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The Second City – Chicago

October 24, 2011

  • 1616 N. Wells Street
  • Chicago, IL 60614
  • (312) 337-3992
  • Website

Our big plans for my rare Saturday night off were to take in a main stage show at The Second City in Chicago.  I’ve always wanted to go to a show, but I’ve never pulled the trigger on this one.

A few weeks ago, I ran the idea by J.  She and her mom had been to a show on the E.T.C. stage, but she had never been to the main stage before…..oh, and two of her friends from high school/college are in the show.

It’s kind of amazing given my love for comedy that I’ve never been to The Second City.  It’s even crazier when you realize I never miss an episode of Saturday Night Live.

The Second City has been a jumping off point for almost every comedian that has made it big since the 1960’s.  Name any famous comedian and chances are they’ve gone through The Second City.  Jim Belushi, Mike Meyers, Chris Farley, Tim Meadows, John Candy, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Alan Arkin, Joan Rivers, Harold Ramis, Eugene Levy, Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Tina Fey and so many more.

The theater opened in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood in 1959.  In 1967, they moved from that theater a few blocks south to the current theater at 1616 North Wells near the intersection with North Street.

You enter the main stage from street level on Wells then go up two flights of stairs where the box office and lobby are.  If you’re looking to go to a show on a weekend, you better buy your tickets in advance.  Pretty far in advance too.  Two weeks before the show, all I could get was tickets for the 11:00 show.  You can buy them online then either print them out or pick them up the day of the show. 

The doors are supposed to open fifty minutes before the show, but the 8:00 show was running long.  That meant a line started forming outside for the 11:00 show and when the doors did finally open at about 10:20, the line stretched from the door to the theater all the way down the stairs and out on to the street.  Seating is first come, first serve unless you spring for the premium seats, but there really isn’t a need for that.

The theater is pretty small, but they really pack people in.  They call it “cabaret” style seating, but seats are lined up in rows.  There are tables mixed in those rows so it is kind of cabaret style, but not really.  The tables are just kind of there as a convenience for the table service.

We chose to eat before coming to the show, but they do have a pretty good size food and drink menu.  I didn’t see a lot of food coming out of the kitchen, but there were a lot of drinks.  J got a Pepsi, but I chose to order a Goose Island 312 in the souvenir glass.    The beer came in a large 22 oz. glass that I would have gotten a discount on for refills, but I only had the one.  I was a little confused at first because our waiter took the glass away when I was done.  I expected just to keep it, but they actually brought back a clean glass at the end of the show.  The waiter started tabs for each party and near the end of the second act, they went around and handed out bills to everyone.  A few minutes later, they went back and picked them up.  We paid with cash to make it easier on our waiter, but the did take credit cards as well.

The show that we saw was called South Side of Heaven.  While you don’t need to be from Chicago for it to be funny.  It sure does help.  There were a lot of Chicago specific references and even one skit about the Cubs/Sox rivalry.  That was one of my favorites by far, but it was pretty edgy…at least one lady near us got offended by the content and she got up and stormed out never returning.

The show is set up kind of like a long SNL without the digital shorts or bands to break things up.  There were short skits lasting only a few minutes and longer ones that went on for fifteen minutes or so.  The cast is made up of four men and two women.  All of the skits had a theme that was wrapped up in the final skit of the second act.

Other than the Cubs/Sox skit, my favorite one involved just one guy on stage sitting on a chair.  I feel ok telling you this because I found out that the show we went to was his second to last show and it would take a special type of person to pull this one off as well as he did.

Timothy Edward Mason came out on stage in a TSA uniform.  That by itself could have led to some pretty hilarious jokes, but he took it to a place I don’t think anyone saw coming.  It started with Mason trying to guess the names of people and their professions in the front row just by looking at them.  He came off kind of creepy…he is, afterall, a TSA agent who sits in a room watching the body scanners all day.

From there he moved to a lady in the first row.  He started to rattle off some very specific things about her.  What her name is.  Where she’s from. Where she went to school.  Where she works.  What her favorite books are.  What she did yesterday. Who her husband is….then he turned to her husband who was sitting next to her and did the same thing.  The thing that makes this funny….all of it was true.  After he finished, he told the couple he saw their name on the reservation list and Google’d them.  He then turned to another lady sitting a little farther back and rattled off some fairly embarrassing things about her.  He didn’t Google this one though….nope, instead, he put on a hat and glasses before the show and sat in front of her for 10 minutes and just listened to her conversation.  It was incredibly funny and really impressive.

After the two “scripted” acts of the show, they gave people a chance to leave if they wanted to because it was 1 AM.  For those that stayed, the cast did an improv set.  In true improv fashion, they took suggestions from the audience and played “Freeze Tag.”  This set went on for over a half hour and was just as funny as the scripted portion of the show.  At almost 2 AM, the show ended and we headed home.

Second City is an absolute must for anyone visiting Chicago.  You really have to see a show here…any show.  It doesn’t matter what it is, it’s going to be hilarious.  It was a late night for us, but absolutely worth it.  I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard.

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