Before the start of the new Second City show, Do the Right Thing, No Worries If Not, I found myself in a conversation with a man from Germany who was on a post-business trip whirlwind tour of some of the US. He was on his final day in Chicago and, having taken in a Sox game the day before, decided to see a show from Chicago’s famous comedy troupe. I mentioned the stereotype of humorless Germans, and he said it was basically true, but he thought he’d be fine, as he enjoyed laughing. He was worried about not understanding any political humor, though.
He needn’t have worried. The 110th mainstage revue from this venerable troupe is almost completely bereft of the political humor they had been leaning into before the pandemic, instead choosing to showcase the personal strengths of the individual cast members, almost all of whom are in their first show on the main stage. What has resulted is one of the funniest, most eclectic, most personal, and most accessible Second City shows in a long time, as cast members lean into both physical and verbal humor, playing to their considerable individual strengths.
Director Jen Ellison, also in her first mainstage work, gets the most from a talented and exciting cast. The only returning member is the impossibly limber Evan Mills, whose thin body contorts itself in so many ways that he pretty much defines the term “physical humor.” Mills isn’t the only one, though. Kiley Fitzgerald is not as lithe as Mills—in fact, they have an entire hilarious scene built around the idea that fat people are not typically viewed as all that mobile—but proves themself to be a gifted comic in the John Belushi mold, exploiting their body’s shape and size whenever they can. In one sketch, they play a substitute gynecologist who is literally a tyrannosaurus, their bulk and tiny forearms making any kind of examination impossible.
Other cast members excel in other ways. Evanston’s Claire McFadden, as befits someone who has created wordplay games for Jackbox, highlights her verbal ability. In one showcase piece, she plays a French-accented, unquestioningly stoic character caught in a rainstorm and a bit of an existential train of thought (“we’re riding this to the grave because we’re Catholic and you get what you get”). McFadden can be physical also, as she shows in a sketch in which she is driving the versatile Andy Bolduc home and the two flirtatiously and spontaneously reinvent themselves as exaggerated character types from movies or TV. Bolduc, for his part, has a physicality and flexible voice that allow him to play anything from a businessman to a nerdy high-schooler to a small child.
E.J Cameron, a veteran of several recent Second City etc shows, pairs with Julia Morales in an early sketch about a video store called “Blackbusters” that rents people Black-directed-or-acted films that do whatever the requested—but not in stock—White films do, but better. (Easy example: The Wizard of Oz and The Wiz; not so obvious example: Edward Scissorhands and Barbershop.) Both of these strong performers also return in a sketch featuring Cameron and Mills as Morales’s sons, seeking to use mommy-choreographed Tik-Tok dances to get into a private school. Cameron and Mills each use the scene to show off over-the-top comic moves. (The school’s representative is played by Fitzgerald, whose reactions are hysterical as the dances grow more and more sexual.)
As is often the case, the best sketches of the night are group sketches. One of these takes place in a Breakfast Club-style high school detention moderated by Cameron. The “students” seek to bug the proctor in any way they can, including passing notes in violation of his direct prohibition. When the notes make their way to audience members, Cameron’s teacher finally notices and has them read the (insulting to his character) messages out loud. As usually happens in these shows, the audience members eagerly play along with the improvised conversations that follow. (Speaking of improv, this revue also makes considerable use of unfiltered audience suggestions, which has been lacking in some recent revues.)
Another brilliant scene is a sketch that takes place at Dick’s Last Resort, where two women bring their children to enjoy the ritualized taunting and insults of the wait staff. However, when one of the boys (Bolduc) corrects the server (McFadden) about his mother’s they/them pronouns, it triggers a wonderfully funny scene in which McFadden suddenly becomes obsequiously aware of her phrasing around the non-binary Fitzgerald, making the entire party more and more uncomfortable. (Another interesting element of this show is the degree to which actors play characters that represent themselves. Fitzgerald’s NB character here (and elsewhere) and Mills’ overt gayness throughout—along with a song in which he asks the audience to raise our hands in “Never Have I Ever” fashion if we agree with the things he brings up, which range from being left-handed to being in a state of perpetual terror about the world—insert parts of the actors’ own experiences into the show, breaking down walls and making it all more personal.)
Do The Right Thing, No Worries If You Don’t declares its philosophy right in its title. Sure, Second City has always been a left-leaning troupe, but in this sort-of post-pandemic, sort-of post-Trump moment, they are refusing to be in any way judgmental or political and opting instead just to have fun. In the end, my German seatmate complained only that their too-brief curtain call did not allow him enough opportunity to express his appreciation for as long as he felt they deserved.
Tickets for this revue, which will run through the end of the year, are available from Second City.