on March 29, 2004
I spent four years in Chicago without seeing a performance by The Second City, the famed comedic ensemble that launched the careers of John Belushi, Bill Murray, and others, an oversight that I decided to remedy during my recent visit. While in Chicago I did attend and enjoy a comedy revue, but I just now realized when sitting down to write this journal that I still haven't seen an official The Second City performance. According to the souvenir program, what I did see was "Pants on Fire," a revue by e.t.c., a sort-of junior varsity The Second City that boasts such alumni as Horatio Sanz, and, um, Nia Vardalos, the star of My Big Fat Greek Wedding.Damn.Five of us showed up at the intimate "studio" theater for the 11 PM Saturday performance of "Pants on Fire," and a hostess seated us close to the stage, behind a row of high school students who had already begun arguing about their curfews. To get us into the right mood, a waitress brought a drink menu with a selection of shooters that included Lemon Drop, Oatmeal Cookie, and Buttery Nipple ($4 each or $6 when served in a souvenir shot glass), but I decided to forgo the comically named drinks and ordered a Sam Adams ($4.50) instead.The show opened with a sketch involving a presidential press secretary announcing that he would only tell the truth. Most of the bits that followed derived their humor from current events, but I laughed hardest at the few that involved physical comedy. In particular, the ensemble did a manic, very funny take on the good cop/bad cop routine, and cast member Frank Caeti did a remarkable impression of a giant, moon-walking baby.While the sketches were a little hit or miss, the improv pieces were consistently uproarious. Audience members would call out random words, and the ensemble would do their best to perform comedy around these choices. Watching the performers walk a comedic tightrope without a net created a real tension in the audience, and when the performer invariably succeeded in making a joke, that tension easily exploded into laughter. A particularly good improv bit involved an audience member being interviewed and surreptitiously recorded, after which his voice was deftly mixed it into a rap song about the upcoming presidential election.The e.t.c. ensemble performed for about 45 minutes, took a quick intermission, and the performed for another 45. After the show ended the performers announced that they'd like to try out some new material and welcomed the audience to stay. We had enjoyed the evening enough to want more, so we stayed an additional 45 minutes. True to their word, some of the comedy was still in development, but plenty of laughs were enjoyed during this unofficial third act.
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