I settled into my terrible media-comp seat in the leftmost gallery of the Christopher Cohan Performing Arts Center (PAC) on Sunday night, overlooking the audience gathering to watch The Second City’s imminent performance.
The crowd was underwhelming. But they had a great show ahead of them.
The six members of the Chicago-based touring troupe strolled onstage and launched into some heavily rehearsed introductory material. The bit alternated between solo lines and speaking in unison, complete with choreographed movements. The comedians spit out their dialogue so quickly and cleanly it was hard to keep up with who said what.
They introduced their ongoing 55th Anniversary Tour, which encompasses 125 shows at over 100 venues.
One member: “So, why are you here?”
All: “Because you don’t give a shit about the Grammys tonight.”
One member: “Maybe you brought a kid who’s too young to hear the filth that’s about to pour out of our mouths.”
All: “We think that’s awesome.”
They recounted each of their first experiences seeing The Second City and emphasized the uniqueness of the group’s mission as it is and always has been: a live, personal comedy show.
“It’s different because it’s still the same.”
And they highlighted a point that continued to weave through the rest of the night’s performance: “We’re all in this room together, and that doesn’t happen very much anymore.”
The remaining show moved between different forms of live comedy. It kicked off with a quick series of short, strong and punchy jokes, each using only one or two comedians. Later, the team transitioned into its first — and weakest — longform sketch of the evening.
The plot surrounded a gay guy picking up his prom date, whose straight, dimwitted brother answers the door. The two wind up waiting in the living room alone together, exchanging awkward dialogue and accidentally stepping into offensive comments.
The audience handed out some pity laughs, but overall the sketch was more genuinely awkward than awkward-funny. I was disappointed at first, but after a while entertained myself with imagined scenarios of flinging my pink pen over the balcony toward one of the comedians’ heads.
Ya know. Just a thought.
The show picked up in pace again with an improvisation game, in which the audience yelled out subjects and lines of dialogue — Jamba Juice, telegraph, dysfunction, “let’s make out” — for the comedians to work with.
I’m always blown away by (good) improv comedy — it’s gotta take a lot of brain power to have such quick wit.
Biological sciences senior Dillon Jones, who performs with Smile and Nod and joined The Second City for their encore later Sunday night, said the troupe’s improv was the strongest part of their performance.
“I was kind of bummed they didn’t do a lot of improv,” Jones said. “They did more sketch, which was fine. They had a lot of good ones.”
And they did. My favorite parts of the show were the longform sketches with meaningful, and sometimes dark, undertones.
One sketch made light of what to do with a friend’s Facebook profile after she dies. Another illustrated a woman going through life’s important phases — prom, marriage, childbirth, etc. — without looking up from her cell phone. Yet another mocked a fictional deceased nun’s dirty record collection.
These sketches were my favorites because the breaks between laughs weren’t filled with impatience for the next joke but rather with thoughtfulness.
The troupe threw in lots of material referencing San Luis Obispo’s sites and characters, including Bubblegum Alley, Madonna Inn and Weird Al. They even poked fun at “the shit-show that is Bull’s Tavern,” Atascadero trailer trash and the Giants-Dodgers rivalry.
The Second City’s personalized comedy guaranteed chuckles of surprised recognition, but after a while the trick seemed cheap — they didn’t even have to work for those laughs (and, to be honest, they induced more pen-flinging thoughts on my end).
At the show’s “end,” the house lights came up and the group said goodnight. I’d been informed that Smile and Nod would join The Second City onstage in that night’s performance, which they hadn’t yet, so I anticipated an encore. The rest of the audience, however, didn’t seem to get the memo — they quickly stood and trickled out the auditorium’s back doors.
I sat until the comedians asked if those remaining in their seats would like to see more material, the house lights were down and the troupe was back onstage.
They prepared for one last improv scene and invited six Cal Poly students — four Smile and Nod members and two Theatre and Dance Department students — for a five-minute jam. Not all the students got a chance to participate, but those who did kept up just fine.
Jones was pulled to the middle of the stage to improvise in a bit about dance.
“It felt like 10 seconds,” he said. “On stage, it’s happening right in front of you, and you have to be alert and listening. It happens so fast. I think that’s why some people didn’t get out there.”
Prior to the encore, Jones and the other students waited backstage. Jones said it was fun to talk with The Second City members in between their sketches.
“While they were on break from the sketch, they were talking to us,” he said. “Then a guy would just go out, do his sketch, come back and just continue talking to us.”
Though Jones liked some bits more than others, he said he was impressed overall with the quality of the team’s professional comedy.