Of the previous 99 mainstage revues at the Second City, almost all have offered the audience a chance to shout out suggestions for improvised scenes. But you have to be loud and fast — and even then some other schmuck's dumb idea might get picked over your gem. The 100th mainstage revue, directed by Matt Hovde, corrects this nagging little problem. In the new revue "Who Do We Think We Are?," the chance to dictate an improv scene is sold to the highest bidder. *
(* All bids are collected and losing bids are non-refundable.)
At Tuesday night's show, those who wanted to see a scene about Barack Obama battled it out with those who wanted to see a scene about Mitt Romney (you should not assume these were supporters of the two candidates; perchance the reverse). And then, at the last minute, someone offered 80 bucks for a scene about lesbians. And so bought-and-paid-for lesbians were what we got to see.
"Thank you," someone said from the stage as a pair of lesbian characters took the stage. "You have just voted the way we vote in this country."
This Super Audience PAC sketch — performed by Tim Baltz, Edgar Blackmon, Katie Rich, Holly Laurent, Mary Sohn and the hugely promising newcomer Steve Waltien — was hilarious. But you could feel that the audience was worrying about what was going to happen to the money. Not for long.
"We donating it to Planned Parenthood," said Rich, effecting the go-to-hell tone of a long-suffering MSNBC softball coach who just creamed a champion team from Fox News. "Whether you like it or not."
Bam! Moments like that — when the audience nearly chokes on its nachos — are crucial components to the best Second City revues, and once Second City starts selling the soul it never had, the initially conventional and predictable 100th revue starts to move to a whole new, highly desirable plane of roaring comedy. The first few minutes are prosaic. But from the middle of the first act onward, the show consistently kills.
The biggest asset is Blackmon, one of those Second City performers who is more than talented enough to be on the edge of something big, but uncertain enough of the future that his comedy is rooted in that all-important stew of anxiety. Blackmon, who shows flashes of a gentler Eddie Murphy, does plenty of Obama (free, with the price of admission), including a hilarious fantasy sequence that imagines a second Obama term in which the famously cerebral president decides not just to be America's first black president but America's blackest president. Blackmon's lean, mean Obama starts smoking again, even two cigs at once, generally ups his super-hero quotient and starts toasting the opposition like a cross between John Shaft and James Bond.
Blackmon moves easily from impersonating Obama to doing full-on drag, headlining a hilarious Act 2 sketch involving a reunion of the Luvabulls, all forced to look hot and do routines even after aging and having kids. It's another clever idea, rooted, you might say, in the question posed by the show's title.
In this revue, Blackmon also has a new sidekick in Waltien, a handsome young dude with messy hair, a puppy-dog stage personality and an easy facility with the character trope of the lovable slacker, possibly of Eastern or Southern European extraction. And yet Waltien also has a sharp, cut-through-the-noise voice that can snap out a punchline or give the audience a jolt. He's certainly someone to watch, and a good contrast with the brainy Baltz's more ephemeral on-stage presence.
Sohn, a longtime Second City performer, is also especially good in the new revue, perfecting her sardonic delivery, making lemonade out one of those death-to-all-comedy suggestions ("Ditka") and sneering at a particularly pathetic audience member who, in a separate sketch involving two workers for the City of Chicago asking unemployed audience members what patronage-style city job they'd like, refused to come up with a description of her skills beyond saying that she wanted real power.
"Oh," said Sohn's partner Rich, saving the moment, "you want to be one of those meter boxes."
Speaking of Chicago meter boxes, there's a delicious streak of confusion and an air of melancholy to this new show, expressed in a song about the future — where children won't know the smell of a book and yet the Red Line will still be under construction. That's the right impulse. At Second City, the 100th revue should be an occasion to start worrying.
When: Open run
Where: Second City, 1616 N. Wells St.
Running time: 2 hours
Tickets: $23-$28 at 312-337-3992 or secondcity.com