By: Angela Guardiani
There’s a meme floating around the internet somewhere of Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Branner, a character whose fury transforms him into the Incredible Hulk. “I’m always angry,” he says, world-weary, gazing over his shoulder. It’s a feeling a lot of people can relate to. We live in a world full of injustices, of systems that keep a lot of us in a constant, simmering rage. And rage is not funny (with the possible exception of some adorable toddler tantrums.)
Or is it? The Second City is trying something new at its Mercer Street Theatre; comedy that’s pissed as hell and holds back no punches. It’s called She The People and it’s 100% written, directed, and performed by women. It talks about the glass ceiling, about giving birth, about abortion and mimosas for brunch. It doesn’t ignore the world we live in - it’s whatever the opposite of escapism is - and it may make you uncomfortable to be reminded that hey, there are a lot of people around us who are Hulk-level angry all the time as they make their way through a world that doesn’t seem to care. But this show is also funny and smart and observant as hell. It’s comedy that sees the people on the bottom and not just those calling the shots. It’s a pressure valve for all that rage. If you’re already mad, She The People has got your back. And if you’re not, you will have a great time as you learn something.
What makes She The People work so well is that although the subject matter is taken straight from the headlines and has a decided leftist slant to it, it’s treated with the same deftness and polish I’ve come to expect from the better Second City shows. There’s a careful buildup, a surprising twist, a wry observation, and nine times out of ten there’s some kind of ludicrous stand-in that emphasizes how messed up the situation is, as in an office lunchroom sketch over who gets to decide what happens to a Lean Cuisine that has nothing to do with calorie-conscious microwave meals.
There’s one particular sketch that is really a very well-considered rant about the unfairness of women’s bodies and clothing being too distracting to their male counterparts. At least, I think it was. I was laughing too hard at the absurdity of a woman in a seven-foot inflatable T-Rex costume yelling that if Bob in accounting had her numbers, he’d be VP of the whole damn company.
There is not a single weak link in the cast. They sell their characters, hard, and their intensity towards making the joke work carries some sketches that really shouldn’t be funny but somehow are. Tricia Black just loses it in a sketch where the mispronunciation of “charcuterie” sends her into a spiral of self-disgust and table-flipping, and along with Ashley Comeau and Kristen Rasmussen (whose facial expressions alone are worth the price of admission) sends up bro culture with absurd accents and increasingly improbable ways to tee off. Ann Pornel leads a slick ‘90’s hip-hop jam called “Rubenesque” which is almost too good to be funny - almost, but not quite. (PS: I would buy an Ann Pornel album, producers. I would buy several.) Karen Parker gets to go completely off the deep end as a sex-loving murder mystery writer, and Paloma Nunez - oh, when she talked about passing a 'Well, actually tax', I wanted to stand up and hail her as my leader. “Every time a man talking to a woman begins a sentence with Well, Actually, he has to pay a dollar. So far we’ve raised three trillion dollars.” I laugh-cried through that sketch. If it’s not funny, it’s because it hasn’t happened to you.
Comedy isn’t funny, sometimes. It’s mean and it enforces the power structures of the world around it. Comedy can be weaponized. She The People is a brilliant example of how comedy doesn’t have to be that way - it can be smart, funny, enjoyable, and not be at the expense of people already the butt of the world’s jokes. It’s a show that puts six hilarious women front and center, and not a single one has to be the straight man. It’s a very funny unicorn.
She The People plays at the Second City at 51 Mercer Street on select Thursdays and weekends until November 25th. Tickets are $30 and are available at Second City.com or at the box office.
Photo by Paul Aioshi