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The Second City: Freedom in Humor

Posted by on Tuesday, February 16, 2016 in Blog posts, , , , , .

The Second City is an improvisation-based comedy ensemble with permanent troupes in Chicago, Toronto, and Hollywood as well as a traveling companies that tour around the US and Canada. The group is best known for its famous alumni, many of whom have landed their way into big blockbuster comedy movies and shows such as Saturday Night Live. These alumni include Steve Carrell, Steven Colbert, Tina Fey, Bill Murray, and Amy Poehler.  Vanderbilt has been lucky to host performances from the traveling group for the past few years, bringing entertainment and light-hearted social commentary to the student body. This year, Second City performed at Sarratt Cinema on Friday, February 5th. The performance blended humor and important topics to create an open dialogue free of past tensions in a way that was both enlightening and entertaining.

The performance, titled “Hooking Up with Second City,” consisted of numerous comedy sketches with intermittent improvisational performances and short (less than 5 line) skits to keep the performance flowing and engaging. The six performers hilarious depicted all types of modern relationships from young adult singles to married couples, drawing focus to today’s hook-up culture and to changing views on sexuality in entertaining ways. Transitions between acts were mediated by high-energy mixes of songs played by an onstage DJ. The musical choices kept the energy level of the performance high and did not allow anyone to get bored or sink into the temptation of checking their cell phones.

While the intention of the group was first and foremost to entertain the audience, a byproduct of this goal was the exploration of topics of interest to our generation, such as the current political election, gender and sexual identity, race relations and pop culture fads. While these issues can be controversial, joking about them in a performance setting allowed them to be brought up without unnecessary tension. For example, one skit addressed the overly political correct and sensitive culture through the eyes of teenage “girls.” The scene opened at a slumber party where each of the actors took turns sharing his or her secrets in a dramatic fashion. One actor came out as gay, and the next came out as being transgender. Each time, the rest of the actors responded by saying, “Who cares? It’s 2016!” Then, the actors started admitting ridiculous secrets such as secretly being a grown adult man in a teenage girl’s body and secretly being a breed of dog. The skit ended with one person getting up and admitting to being fat, and the rest of the actors replied that that’s the one thing that they will not tolerate. The phrase “who cares, it’s 2016!” illustrates the fact that in today’s society, we are overly careful not to offend anyone by overcorrecting our judgments and putting up the façade that we are overly accepting. The farcical dialogue exposed the borderline laughable ways in which people are overly careful not to offend anyone. The skit asks the question of how far society’s tolerance will go.

Throughout the performance, many skits illustrated differing opinions on the topic of sexual identity. In one skit, a teenage girl was riding a plane next to a middle-aged couple, and she asked them if she could practice coming out as gay to her parents. The couple gave different responses based on different personas of the parents such as overly religious and conservative. The skit shed light on the truth behind some current views towards sexual identity. For example, when playing “overly religious” parents, the older couple claimed that the young girl was possessed. This portrayal could potentially be taken as offensive, but the overdramatic and ridiculous nature of the skit showed that the skit writers thought that conservatives and overly religious people have very close-minded opinions without being too blunt. The use of humor creates a lighthearted tone for the performance, which eases the possible preexisting tensions surrounding the topic of sexual identity. Then, the performers used ridiculousness to show that their opinions were not entirely realistic, but not entirely far from what opinions are currently held by members of the general population.

The group also engaged the audience on numerous occasions. The performance opened with an improvisation exercise in which the performers took suggestions from the audience on subject matter, location, and dialogue and created a hilarious comedy act. Later in the show, one of the performers located a couple in the audience and interviewed them on the details of their relationship such as how they met, what they like to do for fun, and what they like about each other. The rest of the cast then came to the stage and fabricated a hilariously overdramatic love story based on the interview. In addition, the performers personalized several of the skits by having them take place in Stevenson or Rand, two locations that would be very familiar to audience members. This engagement and personalization provided an important connection between the performers and the audience that made the audience want to listen and engage in a reciprocal dialogue. The skits were filled of the skit writers’ opinions, so the performance needed to make the audience feel like part of the dialogue rather than being the recipients of a speech.

This year’s performance comes at an explosive time for the audience of Vanderbilt students. In addition to the abundance of hot button social issues being discussed on campus such as racial issues, sexual identity, and the political election, and the rise of the “PC culture” of being overly sensitive to differing opinions, the atmosphere of an election year adds to the boiling pot of student dialogue. The comedic performance introduced an element of levity that successfully-albeit temporarily-alleviated the tensions in our polemical campus environment. The performance showed that sometimes humor is the best way to defuse the tension surrounding hot-topic issues and allow for a catharsis of ideas and emotions. It was a necessary take on campus dialogue that was refreshing to the entire Vanderbilt audience.



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One Comment on “The Second City: Freedom in Humor”

I knew of the alumni who started their careers in Second City and I knew it was a comedic show, but I didn’t know much else coming into the performance. I wasn’t expecting the commentary on social issues presented and was impressed at the ability of the show to play fun at such serious issues that are relevant on our campus and in society today. When first watching the slumber party skit, mentioned above, I didn’t view it exactly the same way. I found the phrase “who cares? it’s 2016”, heartwarming, because I believe that society is changing little by little and with gay marriage being legalized, it is one step forward in a process not yet completed. I think the acceptance of the girls at the slumber being “gay” and “transgender” while the rejection of the girl who was conscience of her body image shows that this process is still occurring and not yet fully completed. There are still issues on image in society that need to be addressed and change. Along with this, Second City addressed racism through a skit of an interracial couple and how society and their families view them. Racial issues are currently hot on campus with the debate over Confederate Memorial House and its renaming, and this form of comedic address to a serious issue allows conversations to become easier on campus. The more humorous skits fit in-between the skits that made commentary on social issues served as a balance to allow time for reflection and thought for the audience or relaxation from the more serious topics. They allowed for the show to not be all social commentary while also emphasizing the skits making social commentary, and fit in with the theme of “Hooking up” with second city, which happened around Valentines Day. I agree that this show helped alleviate tension of the controversial conversations happening on campus currently, but I think the show also made these conversations easier and helped bring in a different perspective through humor, or even made some perspectives seem a little ridiculous through humor.

Neena Kapoor on February 24th, 2016 at 10:41 am

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