By Eric Emin Wood
It has spawned some of the funniest improve comedians and performers Toronto stages has ever seen, and has been a Toronto fixture for almost 30 years. Now, The Second City is coming to Ryerson.
The improvised touring show will appear at Ryerson’s Hub next Wednesday, Nov 13.
The actors haven’t been on television, but touring company member Jim Taylor insists you could do a lot worse than attend one of their live campus shows.
“It’s a different experience,” says Taylor. “Quite a bit looser than on The Second City. Doing it in a bar is a lot more rock ‘n’ roll compared to the actual theatre space.”
Taylor is one of three touring performers who’ll be coming to Ryerson. Unlike the group’s usual semi-dignified theatre-based format, the campus sessions are done as a game show. After 20 minutes of improve, eight volunteers go onstage and the least funny among them are gradually eliminated by the company until three people are left to perform with the professionals.
Taylor says it’s a fun and energetic experience.
Jason Percy, the campus marketing executive at The Second City, was contacted by RyeSAC to bring the show over to the school.
“They were interested in having us and we were interested in being there,” he says.
“It’s good for campuses. Saturday Night Live onstage is different from regular pub nights.”
The Second City is best known for its improve and stand-up comedy, which has spawned the likes of John Belushi, Mike Myers and Bill Murray. Many of the alumni have gone on to Saturday Night Live. Several have successful film careers.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, New York was the ‘first’ city. It had Broadway, vaudeville, and the Statue of Liberty. Chicago, with its towers rising from the ashes on an 1871 fire, was the ‘second.’
Anyway, that was the inspiration when Paul Sills and Howard Alk opened a new coffee house in the Windy City. They made it like the coffee houses in New York, where friends and other people could just sit around and talk.
But along the way, the two decided they might as well put on a little show. By 1963m that little show, The Second City, had franchised to, among other places, the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto.
Today it works from a range of material that includes original plays and ideas as offbeat as a weekly improvised soap opera.
The Second City has been touring for years, Taylor says, but they only recently began placing emphasis on bringing the show to university students.
“Second City was started with university students in Chicago. Even now half the audience is in university. We’re getting back to our roots in Toronto,” Percy says.
With The Second City campus shows, volunteers aren’t quite exposed to the level of challenge faced by SNL’s Not Ready For Prime Time Players. Rather, they compete in what Taylor calls “semi-improv” — using the skills but in much simpler games.
With ‘Awful But Earnest,” for instance, contestants have a celebrity impersonation picked for them, and the worst one is voted out by the audience.
In “Foreign Pickup Line”, the contestant is given a country, and then has to try and pick up a person of the opposite sex in their “language.”
Prizes for the winners will include gift certificates to Toronto-area restaurants and free tickets for The Second City main stage show at Tim Sim’s Playhouse on Blue Jay’s Way.
According to Taylor, the formula has always been simple; just show spirit and an awareness for current events at each school the show visits. Rival universities often end up as the butt of jokes, he said.
Things will be a little different at Ryerson because of its downtown atmosphere.
“Especially in the GTA you’re bound to run into a bit more of an urban attitude. There’s a lot going on. We wouldn’t do a ‘rah-rah Ryerson!’ thing,” Taylor says.