Corrections or additions?

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

its mission.

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

The Second City Comedy Troupe., 45th anniversary touring

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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