With icons of the comedy world pouring out of its doors, The Second City has stood the test of time as a powerhouse of hilarity, inspiring a decent population of 20-somethings to move to Chicago in pursuit of its comedy dreams. Staying relevant and edgy, the venue's current Mainstage show, Panic on Cloud 9, features sketches on topics like terrorism, xenophobia, parental relations and Batman preaching gun rights. Recently, I checked in with Chelsea Devantez, a member of the show's cast, to talk about the show and how to make a living out of being a funny lady.
Were there certain topics the cast were eager to tackle with Panic on Cloud 9?
As a cast we wanted to tackle the show with patience and harness the power of silence among the silly. For me, I was on a bit of a tear to get scenes onstage that had a really strong female perspective and material where the women had a lot of interaction with each other—passing the sketch comedy Bechdel test, if you will. I also wanted to get more personal; there is a song in the show that Daniel Strauss and I wrote together from completely different perspectives, but the final product is very personal to both of us.
The Second City has pumped out a lot of successful female comedians, like Tina Fey and Cecily Strong. Does Second City make it easier to be a female performer in a very male dominated business?
Second City is incredibly supportive of your voice, no matter who you are. The director of our last show, Ryan Bernier, and the producer Alison Riley, really championed me pitching strong female content. Which was important. It's ensemble work at its core, you can't accomplish anything alone on this stage.
Photo: courtesy of Robin Hammond and Todd Rosenberg
One of the benefits of working for Second City is getting access the archives of old scripts and shows from its 50-year history. Do you have any favorite classic sketches? Tina Fey stripping to the news is one of my all time favorites. Also, a piece called "Vera," which is one of the first pieces I got to do after I got hired, where Stephnie Weir played a psychic. "Art Class" from Let Them Eat Chaos is an amazing improv piece. I've re-watched the show South Side of Heaven a dozen times—it moves to me to tears every time.
It’s not unusual to see celebrities in the audience at Second City or even joining the improv set with the cast. Is there someone you’ve been hoping will show up?
If I could put out a little wish list it would be Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Kay Cannon, Louis C.K., Stephen Colbert, Lona Williams, RuPaul and the ghost of Mae West.
Any advice for those aspiring to get to the Mainstage? Create your own work. In whatever form you can—web series, short stories, solo comedy. Do your own thing and do it a ton. It can get you noticed enough to get the job, and will make you so much better at the job when you have it. Also, work to enjoy this insane journey from day one. All the stress and drama of what's next and the craziness of creating work stays the same no matter what level you're at. Finding ways to deal with it all early on will keep you strong during the inevitable lows.
You can catch Chelsea and her cast mates in Panic on Cloud 9 on the Second City Mainstage at 1616 N Wells, Tue–Sun.