Questions and answers with The Second City

BEAVER CREEK — American comedy innovator The Second City will perform its newest show, “We’re All In This Room Together,” at the Vilar Performing Arts Center on Friday at 7:30 p.m.

The show features improvised comedy, audience interaction and of-the-moment sketches and songs. We had the chance to catch up with Second City’s Amy Thompson and Tyler Davis on their time with the troupe, comedic themes and favorite moments

VILAR PERFORMING ARTS CENTER: You have some pretty notable alumni — Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, John Candy, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Chris Farley, Tina Fey, Bill Murray, Mike Myers and Martin Short, to name a few. Any who come by and visit from time to time or secret shop your shows?

AMY THOMPSON: Minutes before the first show I performed with the touring company, Stephen Colbert walked backstage. Apparently he was visiting his old stomping grounds and wanted to show his son where he used to perform. It was a surreal moment to see a hero simply reminiscing — he told us a couple funny stories about memories he had there and wished us well but didn’t actually stay for the performance. If that’s not a good omen for starting with the touring company, then I don’t know what is.

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VPAC: Recently there have been a plethora of political events that could become a funny skit — do you take those head on or do you steer clear?

TYLER DAVIS: We just finished touring our political show during the election. In that, we definitely leaned into the candidates, but we’re sort of changing direction with this show. We’re not losing our jab, but we’re zoning in on how at the end of the day we all still have to live together.

THOMPSON: We do not steer clear purposely, but today’s politics change and move so quickly that it’s often hard to keep up with discussing topical subjects. A joke that’s relevant one day may be overshadowed by a breaking news story the next. We all very much try to stay up to speed with the news and incorporate it when we can.

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VPAC: We see Second City is “celebrating 55 years of producing cutting-edge satirical revues and launching the careers of generation after generation of comedy’s best and brightest.” What are some timeless skits or topics you guys find yourself going back to over and over again?

THOMPSON: Countless Second City scenes discuss human relationships’ failures of, or difficulties with, communicating. Much of the humor we find is based around the differences in the ways we understand, and are understood, by one another. Regardless of who is performing, or what they’re doing, even the scene’s context, the audience would have a hard time not relating to this subject matter … and miscommunications and assumptions can end up being pretty funny.

DAVIS: We often find ourselves returning to topics that still find relevance in our world today. We’re not doing as much Cold War material in 2017, but family tensions are always things we deal with.

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VPAC: Is being on “Saturday Night Live” the ultimate dream?

DAVIS: Not really. It’s a dream, for sure, but there are a million and a half ways to make your way in comedy these days. I’d like to continue to make good work with people that are inspiring to collaborate with.

THOMPSON: I’d go so far as saying nobody would turn down an offer from SNL, and it definitely used to be regarded as the “be all end all” job for a sketch comedian, but many people now seek out other goals, as times, jobs and dreams change.

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VPAC: Should we expect any singing, dancing or juggling?

DAVIS: The show has some songs, and it definitely has some dancing. We’re still working on the juggling part, but we’ll keep you posted.

THOMPSON: Definitely no juggling, but you can certainly expect a bit of singing and some signature dance moves.

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VPAC: Second City seems to be the feeder to “Saturday Night Live.” So, then, what is the feeder to Second City?

DAVIS: There are a number of comedy theaters in Chicago that offer homes to performers to craft their talent and their voices. The Annoyance, iO, ComedySportz, The Playground — the list goes on. They’re great, and they help make the community a vibrant place to learn.

THOMPSON: There is no direct “feeder” to Second City, but everyone who comes here has a very open heart and a tireless work ethic.

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VPAC: Seems like there are a lot of jobs within the realm of Second City. Were you all interns, box office agents, directors, etc., or always actors?

THOMPSON: I can’t speak for anyone else in the team, but I started as a comedy studies student, then an intern, then a box office worker and finally joined the touring company. Though my training and background was in acting, I wanted to be a part of Second City by whatever means possible, so I surrounded myself with Second City for years before actually performing for the theater.

DAVIS: I interned with Second City when I first moved to Chicago. Through that program, I covered the cost of going through their training center.

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VPAC: Traveling with a comedy troupe, I can only image how much fun that must be, are there are any good stories you can share?

DAVIS: We did a show at the Kennedy Center in (Washington) D.C., and our sound guy owned his own beehive. He gave us tiny little jars of his homegrown honey — free honey!

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VPAC: What’s a favorite moment on stage?

THOMPSON: I love being able to play Kobe Bryant. There’s nothing goofier than a tiny woman playing a world champion basketball player with a huge ego. It’s fun to project an attitude that I don’t necessarily embody in daily life.

DAVIS: Halfway through a show, our soundboard cut out, so our music director had to cover on the piano. I had to do a sexy dance to a jaunty ragtime number instead of Kanye.

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VAPC: Favorite moment backstage?

THOMPSON: Before each performance, we take the time to stand in a circle, look each other in the eyes and tell each person “I got your back.” It’s a ritual that reaffirms our group’s energy and ensemble mentality. It’s a good check-in to prepare for two hours of fast-paced, high-energy fun.

DAVIS: Watching a cast member spit up a whole candy cane that he ate onstage, every night for two months.

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VPAC: Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying — does that ever apply to some of the skits you do?

DAVIS: Very much so. Our sketches are often born from something that is frustrating, that we reframe in a humorous light. You have to be able to laugh, or else you’ll never want to leave the house, and people won’t want to come to your house parties.

THOMPSON: I don’t know if laughing “to keep from crying” is totally applicable, but our scenes do touch on heavier subject matter: things like relationship troubles, familial disagreements, even political debates. We try to have a balance of silly and serious in the running order because social and political satire attempts to reflect the world as it is, only heightened.

You can’t really see the good parts in life without also recognizing its difficulties. Those darker or more heady moments in the show allow us to break tension more successfully and, hopefully, with a punch line that gets the audience laughing harder.

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VPAC: Where is most of the group from, and will you take any time for fun when you make it to the Rocky Mountains?

THOMPSON: Each person in our group is from a different part of the country: Katie and EJ grew up in the South, Tyler, Nate and Dane the Midwest, Emma is from the East Coast, and I grew up on the West. … Being from Northern California, I miss having mountains around me and being able to hike. We don’t have much time off while we tour, but I’m very much looking forward to taking a bit to catch some of the natural beauty here — Illinois is very flat!

DAVIS: We’re definitely going to try and get some skiing in, but the forecast calls for weather in the 50s! #EPA

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