Second City E.T.C.


What Now? Entertainment Productions

at the Body Politic Theatre

More and more, the comedy revue is looking like a dead form, primed to join the ranks of piano bars, burlesque acts, and pseudo-Polynesian floor shows. Especially at Second City, where actors’ faces and satirical targets change but everything else stays the same, and the motto should be “Expect the Expected.” Less an example of wit and inspiration than the highly polished mastery of a time-worn comedic cadence, Second City continues to drum into the skulls of its audience the same weak-kneed skewering of cultural icons, the same “surprise” scene endings, the same Tom Lehreresque political songs. The new show at Second City E.T.C., Whitewater for Chocolate, features the usual topically punning but irrelevant title and offers more of the same. How, then, to critically approach something that changes so little from year to year? Taking our inspiration from the year’s most unconventional/experimental film to hit the mainstream, we offer “Thirty-Two Short Reviews About Second City E.T.C.”

1. (Informational.) Whitewater for Chocolate is a two-act collection of 22 comedy sketches and musical numbers tackling subjects ranging from slick motivational therapists to relationship breakups to America’s health care crisis. A fresh-faced and enthusiastic six-member ensemble delivers the goods with precise timing, youthful energy, and occasional ingenuity.

2. (Damning with faint praise.) The ensemble works together so seamlessly that rarely does one particular performer stand out from the group.

3. (A shill’s review.) Brilliant! Bloody brilliant! That sketch about the lounge singer with a bad toupee trying to make up a song about AIDS represented the height of comedic invention!

4. (Enthusiastic #1.) The show’s at its best when it experiments with form and uses its cast’s energy to maximum effect. As in “Geography,” a madcap romp as a young man in a flying can travels the globe to bone up for a geography test.

5. (Literary–regarding a scene in which a man with a gun holds a motivational therapist hostage.) “This is too long,” Polonius in Hamlet, Act II, Scene ii.

6. (Question #1.) Haven’t we already seen enough sketches about yuppie relationships?

7. (Political.) An increasingly annoying facet of Second City is its inability to align itself with a consistent political point of view. Sketches about health care and the country’s immigration services seem cleverly crafted to avoid taking any stance for fear of alienating the audience.

8. (Limerick.) There once was a place, Second City, / With sketches that were very witty. / But it’s that same old song, / They’ve stayed around much too long, / And that is really a pity.

9. (Newspaper scrap, circa 1965.) “. . . a two-act collection of 22 comedy sketches and musical numbers. A fresh-faced and enthusiastic ensemble delivers the goods with precise timing, youthful energy, and occasional ingenuity . . .”

10. (Report card.) Energy: A-. Originality: D. Acting: B+. Direction: B+. Tastefulness: C-. Songs: C-. Wit: C. Overall grade: C.

11. (Second City historical in-joke.) The show’s about as funny as Fred Willard or Ed Asner.

12. (Tongue twister.) Somewhere back in the sixties Second City’s satire succeeded, skewering society’s scalawags with scathing satirical songs. But making much money in the mainstream makes much of Second City’s countercultural cavorting decidedly disingenuous.

13. (Enthusiastic #2.) A parody of press conferences given by philandering politicians is ingeniously directed by Ron West and hilariously performed by the cast members who serve as ventriloquists for goofily bewigged mannequin heads. This is the sort of innovative sketch that is for the most part lacking in this predictable, workmanlike show.

14. (Question #2.) Is there anything clever or funny about mocking people with metal plates in their heads that set off metal detectors?

15. (Generation X commentary.) Seems that this sort of show where virtually every joke is predictable and most sketches seem imitations rather than examples of humor is what you get from a generation that has been weaned on TV sitcoms and taught to laugh along with canned audiences even when jokes aren’t funny.

16. (Capitalistic.) Liked those antiestablishment jokes. Bet somebody’s making big money on T-shirts here.

17. (Quotation regarding sketch about screwy neighbors in a Chicago neighborhood.) “But it’s all been done before. It’s all been written in the book. And when there’s too much of nothing, nobody should look . . .” Bob Dylan, “Too Much of Nothing.”

18. (Newspaper clipping, circa 1975.) “. . . a two-act collection of 22 comedy sketches and musical numbers. A fresh-faced and enthusiastic ensemble delivers the goods with precise timing, youthful energy, and occasional ingenuity . . .”

19. (Plagiarized.) “. . . an ethnically balanced cast . . .” Whoops, sorry. That was the Tribune review. Whatever the racial makeup–and the night I attended the cast consisted of five Caucasians and an African American–the sketches all seemed targeted at the same exclusively middle-of-the-road sensibilities.

20. (Enthusiastic #3.) Improv set following the show was sharper than usual ones. Especially memorable: director Ron West’s dead-on impersonation of Peter Falk as Columbo and a clever bit about the recent heat wave.

21. (Question #3.) Will our society ever grow to the point where someone can make a joke about genitals and no one will automatically laugh?

22. (A short review of the one daring sketch that showed true social relevance and original wit.) ——.

23. (Foreign.) Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.

24. (Old Man Grumpus’s review.) The whippersnappers here seem to think pure chutzpah, as in a man putting on a wedding dress, a song about an operation without anesthesia, or a song about AIDS will make us laugh solely because they’re being outrageous. Oy!

25. (Cryptogram.) G.V.E.’u pgy ujqy ku c iqqf rnceg vq vcmg Cwpv Cipgu htqo Uejcwodwti. Ocadg Wpeng Oqg yqwnf nkmg vjg fkem lqmgu bqq. (To solve, move every letter back two spaces in the alphabet.)

26. (Summary of audience suggestions of political issues that did not contain the words O.J. or Simpson.) ——.

27. (Musical, to the tune of Lennon and McCartney’s “I’ve Just Seen a Face.”) I’ve just seen a show. / Why did I go? / Well I don’t know. / There were some people laughing there, / But mostly they’d just sit and stare. / (Like they were watching TV.) / Galling, / Somewhat appalling, / And not too enthralling. / (At least not for me.)

28. (Architectural.) Second City E.T.C. Hmmm. Looks like a good place for a sports bar.

29. (Secret mathematical formula yielding overall entertainment value for show.) Take the number of sketches (22). Multiply by the number of actors in the cast (6). Add the number of revues E.T.C. has performed including this one (13). Now subtract the number of minutes the current show lasted (145). 22 x 6 13 – 145 = ?

30. (Postmodern or do-it-yourself.) Second City’s new show is a —— effort, featuring a —— ensemble of actors who perform political songs on topics like ——, sketches about young couples who have just ——, and Chicago humor concerning ——. The show is capped by improv based on audience suggestions for scenes about ——. All in all, a —— show.

31. (Newpaper scrap from 1995.) “. . . a two-act collection of 22 comedy sketches and musical numbers. A fresh-faced and enthusiastic ensemble delivers the goods with precise timing, youthful energy, and occasional ingenuity . . .”

32. (World’s shortest review.) New show at Second City. You know what it was like.

(Bonus review.) A much less polished but no more entertaining effort at revitalizing the comedy revue formula is offered by Bill Chott and Jay Sukow, a talented and outrageous duo who are performing a late-night show of long-form improv sketches at Body Politic under the name Motherless Stage Whores.

Chott, a quick-witted young comedian who bears more than a passing resemblance to the Mel Cooley character on the Dick Van Dyke Show, and Sukow, a conventionally handsome news anchor type, strive for an odd-couple Laurel and Hardyesque effect. Too often, though, they rely on shock value to make impact. A scene based on an audience suggestion in which Chott did play-by-play commentary while O.J. Simpson stabbed his wife to death was just gross. And another, where Chott and Sukow dropped trou and momentarily played with each other’s weenies, was just juvenile.

These guys are not without talent, as some clever off-the-cuff lines and some jarring, surreal pantomime sequences proved. But right now, their sketches seem too unfocused and the actors too immature. There are flashes of wit, but nothing you’d feel good about having paid even $5 to see.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Roger Lewin-Jennifer Girard Photo.