Who will be Second City's next legends? A TOC addendum
Fri Feb 17 2012
Photograph: Clayton Hauck
The cover of today's RedEye boasts the headline "Laugh it Up" and claims, "The first names in comedy got their start at Second City. Who will be the next legend?" I was legitimately interested in turning to pages 6–7 to see whom its staff is eyeing as the future of the Second City. Disappointingly, not a single up-and-comer is mentioned. Rather, it's a preview of the UP Comedy Club (which celebrates its grand opening this weekend) and a nostalgia piece devoted to folks like Tina Fey, Jason Sudeikis, Stephen Colbert and Nia Vardalos titled, "Where (Aren't) They Now?" By Second City accounts, these folks are already legends.
I don't want to criticize our esteemed colleagues at the RedEye, but since their paper offers no hints or insights as to who might break out at Second City next, allow me to fill in a few blanks with some thoughts of my own:
For starters, let me acknowlege that few of the names listed below are exclusive to Second City. Many have trained and performed at iO, the Annoyance and other theaters around town (and not all have appeared on the esteemed Mainstage or e.t.c. theaters). But for sake of arguement, we'll credit them to Second City.
First, a win was scored in 2009 when Michael O'Brien was scooped up to write for SNL. He has since launched the culty interview Web series 7 Minutes in Heaven in which he dishes and improvises inside a closet with different celebrities (Patricia Clarkson, Tracy Morgan, Insane Clown Posse). The following summer, four Chicago comedians were picked to join the SNL family including Vanessa Bayer and Paul Brittain as supporting players and Tom Flanigan and Shelly Gossman (e.t.c. and Mainstage respectively) as writers. Flanigan was not invited back after the 2010–11 season and Paul Brittain also departed last month. Sources tell me that Gossman has also recently departed. Though that leaves only O'Brien and Bayer, great things are still likely to come from Flanigan, Gossman and Brittain.
Tim Robinson and Sam Richardson are two of my recent faves who both departed the Second City Mainstage to pursue other interests. Robinson is an incredibly smart and funny writer who is great with facial contortions and has a penchant for the strange. He recently filmed a pilot for a Comedy Central sketch show with Mark Raterman called My Mans which the network declined, but keep that name in the back of your mind. Likewise, Richardson was phenomenal in the Mainstage revue South Side of Heaven as a proud mother, a philosophical stripper and in other noteworthy roles and has auditioned for Lorne Michaels. He's now in L.A.
The Second City Mainstage is currently gearing up for its 100th revue and has a dream cast on its hands. It has wisely retained ensemble members Edgar Blackmon (loose and limber), Katie Rich (whom I recently wrote about here) and Holly Laurent (whose sly and hilarious Lana Del Rey "Hunger Games" parody has been viewed more than 400,000 times already on YouTube and has been mentioned by Rolling Stone, Billboard, Entertainment Weekly, Time and others) and has also promoted Mary Sohn and Tim Baltz from the e.t.c. Bawdy Sohn and shape-shifter Baltz are extremely talented, and Baltz, in particular, is among the very best improvisers working in Chicago today. Rounding out the cast is another formidable player, Steve Waltien.
If you're looking for the next Chris Farley, and don't get me wrong, this kind of clichéd pigeonholing makes me want to vomit, recent e.t.c. ensemble member Brendan Jennings does share Farley's love of high-stakes physicality, and he was a driving force behind the recent smash Absolute Best Friggin' Time of Your Life. I'm champing at the bit to see what he does next. Of course, the e.t.c. now has some holes to fill, and I'm curious to see whom the Second City promotes. It would be wise to retain current cast member Aidy Bryant, who skillfully plays vulnerable oddballs.
Another stellar place to see the next generation of potential superstars is at the new UP Comedy Club's Monday night showcase, The Second City's Improv All-Stars. At the Monday debut, there was crackly chemistry, whipsmart references and a wonderful hat tip to both short- and long-form improv and the show vaunted great talent including Kellen Alexander, Chelsea Devantez, Hans Holsen and Cody Dove. Veteran improviser Rachael Mason was also in top form (which she often is).
Second City likes to send its people out on the road and on cruise ships. When they're not out entertaining folks in Des Moines or at sea, be on the lookout for the sly and mischievous John Hartman, the completely nutty Chris Witaske and others like Barry Hite and Tim Stoltenberg.
Of course, all these people are just the tip of the iceberg. But I'm willing to make a safe bet that at least a few of these comedians will one day be household names that our friends at the RedEye might then consider.