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SAO: Second City Comedy Company

Chicago’s first improv theater group, Second City has consistently been a starting point for Hollywood greats like Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, among countless other SNL stars and comedians. Comedian and 2008 Calvin Alum DAVE LYZENGA will be opening the show and performing with the company. Dave’s been a part of local improv troupes POP SCHOLARS and RIVER CITY, and is currently enrolled at Second City! This performance is NOT intended as an all ages show. There will be mature content.

“Are you sick and tired of jokes that make you sick and tired?” The Second City’s new touring show, “Cure for the Common Comedy,” endeavors to “cure” its audiences by providing fresh comedic takes on what is going on in the world. The show follows in the Second City’s decades-long tradition of cutting satire and masterful improvisational style while also showcasing comedy’s “stars of tomorrow.”

The Second City is nearing sixty years of edgy, conversation-igniting comedy. What all started in 1959 with the opening of the first Second City comdedy club in Chicago has spawned into a profound legacy and widespread impact on the world of comedy. In addition to nightly live performances in Chicago, Toronto and Hollywood, the Second City has trained hundreds of up- and-coming comedians through its improv-workshops and produced multiple different annual touring companies, several television programs and copious amounts of written and video content for the web. The group’s legacy extends far beyond their own projects as well—notable alumni include comedic giants old and new, such as John Belushi, Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Steven Colbert, among many others.

Founders Bernard Sahlin, Howard Alk and Paul Sills sought to created a space that would facilitate the art of improvisational storytelling. They drew from the innovative teachings of Sills’s mother, Viola Spolin, a brilliant theater director whose book Improvisation for the Theater was the first body of work that gave directors and actors the insight and instruction necessary to create improvisational theater. Spolin’s ideas included improv games for children, which were intended to cultivate empathy and social awareness among the youngsters. Sills introduced these games to his friends at the University of Chicago; they took on a whole new life. Soon, the Second City became the first ongoing improvisational theater group—decades later, it is one of the most renowned comedy companies in the world.

From the early years, one of the mainstays of the Second City has been its caustic political satire. Improvisational style lends itself well to continually poking fun at current events, particularly the bumblings of politicians and pundits. The outgrowth of this practice can be seen in the work of Second City alumni like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, who famously co-anchored Saturday Night Live’s sardonic news report known as Weekend Update. Steven Colbert, The Colbert Report host, has also made a career out of political satire following his time with the Second City.

The opener for this stop of the “Cure for Common Comedy” tour is Dave Lyzenga. He is a Calvin College alum, member of Grand Rapids improv group Pop Scholars and a graduate of the Second City Training Center’s Conservatory and Severn Darden Graduate programs. Lyzenga embodies the group’s political thrust in his deeply personal stand-up routines. His work, although personal and based in humor, makes serious observations about the everyday homophobia experienced by LGBTQ+ persons, particularly within certain religious traditions. He reminds audiences that the personal—not just the societal or the governmental—is profoundly political.

Unsurprisingly, the group has sourced a fair amount of material from the political hullabaloo of the last two or three years, with President Trump being made the butt of a myriad of jokes. However, the goal is not just making fun. The Second City’s mission stems all the way

back to Viola Spolin’s improv games for children—cultivating empathy and social understanding is the goal. Highlighting the absurdities of current events through satire has the capacity to shake people alive to reality, either by reminding audiences that human blunders are part of what make us human, or, by making a point of actions that go beyond mere blunders. Comedy can broach tenuous topics, distinguishing benign blunders from acts of inhuman absurdity by humorously satirizing the individuals, structures and policies that cause real and often despicable problems. Sometimes, when people are made to laugh, they become more ready to talk.

—Daniel Hickey

October 2017
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