& & by Mike Corrigan & &

Out of the ooze they come, squirming and slithering. Rising up from the fertile breeding grounds of the Second City to infiltrate comedy clubs, late-night television, movies and our very minds. To infect us with mirth. They are the touring companies of the Second City, and they come to lay waste to mediocrity, boredom and anything you hold in reverence. And it just so happens that one such troupe is returning to our area this Friday at EWU to check up on us, to make us sick all over again with their highly virulent strain of comedy.

For more than 40 years, the Second City in Chicago has been preparing aspiring young comics to go into the world and subvert it -- with humor. It opened its doors in 1959 to almost instant and universal praise for its inventive and inspired live skit comedy. By introducing satire and improvisation into American comedy theater, it effectively challenged the then-dominant Vaudevillian traditions of slapstick and one-liner, stand-up routine.

What was revolutionary upon inception has evolved into a glorious tradition. The Second City stands today as the citadel of satire, a temple to all things prickly yet hilarious. And though it has always been much more than a mere farm club for comedians seeking to break into American ensemble comedy television (such as Saturday Night Live), the Second City has nevertheless served as a springboard for generations of the comedy world's best and brightest. That's right, comedy genius doesn't just drop out of the ether, and even the most inspired and original comics need time and nurturing to be devastatingly effective. John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, John Candy, Mike Myers and Chris Farley (to name but a few) all developed their edge within Second City's "nothing is sacred and anything goes as long as it's funny" atmosphere. Long before Animal House, Caddyshack, Austin Powers, Tommy Boy -- even before SNL -- there was the Second City, spawning and nursing comic genius.

Since 1961, the Second City has been taking its act on the road, and today there are three separate touring companies all ready, willing and able to come at a moment's notice to harass your local community. Inspired by the comedy giants who have gone before them, a company is, even as you read this, hurtling toward Cheney with its comedic barbs fully sharpened and at the ready.

What should you expect from a Second City performance? Above all, expect the same level of hilarity and professionalism as you would find at a show in Chicago or New York. The touring companies aren't second-string benchwarmers, but grade "A" wise asses (if anything, the troupes get more zany and experimental at gigs that are a bit off the beaten path).

The skits are performed by a six-member troupe augmented by a musical accompanist and a sound and lighting director. The performance is a blend of classic Second City scenes, songs and improvisations typically, in two acts. It's naked comedy -- just six actors (and maybe a few chairs) out there defenseless, on a limb and, occasionally, in your face. Second City comics have a well-deserved reputation for skewering any and all sacred cows that happen across their path. They operate on the theory that anything can be funny. Keep that in mind, those of you with delicate sensibilities and/or an aversion to colorful language. And leave the kids with a sitter. One more thing, the painfully shy and easily ruffled are advised to avoid the first three rows (at least) because of audience harassment -- and frequently, forced participation has been known to occur at these things.

Normally, I don't go out of my way to trumpet good deals, but this one deserves special mention. The last time a Second City troupe was in town, they filled The Met at $15 a seat. Well, this time around, you can get the same super duper comic quality for a mere three bucks ($1 if you're an EWU student). But be advised -- the tickets are available only at the EWU Bookstore on the Cheney campus. Any remaining tickets will be available at the door on the evening of the performance.

& & & lt;i & The Second City troupe performs at Eastern Washington University's Showalter Auditorium on Friday, Feb. 16, at 8 pm. Tickets: $3; $1, for EWU students. Call: 359-6718. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &

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