REVIEW: Spoiler Alert: Everybody Dies (Second City)

Spoiler Alert: It’s Good.

 

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Second City presents
  
Spoiler Alert: Everybody Dies
   
directed by Matt Hovde
at
Second City, 1616 N. Wells (map)
through October 31st  |  tickets: $22-$27   |  more info

reviewed by Keith Ecker 

When I see a Second City revue, I watch it through two different lenses.

The first is the comedian. I’m a former Second City student, and I’ve done my share of stand-up, sketch and improv comedy around the city. So I can see the gears in motion as the actors are on stage. I know what reads as hokey, and I can spot a pot shot. But I can also identify what improv guru Del Close termed “truth in comedy,” that is the genuineness behind the joke.

SPOILER_ALERT_PR_003_Knuth The other filter is the audience member. There’s nothing less funny than deconstructing a joke, so I have to allow myself to sit back, pull the stick from out of my butt and enjoy the show. Besides, Second City gets a wide spectrum of attendees, from talent scouts looking for the next star to Schaumburgers.

Too hokey and you’ll trip my comedian sensor. Too self-aware and you’ll trip my audience sensor. Fortunately, Spoiler Alert: Everybody Dies strikes a near perfect harmony.

At the show’s opening, a red button sits on stage. A push from a brave audience member gets things going. We witness a human machine and are told through voice over that at the end of the show everybody dies. What ensues is a well-staged and masterfully executed montage of brief scenes depicting actions and consequences that result in various people’s deaths.

We then go into sketch mode. It’s a father/son scene. The son (the expressive Tim Robinson) is getting cold feet at his wedding. His dad (Tim Mason) attempts to convince him of the wonders of marriage, specifically the benefit of being able to use your wife’s brain to remember things you can’t. The sketch relies a little too much on stereotypical representations of Neanderthal men, but it has its moments.

Next there’s an ensemble song about people who skim the news, illustrating that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Later, there’s a cute bit about a matching sweatpants-wearing couple (Robinson and Shelly Gossman) who are an embarrassment to their Michael Jackson-loving daughter (Emily Wilson).

The best sketch of the bunch is a bit where one employee (Robinson) hems and haws when breaking the bad news that his co-worker (Gossman) is being laid off. The sketch works because it’s simple—just two talking heads—that are sharing a real genuine connection. Also, Robinson’s antics and inflections are so hilarious that he even cracks himself up.

 

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Second City sketch revues by their nature must be fast-paced. The moment the energy drops in the room, you risk losing your audience. Director Matt Hovde manages to keep the show flowing even in scenes that stew a bit more, such as the heavier sketch about a woman (Grossman) who comes to terms with being an asshole after berating a man (Mason) who just lost his son.

The ensemble works well together, and there certainly are some standouts. It’s no surprise that Gossman was recently tapped to head East and write for “Saturday Night Live”. I wouldn’t be surprised if Robinson is on deck.

The one major criticism I have for the show is its antiquated reliance on racial jokes. Nearly every sketch with Edgar Blackmon (who was filling in for cast regular Sam Richardson) relied in part on the fact that he is black. True, nobody is colorblind when it comes to race. It’s an important and unavoidable element of our society. But when you beat it into the ground with every sketch with a black actor, you start feeling a bit uneasy—especially when the audience is almost entirely white.

Overall, whether you come from the entertainment industry or from Indiana, you’ll walk away laughing from Spoiler Alert.

    
    
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

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REVIEW: Second City’s “Taming of the Flu”

The Second City at 50: Good for what ails you

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The Second City presents

Taming of the Flu

Written and performed by Lauren Ash, Shelly Gossman, Anthony LeBlanc, Brad Morris, Andy St. Clair and Emily Wilson
Directed by Mick Napier
Open run (ticket info)

reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

They may be 50 years old, but The Second City can still bring up some healthy laughs.

TAMING_OF_THE_FLU_PR_008Most of us won’t get to go to The Second City’s big 50th anniversary celebration with its famous alumni this weekend — many events are sold out — but the troupe’s latter-day regulars do their predecessors proud with their anniversary mainstage revue, Taming of the Flu.

This is the kind of infectious comedy that made The Second City famous: Fast-paced, creative, topical, hilarious.

There are gags about swine flu*, of course, and health-care reform, with some needle-sharp jabs at insurance companies and politicians of all stripes. Some subtly and not-so-subtly humorous routines point up racial issues, the economic meltdown, war, terrorism and the other ills of our time.

Modern life gets its jibes, from the guy who’s addicted to his iPhone to the football player who taunts his opponents with Harry Potterisms to lesbian bachelorettes. In an anniversary mood, they look back over 50 years, comparing teenagers from 1959, ’79 and revisiting a 1950s bomb shelter.

Best of all are the Chicago-centric gags. Maybe it’s a return to The Second City’s roots or maybe it’s just that during this chilly and cash-strapped season they figure they don’t have to play to the tourists, but some of the best bits in this revue aim straight at the home crowd with nary any translation — such as a poignant paean to Chicago winters, lawn chairs and all. Chicago cops. Red-light cameras. The Olympics. Indiana casinos. Aldermanic candidates. A sidesplitting sketch covers local cabbies’ recent call for fare hikes.

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As with all revues, some sketches are funnier than others, but the jokes roll out nonstop, fast as sneezes. The six ensemble members keep ’em coming with  feverish timing, dead-on expression and keen comic gestalt.

Compared to Tamiflu, laughter may not be the best medicine, but I defy anyone to leave this show not feeling better than when he went in. If it doesn’t cure what ails you,* at least you’ll forget your suffering for a while.

Rating: ★★★★

TAMING_OF_THE_FLU_PR_006Notes: The Second City ticket prices are due to rise Jan. 1 to a minimum of $22 for general-admission seats and up to $46 for a new class of "premium" seats. Parking in the Piper’s Alley garage is $1 off with validation at the box office.

* Chicago Theater Blog does not advocate going to the theater while suffering with H1N1 flu or any other contagious disease. Fortunately, this show is in open run. Please stay home until after you have completely recovered, if only for the sake of any critics who may be in the audience. Gesundheit.