After last weekend, I needed some laughs. First there was the family memorial service, where unfortunately, the question of why I'm not married yet was not
what was being buried.
Then—for reasons I can't really fathom now—I agreed to go to my dad's college reunion afterwards with my parents. Though it was nice to meet all of Dad's old friends and learn their zany '60s nicknames (my favorites included Bear, who was actually a man, and Moonpuppy, who was both a man and a car), by day three of heavy boozing and talking about 1966 I was in serious need of a nap and about 14 hours of VH1.
That's why I agreed to go to Second City's improv show pretty much immediately following my return. Was I tired? Yes. But I desperately needed to kick back and relax.
The comedy institution has a jaw-dropping alumni roster—Bill Murray, Mike Meyers, Tina Fey, T.J. Jagodowski (I don't know if that last person is a man or a woman, but I do hope whoever it is has a handlebar moustache, because with that name, you could), and that kind of comedy street cred doesn't come cheap. Mainstage shows cost $18 during the week, $24 on weekends, though there's no drink minimum. Before you think I sank some big bucks into my funnies, let me reassure you...this urban cowgirl stuck with a 10 p.m. freebie session on Tuesday night.
Last fall I went in search of free improv on the North Side. I wasn't doubled over in laughter, but I still really respected the performers. Comedy is hard (just look at me in the accompanying photo. I appear to be having a seizure), and I'm speaking from personal experience. For the past two months, I've been taking a comedy writing class at Second City, where I've found three things to be true: 1. As an adult, my homework habits are atrocious; 2. Two funny topics that never fail? Pilgrims and the elderly; 3. Comedy writing is a science.
I don't mean you need skills to write it; I mean comedy really is a science: There are formulas for different types of sketches and situations. Luckily, it's much more fun than science, because (at least as of Level One) comedy class hasn't involved even one titration lab. (But who knows? I may be dissecting a rubber chicken in Level Three.)
But sometimes it just comes down to what works (that no-fail pilgrim joke)—and what doesn't (when the performers laugh more than the audience). Second City's improv team was great. It did the whole ask-the-audience-for-items bit, but the group was so good at meshing them into skits it almost seemed fake.
From skits on gay men and rainbows to secret societies, the team was just plain good. No senseless tangents, no inside jokes. But the truly amazing skill was how they knew exactly when to tap someone out of the skit. Just when it started to lag, bam, they were on their feet.
And that plain ol' goodness can easily fit into your schedule. The free sessions occur after the last ticketed performance every night but Friday. The Tuesday through Thursday shows start at 8 p.m.; improv kicks off directly after, around 10 p.m. It's a good, quick hit of comedy—we were out the door by 10:45—and on weekends, the late show begins at 11 p.m., so insomniacs, rejoice!
The only tricky thing is getting a seat—since many of the people stay after the show to see the free improv, those arriving just for the improv have to squeeze in where there are empty seats, making it hard to accommodate large groups (we had to split up into three spots). Still, you can do it—and if you do, I promise, you're in for a laugh.
Want more information about the Second City schedule? Visit www.secondcity.com.
Erin Brereton is our resident urban cowgirl on a bi-weekly search for life on the cheap. If you know of the mythic happy hour that she missed, do clue her in.