Second City starts cute, ends crass

Wisconsin and Illinois have always been at odds with each other. Sports, politics, the way “they” drive. The rivalry never seems to end.

It wasn’t until I experienced the talents of The Second City from Chicago, Ill., mixed with the laughs of a Milwaukee audience, that I couldn’t tell the difference between a cheesehead and an Illinois driver if my life depended on it. They weren’t kidding when they said laughter brings all kinds together.

Last Friday, I watched the current cast of The Second City touring comedy troupe flirt like crazy with Milwaukeeans at Turner Hall Ballroom, 1034 N. 4th St.

Apparently, that is just the style The Second City loves sporting. The Second City is a legendary sketch and improvisational comedy company known for advancing the careers of well-known comedians including Chris Farley and Stephen Colbert.

The Second City actors always try to focus their sketches and improv scenes on current world issues and American culture, according to Shad Kunkle, one of the five actors who performed Friday night.

Along with poking fun at current social trends, The Second City also incorporated sketches written by former members, like Tina Fey and Rachel Dratch. The 90-minute show mainly consisted of these sketches, resulting in some positive and negative qualities.

The first half of the performance was saturated with sketch comedy, ranging from fast-paced scenes to those with more patience – like a skit about a neglected daughter trying to make an emotional connection with her apathetic mother during a baseball game. The first few scenes were filled with old-school slapstick humor that introduced the classic style of The Second City.

Unfortunately, the scripted nature restricted the individuality of the actors, which is always interesting to see. It was obvious that the first half was safely constructed to come off as politically correct with a nice “PG” rating.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but for a Milwaukee crowd filled with people ages 18 to 65, it needed to get real wild, real quick.

And so comes the second half.

I was skeptical after a slow-moving, more theatrical start and I was hoping for something completely different with more sass. But I judged too soon — boy, did we get sassed.

The sketches mocked everything from the rarity of successful families to how the recession is affecting American companies. They cracked jokes about NuvaRing birth control, Osama bin Laden’s hideout, and Parkinson’s disease.

Yes, Parkinson’s disease.

Essentially, the performance went from corny and cute to wildly inappropriate and crass within a 15-minute intermission. And unlike the first half, the second really displayed the individual personalities of the actors. Kunkle enjoyed self-deprecation, while Katie Rich was fond of sexual innuendos.

It was like the second-half of the show was a completely different group of people. Along with the audience enjoying themselves, it was obvious the actors really enjoyed letting loose. They seemed more natural and individualistic while working together in various later scenes.

There were even some points of laughter among the actors, like when Rich thought she messed up a line or when an audience member proclaimed he honestly liked “nothing” about his job. Yet, the cast still had a great time singing a song about “liking nothing.”

The second-half left a great taste in my mouth.

So, it’s true. The rivalry can end when the laughter begins. The Second City touring company can bring down the house in a room full of cheeseheads. This show was great motivation to make a trip to Chicago to check out a show on their home turf.

I salute you, cast of The Second City, for a job well done.