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This article was by Sally Friedman prepared for the December 8,
2004 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Second City, First Rate Comedy
Brendan Dowling was a funny kid, a funny teenager, and is now
decidedly a funny adult. But it wasn’t until he was in college at
William and Mary that the Ducksbury, Massachusetts native joined an
improv group and found his true calling.
"Improv was an easy fit for me," says this member of the
famous/infamous Second City Comedy Troupe. "I had my first taste of
Second City when a troupe came through town during my sophomore year,
and they were so terrific that I wanted to know more."
So Dowling would learn about the alumni/alumnae of Second City like
Mike Nichols, Elaine May, Joan Rivers, John Belushi, and Martin Short.
He would come to understand that it takes a whole lot more than being
the class clown to connect with SC’s brand of irreverent,
sophisticated, topical humor, and to do it under the most daunting
circumstances: with audience members feeding you impossibly-unrelated
lines and ideas and no time to process it all before coming up with a
plausible, hilarious sketch from disparate elements.
"It’s a lot harder than it looks," says Dowling, who will be one of
the six actors from Second City appearing at the Trenton War Memorial
on Saturday, December 11, in a fund-raiser for the Jewish Community
Center of the Delaware Valley in Ewing.
The Second City phenomenon began back in the 1950s when a group of
students at the University of Chicago got together a group that was
destined to revolutionize comedy. By 1959 the group had its name and
By the 1960s Second City was positively thriving in Chicago, where it
had its own playhouse, and was spreading the gospel of political
satire and improv. The success of the SC concept thrived in the 1970s
when Saturday Night Live hit the TV screen, and forever changed comedy
from the familiar stand-up to sketch pieces a-la-Second City. Actors
like John Belushi morphed from the live circuit to the small screen,
and sketch comedy became more of a phenomenon than ever.
Second City TV (SCTV) was born in the 1980s, and garnered eight Emmy
nominations by 1982, winning in the category of Best Variety Show.
Through recent times, through dot-com booms and busts, and even
through 9/11, SC has brought laughter to millions. "We like to believe
that there’s always room for humor in people’s lives," says Dowling,
who is part of the empire’s two traveling troupes, which hit the road
for performances at colleges, corporate events, and theater bookings
about 16 times each month.
The traveling troupes are celebrating the group’s official 45th
anniversary this year by presenting a "Best Of" show containing just
that: the most popular snippets from Second City’s history. "We dip
into the 1960s, 1970s, and every decade through to the present," says
Dowling, "and we also do improv wherever we go."
For those who marvel at how six actors can take a word or a phrase and
expand it into an entire sketch, rest assured that it isn’t just their
brilliance. "We get extensive training through Second City’s
apprenticeship program and understudy," says Dowling, a proud graduate
of that training. "And the most important thing we learn is how to
support one another – or even rescue one another in a difficult
sketch. We get to the point where we can make a scene out of anything
the audience dishes out."
And those naughty words that many audiences delight in sending their
way? "We tend to go for opposites. If the audience expected crude, we
go for pure!" said Dowling.
– Sally Friedman
program to benefit the Delaware Valley JCC, Saturday, December 11, at
7:30 p.m. Patron tickets are $150, which include the best seats and a
reception with cast members following the show. Tickets are also
available for $60 and $40 and can be purchased through the JCC office,
609-883-9550 or 215-750-6676.
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