Comedian Casey Whitaker and friends give you a sentimental glimpse into the glory days of the heralded improv troupe
Venue: The Times-Union Center – Terry Theater
Date: January 31st at 8pm
Positioned in a city famous for hundreds of different things and having seemingly a thousand different nicknames, it is no small feat that the The Second City improv group has become a Chicago institution and landmark standard bearer of comedy greatness for the past six decades. The company has launched the careers of Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Gilda Radner, and countless other comedy giants who honed their crafts in front of audiences with bellies full of kielbasas and deep dish pizza. On January 31st at The Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts as part of the FSCJ Artist Series, Jacksonville residents will have a chance to check out all of this firsthand…sort of. Though they may not be household names as of yet, The Best of Second City–a six-member ensemble performing a two-act sketch revue consisting of scenes written and performed by The Second City alumni over the past 55 years–will be on hand that night to take you on a laugh-filled trip down memory lane. But isn’t it counter-intuitive for an improv group to be doing what now amounts to a scripted show?
Second City Touring Company member Casey Whitaker doesn’t think so. “Yeah, we’ll do written material and then some sketch, and then some improv, maybe 20% improv,” says Whitaker, who has been training with Second City since she moved to The Windy City in 2009. This is quite an achievement given that she places the odds of being accepted into the group along the same lines as winning the lottery–without all of the money that comes along with winning lottery, of course. “There’s a general audition every year, then there’s also our big training center. It’s very competitive. If someone was interested, you have to move to Chicago for sure, you have to start training at the training center and get on an independent team and start doing shows for free around the city and then eventually, hopefully, you’ll start getting paid to do it.”
That said, you are just as likely to hear jokes taken from the morning headlines as you are a 40-year-old classic Bill Murray gem during these shows. As with any improv performance, Whitaker says that the audience and their cues and interactions play a large part in the fun, so–as is obligatory for any live show in Duval–feel free to scream, “Duuuuuuval,” to your heart’s delight. “For the sketch we have our written lines that we memorized but when we do the improv within the show we can be ourselves and anything goes. It’ll be a fabulous show. The group we have right now is very tight knit and we have a lot of chemistry onstage. We’re very excited to be in Florida and not Chicago in January,” says Whitaker.
The show varies on any given week, giving each cast member a chance to try out different characters from the hey day. This isn’t to suggest that Whitaker doesn’t have her favorites. “It’s always an honor to try the archived material, you know, do the lines that Rachel Dratch did or Tina Fey did. I really love Shelly Gossman. She was a writer for Saturday Night Live after she did main stage in the early 2000s. I really love Stephnie Weir, she was on Mad TV for awhile.”
Lest you thought that kids were only convenient as an excuse to get out of obligations, Whitaker has started a Kickstarter page for her project called “Take a Kid To It,” which is a web series that makes high-stakes situations that are made easier or more comedic by taking a kid to it. Whether or not you decide to take your kid to the show on the 31st, perhaps afterwards you can scope out the troupe’s after-party, which Whitaker claims are epic.
“Yeah, sometimes in improv we have this thing where it’s kind of like Harry Potter, where there are the Wizards and the Muggles and we sometimes joke that people who don’t do comedy or improv are Muggles. Everybody is always on in an improv party and it’s always entertaining.” The Second Ciy Touring Company will be at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts on January 31st at 8pm. Check it out!