February 13, 2012
If you've spent too many late nights at Second City hearing off-color improv suggestions that sound funny after several Stellas (but are, in fact, inane), then the ideas that flow from the 7-to-12-year-old set at Second City's Improv Extravaganza Explosion! are most refreshing and revealing.
One pint-size dude at the back of the house Saturday morning kept shouting "giraffe" until someone finally listened. Another kid liked saying "Home Depot" for every location, which must say something about the state of an American childhood. And then, when asked for something she liked doing, one confident young lady came up with "playing with my brother's Legos," a fine suggestion — with its inherent implication of girl-power and a deeply irritated older brother — from which a good improv scene can most assuredly fly.
This show (the curtain was at 11 a.m. Saturday, but the show is moving to noon and will add some weekday performances) is an attempt to extend the Second City brand of comedy to the kids market. It's a very good idea.
For one thing, there is something empowering for a kid to shout out an idea and find a bunch of adults changing everything they do based on that command (which sounds a lot like the way it goes at my house, but I digress). In one of the sketches, a girl from the audience was handed a bell. With a ding, she could force the performers to change the last line of their scene. Based on her face, she was getting her money's worth.
In essence, the show uses some familiar improv games and involves kids in their execution. On occasion, kids are taken from the audience to play, say, "Slideshow," wherein actors make a human collage of a photograph that offers the narrators an opportunity for an amusing description. The cast is quite capable and lively — I especially liked a very promising young performer named John Sabine, who manages to be warm and edgy at the same time, and Scott Morehead, who got off some droll lines in honor of the adults present. And there are a few amusing motifs, including a convention that any time Sabine's character says "awesome," he will be chased around the theater by a giant tomato.
Kids get the chance to kill off unfunny comedians or watch a dad take part in a sped-up version of a fairy tale, both of which go down well. And there's also the Angry Baby of Improv, whose just-out-of-the-womb head appears on video and whose eyes turn wild red when irritated by something he sees. He's very funny. "You'll never change me," he declares, just before asking to be changed.
The show could go further in any number of ways — most notably, it would be fun to see some material that reflects the actual lives and experiences of kids, much as the adult revues do for adults. A blend of sketch and improv would be ideal — and while the traditional games are fun, you wish more writing had been done just for this show.
The kids seemed ready for almost anything, easily buying into the rules, and the show could have stood another 10 minutes of top-tier material.
When: Open run
Where: UP Comedy Club at Second City, 230 W. North Ave.
Running time: 55 minutes
Tickets: $11 at 312-662-4562 or UpComedyClub.com
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