Laughing With Love
The Second City Touring Company Looks at Relationships

By Lee Valentine Smith

Since 1959, The Second City has reigned supreme as a one-stop performance showcase and training ground for all aspects of the art of comedy. Over the years, the multi-purpose venue, theater and school has expanded from its original base in Chicago, adding Toronto and Los Angeles locations.

Second City has cultivated an incredible roster of performers including Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, Joan Rivers and Robert Klein just to name a few of the notable alumni.

The touring company began taking the show on the road in the late '60s. This month, one of the enterprise's three traveling ensembles will perform at Byers Theater in City Springs. "It's Not You, It's Me" is a comedic look at the various complications of relationships.

Cast member Jackie Southee spoke with INsite by phone from the Second City offices in Chicago.

Tell us about your journey to the Second City.

I'm originally from Virginia and I grew up as a big fan of the Second City Television show SCTV. It just left a big mark on me as I was growing up. When I was in college, I started doing improv on a more serious level and taking classes along on the way. Then it kind of dawned on me to maybe go to Chicago and try to audition. So I did, right after college. Worst case scenario, I figured it'd just be something fun I could do after my day job. Then I got hired and I've enjoyed every minute of it.

Some people may not realize that comedy involves years of hard work and commitment.

Oh yes. Like right now, I'm sitting here with one of our other cast members, writing material and memorizing things we're gonna do later on today. So even in our down time we're working. But it never feels like work to me because it's so much fun. I'm always coming up with ideas and putting them down in notes. Most of it makes no sense a week later, but I write every idea down because you never know what will work later.

Just touring is a major time obligation.

It is and we've taken it all over the country. We've been to 13 states this year, including Alaska.

Let's talk about the show itself.

We have around 60 years of archived material, bits that were written for and produced on our resident stage. So for this show, we've looked through all those scenes to find relationship-based material that revolves around the good, the bad and the ugly of it all.

Even though some of the sketches have been performed by other troupes over the years, is there any room for improvisation?

Some things have to be updated just because they've become dated so we do have some wiggle room to improvise. There are plenty of opportunities for us to kind of goof around on stage a little and there are enough places in there that you can work around if something crazy happens. And boy howdy, we've had plenty of situations to work around - from bats swooping down on us to the power going out to you name it. We work through it because we've been trained and we're always ready to pivot if we have a problem.

Today's audiences aren't always completely quiet or reverent. How do you deal with incidental crowd noises like cell phones or drunken hecklers?

When we're improvising, if a phone goes off, sometimes we'll make a joke of it. We do certainly have people shouting back but it's live theater so things happen. We are known for politely calling it out if we get an off-color suggestion for the 100th time. It's like, 'OK do you kiss your mom with that mouth?' We'll go blue on our own, we don't need any help with that.

How blue do you go?

I would say it's pretty much PG-13. We don't have props or costumes, so content-wise, it's really just us on stage. Some things can go a little blue, but Second City is known for satire so a lot of what we're doing kinda has that innocent vail over it. You might have to read into it a little bit. But generally, we're proud that it's not a really raunchy show. It's something that teenagers to people in a retirement home would laugh at.

Comedy is a balancing act because people are so easily triggered these days.

Very true. For example, we do have some political stuff in the show or some things that are social that might be political. But it's a fair show in that we'll make fun of Trump, but we'll also make fun of Democrats. So we just encourage people to basically come in with an open mind and be prepared to laugh, not so much at other people, but at the humor we can often find in ourselves.

That's a very healthy approach. Some comics are so frustrated with finding the happy medium, they won't even play colleges anymore because of the whole PC debate.

Balance and general fairness has always been something that Second City has considered when we put together a show like this. We always try to write material with the consideration of who'll see it. Whether it's punching up at targets or comedy with universal appeal or just making fun of yourself, it's definitely something that we take into consideration. Sometimes when we look through old scenes from 50 years ago, we can't use them because it was just a different time and they just didn't have the same perspective that we have now. That isn't to say we're perfect, though. But we want to focus on situations that create conversations. As a general rule, we stop and ask, 'Who are we making fun of in the scene? Is it ourselves or are we punching up at something we can all relate to?' We just try to make sure that we're not alienating any marginalized group or really anybody at all. But we touch on things that we hope will make everyone laugh.

It's an equal-opportunity laugh-fest.

That's the goal. We tour so much and of course anywhere you go, everyone in the audience is going to be diverse. It's hard to think of it in terms of pleasing or speaking to everybody, but certainly what we aim to do is make fun of a lot of people over the span of the show. We're kind of casting a wide net. I don't think there's anyone in the audience who can come back and say that they didn't get a little bit of good-natured ribbing at some point. We think really hard about the material before it ever goes into the show because at Second City, we make sure that we're laughing with you - not at you.

The Second City Touring Company presents "It's Not You, It's Me" on Friday, April 19 at 8 p.m. at City Springs' Byers Theater. Visit citysprings.com for tickets and more information.

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