Archive for July, 2008

Review: The Second City (Chicago)

Where are my notes?

I’m inserting this stub into my blog, for all the world to see.  Not going to publish it as “private”, as I’ve done with posts in the past while I waited for myself to complete them.  This is an embarrassing reminder that I should write up my full review already.

I took a trip to Chicago from 7/11 – 7/13 to visit my old friend Eric.  While there, we saw a Second City best-of show and the Second City Mainstage show (No Country for Old White Men) on Saturday night (7/12).  Both were excellent.  Both made me feel like the Groundlings really let me down on 7/5.  Both made me feel better about the state of sketch comedy today.  These are the best sketch professionals working at THE sketch comedy institution.  The Second City did not disappoint.  Correction:  I was disappointed, but only that they sold out the 8pm show so we were unable to see the Second City ETC show, and I hear that’s excellent as well.  Next time.

I liked:  The simplicity of their costumes (almost nothing other than the Second City “uniform”), quick scene changes, good balance of lengths of sketches, clever premises, great execution, general unpredictability

I disliked:  The improv (they seemed off that night, and Joe Canale was even blocking)

Review: The Groundlings Key Party

I went to see The Groundlings Key Party on Saturday.  I was mildly disappointed, but perhaps my expectations were too high.

The Groundlings, a Los Angeles troupe, are the second best known Sketch Comedy recruiting ground for Saturday Night Live (after Second City).  Notable alumni include Phil Hartman, Jon Lovitz, Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig, Julia Sweeney, and Lisa Kudrow.  With all that history, I was expecting to be wowed.  I wasn’t.

The show was OK.  Of the 14 sketches, I’m being generous saying I think about half of them were good or better.  The 5 improvised scenes, all good, were welcome relief when they came after the slower sketches.  None of the sketches were great.

I think it was the writing.  I don’t think any of it was particularly clever.

I liked:  The acting and improvising, the harmonies during the song, Michaela Watkins as Arianna Huffington, the improv
I did not like:  Long periods of (dead) time in between sketches, relatively few sketches, boring premises

I’m neutral about:  Elaborate costumes for every sketch, a listing of every sketch with actors and writers

I’m in love with:  Stephanie Courtney.  I don’t know how good of a writer she is (she had very few writing credits), but she’s a great performer.  I googled her after the show and discovered that she’s the star of one of my favorite commercial campaigns for Progressive.com.  She’s the annoying sales/counter lady in those Progressive.commercials that take place in the all-white store (reminding me of an all-white Office Max).

Even though I was somewhat disappointed, this is a pretty good show.  I’ve only seen a few better sketch comedy shows live.  Every once in a while, I’ll see a sketch comedy show that makes me ashamed at even the best of the sketch comedy I’ve done (in my little local troupe).  Not this one, but I’m a bit of a jaded sketch fan.  I’ll be seeing The Groundlings again, because they’re better than most of the sketch shows I’ve ever seen.

Edit:  Okay, after seeing The Second City Mainstage show in Chicago (7/12), I’ll admit that I was going easy on the Groundlings.  I was really disappointed.  Shouldn’t they be great?  Maybe the audition process skews towards great performers rather than great writers.  I’ll talk about that later…

Recommended for Sketchwrights

In the spirit of my new first draftiness of Sketchwright, I now publish my half-assed incomplete listing of things that sketchwrights should read, plus something sketchwrights should listen to (a podcast).

I started this list way back in July, and then didn’t do nothin wit it.  Maybe if I keep it posted, its embarrassing incompleteness will shame me into finishing it.

Second City’s list: http://www.secondcity.com/?id=training-education/training/la_tc/general_information#read

http://www.amazon.com/Comic-Toolbox-Funny-Even-Youre/dp/1879505215/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1215566603&sr=8-1

http://www.amazon.com/Art-Laugh-Handbook-Writers-Directors/dp/0976218410/ref=pd_bbs_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1215566578&sr=8-2

http://www.amazon.com/Build-Laugh-Construct-Sketch-Formula/dp/096488822X/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1215566578&sr=8-1

http://www.amazon.com/Days-Nights-Second-City-Staging/dp/1566634318/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1215566662&sr=8-1

http://secondcity.com/?id=theatres/chicago/features

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