By: Angela Guardiani
Comedy, I've learned, is more complicated than it looks. It's not just a question of throwing a few one-liners in the air and walking away. Comedy takes a lot of different forms and techniques. There's standup, which can be very personal and intimate; improv, which really benefits from the chemistry of a group of players; and sketch comedy, which combines the relentless practice and fine-tuning of the first with the playful spontaneity of the second. Cast members workshop a scene together, improvising and riffing and adding and subtracting until a bright shining sketch emerges. The Second City's latest mainstage production is on now and if you've never seen sketch comedy, it's a great introduction to the genre. And if you are familiar with sketch, go anyway. It's a fantastic evening out. You'll laugh, you'll cry . . . but mostly, you'll laugh.
Everything is Great Again is themed around the scary times we live in. People are horrible, but there's a strength of purpose that emerges when everything's gone to hell in a handbasket, and even a sense of kinship – after all, we're all in this together! The humour is political and topical, very current. I love the razor-sharp observations paired with the goofy, even silly jokes. The first sketch is about a desperate American trying to escape into Canada and being given a quiz by a snarky border guard. He gives his reasons for trying to leave – the environment, the racism – and she counters with information on Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline and Kellie Leitch. It's sobering, laugh-cry stuff. Then there's this gem:
“What's a double-double?” she demands.
“Four!” he replies.
The biggest strength of this show is that juxtaposition of the wickedly pointed and the cheerfully absurd. There's a very thoughtful and nuanced discussion of the idea of free speech, of how and where and what rights we have to say whatever we think at any time. And it's framed by a totally ridiculous song-and-dance number about kitten cops that includes the line, “Meow, meow, meow! Pow, pow, pow!” Supremely silly. I laughed like a loon.
A balance like this doesn't work unless the actors are all in. You can't play a role like Kitten Cop (or One of Only Three Non-White People At This Yoga Retreat) unless you're committed to it. I think this is one of the things that makes sketch comedy so interesting – because the actors are also the writers, they've connected with the characters in a way that a performer separated from the process wouldn't be.
The troupe has great chemistry and each member brings something unique to the table. Ann Pornel is no-holds-barred uproarious, throwing herself into her characters with abandonment, while Lindsay Mullen has a twitchily neurotic charm. They play off each other so well in a short sketch that combines Tinder regret and brunch (“Does baby girl want a waffle or an egg?”). Paloma Nuñez's sad-eyed intensity brings a lot of depth to her humour, Devon Hyland is awkwardly adorable, Colin Munch is possibly the most unhinged ranter it has ever been my privilege to witness, and Brandon Hackett is just wonderfully weird.
The Second City is a more relaxed experience than the theatre. Seating is cabaret-style, around tables, and there's a full menu of bar snacks and drinks. A little social lubricant just adds to the experience. And one final thing - there's some elements of audience participation in this show. I hate audience participation, so the fact that this show works it in without making me want to throw things is evidence of some solid directing. If you want to play, sit near the front. And don't wear a hat!
Photos by Paul Aihoshi.