What I learned as a student at Chicago's famed Second City improv theater

click to enlarge The Best of the Second City arrives Wednesday. - TIM SCHMIDT PHOTO
Tim Schmidt photo
The Best of the Second City arrives Wednesday.

There's gotta be something funny about a dream that doesn't come true, right? On Wednesday, Nov. 14, the national touring company from Chicago's famed improv and sketch comedy theater the Second City will take the stage at Spokane's only slightly less famed Fox Theater. Their performance of The Best of the Second City will surely bring plenty of laughs to those in the audience, myself included, thus fulfilling a longtime dream of mine to laugh with some of Second City's talented comedians.

Albeit, it's happening for me from the wrong side of the stage.

The Second City has been a key stepping stone in the development of countless comedians over the decades. Amy Poehler, Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell and Chris Farley, to name a few, all passed through the Second City on their way to stardom. The Second City's track record, along with the classes and programs offered at its in-house training center, lured me to Chicago as a 20 year old in 2011.

Yes, and like those famous comedians, I too passed through the Second City on my path to ... well, writing this essay. It can't work out for everybody, OK? But that's not to say it was anything short of an incredibly rewarding experience. I mean, at the very least I'm getting paid to write about it now.

For two years I worked my way through the training center's writing and improv programs. My friends back home, most of whom went to traditional universities, liked to joke that I was attending clown college. Which is fair, as the Second City does offer clowning classes, though I never actually took one.

It wasn't so much an education in comedy as it was in being fully and overwhelmingly in the moment.

My instructors liked to preach that life is unscripted, and improvisation is the perfect skill to have. It's far more applicable than chemistry, at the very least. My classmates reflected that. Sure, some were there for the same reasons as I was. And some have gone on to become actual working comedians. Others, maybe even most, were young professionals looking to further their careers. Comedy could help people who worked in advertising find a way to make insurance commercials slightly more tolerable. Improv helped lawyers who needed to speak off the cuff in court.

At the end of the training center's year-long writing program, each class has to write, cast, produce and stage a revue with a month-long run. My largest contribution to my class's show, even though I went to Chicago to pursue writing, was born from improv class. In a scene, for some reason, I was personifying the month of January. In the next, February.

That developed into one of the two musical numbers in our revue, with actors playing December, January and February performing an autobiographical rap about the unglamorous life of the months of winter. I know there is a recording of this out there somewhere. Please don't Google it.

I can guarantee nothing from my production, Aim Low, Sweet Patriot, will defile the stage at the Fox. The Second City was a big part of my life, and one of the main reasons I have spent the past six years writing, but I was just a miniscule part of the Second City. Nearly six decades of great comedic minds have been molded there. Some of their best work will be on display here, in Washington's second city, and this mediocre comedic mind will be there to take it all in once again. ♦

The Best of the Second City • Wed, Nov. 14 at 7:30 pm • $25-$40 • All ages • Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox • 1001 W. Sprague • foxtheaterspokane.org • 624-1200

WSU Visiting Writers Series: Zoe Hana Mikuta @ WSU Elson S. Floyd Cultural Center

Wed., Sept. 22, 6:30 p.m.
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