, only to have them explain your problems can be wiped away with Jesus Christ has layers upon layers of Black anxiety, spirituality, and dark humor. Speaking of, a sketch about a man awakening from a coma of several years asking to watch “his favorite TV show of all time,” The Cosby Show, and requesting convicted sex offender R. Kelly tunes could have gone catastrophic given our social climate, but the joke soars given the timing, pace, and acting skills of the cast.
Not much falls flat, excluding a Black hair salon bit that might have come from Black Twitter, although such conclusions are very hard to prove given some viral takes are lifted from other not-so-viral takes, and Black Twitter is a hotbed of reimagined comic gold. The show’s music is pivotal—used as a backdrop, transitional element, and sometimes fully embedded in the sketch. There’s a whole segment dedicated to the audience being able to identify an original song vs. the rap song that sampled it, and it’s not as easy as one might think. DLTABPW is educational and entertaining, edgy and endearing. Biases aside, this show offers whip-smart, funny-as-hell, self-aware, Black-ass fun that brings joy to everyone in attendance.