Thursday, August 19, 2010

Second City: Day 4

I'm back at the hotel de dump for a few hours before a late night show at a theater in town called the Annoyance. Yes, there is a comedy show in this town nearly every night of the week. This truly is the center of sketch comedy. Here's what I mean.

Second City isn't only comedy club in town. There are many others that create somewhat of a comedy circuit here in Chicago. You know how in Nashville, you can walk down the street any night of the week and see several live music clubs? It's kind of like that but without the steel guitars. Aspiring comedians and improvisors have to get out there and play as many shows as they possibly can. That gives us the chance to see a different show every night of the week. Well, almost a different show each night.

Last night, for example, I went back to the show I saw on Sunday night. I did that for two reasons. One, I was curious how the long-form section of the show would be. Okay, time out. Let me explain. Most of the improv team shows here in town are divided into three acts. The first two acts consist of scripted, short sketches. Yes, just like Saturday Night Live. The third act, however, is usually 30 minutes of long-form improv. That means it really is different every night.

I also decided to go back because I heard that it was going to be a somewhat of a special night for the Second City community. I was hoping to sit against the wall and witness the going away party. I succeeded and it was an honor to watch.

If you've been following along, you'll remember that I said there was a performer who absolutely killed every time she walked out on stage. It turns out that Lorne Michaels saw the show a couple of weeks ago and felt the same way. So, last night was Shelly Gossman's last night on the Second City stage before she leaves for New York to join the writing team at SNL. It was pretty surreal, even for an outsider like me, to think that she is about to go from performing on a stage in front of 200 people to writing sketches for some of the funniest people in the industry.

It was a big moment but it wasn't an unfamiliar one. This happens all the time here at Second City. That's not to say it is easy. They said that Shelly was here for 10 years before NBC called. They encourage a family atmosphere, that was obvious as she tearfully thanked the crowded room full of friends and supporters last night. But that doesn't mean that it's not cutthroat.

Okay, so enough about the stage stuff. What about me right?

Yes, what about me! The writing portion has been just as helpful as the morning improv section. What's one thing that has stuck out? I've learned that story flows from the characters, not the other way around.

Let me break it down. If you create a solid character, the desires and even jokes will come naturally. So often, comedy writers sit back and try to come up with one liners. Apparently you get ahead of yourself when you do that. Also, the jokes, no matter how funny they may be, don't match the character. But, if you develop a character and story first, the jokes come naturally. They almost even fall out of the story.

Basically, don't write to be funny. "If you aim to be funny" our instructor says, "you'll probably miss it." Instead, create a funny character, and it'll work.

The million dollar question is, how am I doing? My wife continues to ask, "Are you funny in Chicago?" That is certainly a valid question. One I was curious about myself. One I had to solve this week.

Here's a glimpse. Yesterday we were given an assignment to write a short sketch based on a random prompt. Today we brought them into class and performed everyone's piece one at a time. I recruited the girl from Dublin to play one of my characters. Smart move on my part. After all, everything sounds funnier with an Irish accent.

The answer to the question? Yes. Today I was. But tomorrow might be another story.

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