Events of 2009: Part I

Merry Christmas! I’m battling some insomnia at the moment, so I figured now is a good time to catch up on various Erdmania topics. I’ll begin where I left off, with the Second City 50th Anniversary.

The trip began with a flight on what became known (even before it took off) as the “Party Plane,” a Southwest flight chartered for folks traveling from LA to Chicago for the event. The first official Second City alum/celebrity I met was on the shuttle from the parking lot at LAX to the gate: Danny Breen, formerly of my first exposure to news parody, HBO’s “Not Necessarily The News.” The show’s primary claim to fame is probably that it was the birthplace of Sniglets.

The flight itself was certainly the most…energetic flight I’ve been on. Kind of like the bus en route to an 8th grade field trip. Upon our arrival at Midway in Chicago, the plane went into a hangar where we were greeted by SC owner Andrew Alexander, Producer Emeritus and everyone’s grandmother Joyce Sloane, and assorted other SC brass. In addition, people from the mayor & governor’s office were there, as well as a lot of press and some Southwest ground crew, all of whom watched eagerly as we got off the plane, looking for some big names – Steve Carrell, maybe? Tina Fey? Bill Murray? Nope. But people did recognize Nia Vardalos (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding”) and Neil Flynn (“Scrubs” and “The Middle”, so hopefully that was enough to satisfy them and justify the hubbub and flowing champagne.

That night (Friday) was the SCTV reunion show. This was an expensive ticket, so alums were invited to watch the shows on huge screens in the brand spankin’ new and surprisingly impressive training center. The training center was sort of Party Central all weekend – there was constant food, open bars, and rarely more that a foot of space around you at any point. My group was lucky enough to find a seat at a table for the viewing, and even though we were watching it on TV, the second the cast came out it was really exciting. We knew that these folks, Martin Short, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Andrea Martin, Dave Thomas, Joe Flaherty, and Harold Ramis (filling in some parts for the absent Rick Moranis and the late John Candy), were all just a floor below us, reuniting for the first time in ages, and they were KILLING! I imaagined some rusty old-timers struggling through old sketches, trying to remember lines, cracking up constantly. Instead, it was a pretty flawless show. They still had it. No matter how much the face of comedy has changed in the past 30 years, you just can’t argue against funny material and impeccable timing. And that’s what they have. It was inspiring. For me, watching Catherine O’Hara was especially encouraging; she doesn’t do big wacky characters, and a lot of time she’s the voice of reason in scenes – a role I found myself in a lot at Second City – but she still pulls huge laughs. In general, my biggest, happiest lesson of the weekend was that subtlety and intelligence can still make people laugh, even living in the era of “hit ’em in the nuts” comedy.

The next day, Saturday, started with a tech rehearsal for that night’s alumni show. There were two alumni shows that night: at 7pm the show was open to the public (tickets were $125) and the 11pm show was for alums only (basically us performing for ourselves). The 7pm show was a lot of 70’s & 80’s alums, but I was fortunate enough to get to perform in this show with my old castmate Brian Gallivan, doing our scene “Killer” from our last show (the one where I’m Hillary Clinton trying to get rid of Obama). We were the youngest alums performing in that show, and it was a real honor. Other people in our group (we did our scenes in the ETC stage and then went over to Mainstage and did the whole thing over again there) included Dan Castellaneta, Richard Kind, Bonnie Hunt, Jeff Garlin, Shelley Berman, David Steinberg, Isabella Hoffman, Mike Haggerty, Nia Vardolos, Ian Gomez, Neil Flynn, Brian Stack, Miriam Tolan, Fred Willard, Rachel Dratch, Scott Adsit, Jenna Jolovitz, Kevin Dorff, Horatio Sanz, Jack McBrayer…the list goes on. It was overwhelming and amazing. Brian and I were very nervous, but once we did our scene we were given really nice compliments from the other alums. It was a true thrill.

While we were doing our show another group was doing an alum show on the other stage (we switched stages so the audiences got to see all the same scenes regardless of whether they were in Mainstage or ETC). After I finished my scene the second time, I snuck over to the other stage to try to catch some of the other show. I entered in the dark between scenes. When the lights came up, standing on stage were Steve Carrell and Stephen Colbert, reprising their scene “Maya.” As soon as the audience saw them, they were on their feet. The applause lasted at least a full minute. I got a little emotional at that point because not only was it incredibly exciting for 2 of TV’s biggest stars to be standing right there, in this intimate theatre doing a scene from nearly 20 years ago, but also I realized that these two particular stars were not alums that immediately went from Mainstage to stardom. They put in a lot of time and work to get to the point where they were arguably the two biggest draws at this event. It’s always encouraging to encounter success stories that were many years in the making, because in this business it’s easy to feel that if you don’t attain success by a certain age, it’s just not going to happen.

I could go on for another day or so about this weekend, but these were the high points. Overall, I give Second City a lot of credit for pulling off an incredible event. I think all the alums went in thinking it could very well be a disaster, but I wouldn’t have changed a thing. It was the weekend of a lifetime, a collection of comedic talent that will most likely never be under one roof again. I couldn’t be more proud to have been a part of it.

  • Charlie Hills

    That just sounds incredible. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be there. (And I’m totally with you on Catherine O’Hara. She’s always been on my would-love-to-meet-someday list.)

    Thank you very much for sharing the experience!