America’s funny machine
The Second City: maintaining the ‘machine of collective creativity’ for 50 years
Chico, CA 95929
Chicago’s pioneering The Second City comedy theater, leaders in socio-political sketch comedy for half a century, is sending one of its touring troupes to Laxson Auditorium (Thursday, Jan. 28) once again, this time carrying the torch for the company’s “50 years of funny.”
The bulk of the performance, which is expected to conclude with a hearty helping of unscripted improv scenes based on audience suggestions, will consist of skits from the minds of the storied troupe’s past, which includes such luminaries as Stephen Colbert and Tina Fey.
One comedic blast from the past, according to Sayjal Joshi, a bright and energetic member of the current touring troupe, will be a re-creation of “Football Comes to the University of Chicago,” a skit led by alum Alan Arkin back in 1960 in which intellectual nerds take on the testosterone-filled game of the gridiron.
“Were mining the material from the past 50 years and putting it together in one show,” Joshi said via phone from her Chicago home. “I like the idea of people coming away with a new appreciation for Second City. Some of the people that came out of that place are phenomenal.”
Joshi said that the live material will span the entire Second City timeline, and will lean on general topics, like relationships, that remain fresher over time than, say, an old political skit about Lyndon Johnson.
The Second City comedy empire, which specializes in skewering the quirks and foibles of the day, includes permanent presences in Chicago and Toronto, three touring outfits that crisscross the country, and even a troupe that performs on Norwegian Cruise Line ships.
Icons who once performed on the Second City stage and its offspring, Second City TV, include Ed Asner, David Steinberg, Peter Boyle, John Candy, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Rick Moranis, George Wendt and several eventual Saturday Night Live cast members. But Second City also continues to launch upcoming talent, such as the fine-pedigreed crew coming to Chico. And the diminutive, delightfully outgoing Joshi, for one, is empowered rather than intimidated by the glorious list of comedy legends who came before her.
“You have to also remember all of the [Second City] people that no one remembers and think that you are one of those,” she said. “I’m just a cog in this machine of collective creativity. But [the stars] do make you feel like a part of something bigger.”
Though Joshi earned a bachelor’s degree in theater from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, her career path quickly strayed from the academic wing of the performing arts.
“I never really wanted to be a comedian; I didn’t think it was a viable option,” said the 31-year-old Joshi, whose first gig was portraying Snoopy in her high school’s rendition of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. “I wanted to do serious theater. But because I have a really high voice and I’m small, they’d want to cast me as a child in A Christmas Carol.”
Early on, Joshi embraced children’s theater before co-founding and learning to perform on the fly with North Carolina’s Idiot Box improv club.
“God bless ’em, I was so awful the first year,” she said. “Improv itself is a craft and you have to rehearse, and live audiences are the best teachers … It’s like a muscle that you exercise.”
Joshi hit the ground running when she moved to Chicago in 2004. In addition to her two years with Second City, she has worked with Laugh Out Loud, ComedySportz, Boom Chicago and the Asian-American group Stir-Friday Night. Along with Second City cohort Katie Rich, Joshi has found another niche, appearing in whimsical Sonic Drive-In TV commercials.
“They let us improvise,” Joshi said about the folks who produce the commercials. “It’s the most artistic freedom you’ll ever see on a commercial.”
With the economy down, ongoing wars and the aftermath of natural disasters acting as a prevailing point of sorrow with everyone right about now, a couple hours of belly laughs is an inviting healing tonic amid the turmoil.
As the troupe’s own press proclaims, “The Second City has always served as a bit of a tonic for times of difficulty and upheaval. It’s our job to laugh at what scares us; to make the unfunny funny; and to provide audiences with a chance to let go for a couple hours and just laugh.”