Chicago’s Second City comedians return to Vienna and make a brave attempt to dispell American stereotypes
The comedians of Chicago’s Second City wanted to apologize for the past eight years in America. "We’re sorry about George W. Bush. We really are."
In town for a week at Vienna’s English Theater in March, they were intent on dispelling all those pesky stereotypes about Americans that have caused ex-pats across Europe to go native in endless versions of Bohemian black and hide behind any language they could muster as long as it wasn’t English. Reality is more complicated than idealism,
"But now…" the Chicagoans announced cheerfully, "we’ve got somebody much better – at least we THINK we’ve got somebody better." The audience roared.
In fact, the crowd continued to laugh throughout the evening, clearly grateful for the comic relief. Whether it was simply the full moon, the frigid temperatures, or the unraveling economy, the Second City’s improvisational-comedy troop of six witty Americans delighted theater-goers with their self-effacing but otherwise generally scurrilous antics. Apology accepted.
Chicago’s Second City has been an institution of legendary comedy since the early 1960s. With alumni like Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, Bill Murray, Joan Rivers, Mike Myers, Tina Fey, and the late John Belushi and Chris Farley, their reputation for comedy is the best, and the audience that night knew it. However, that didn’t mean they lived in the same world.
"I’ve never been outside of North America before," admitted ensemble-member Dana Quercioli. "I didn’t even have a passport!"
Accompanied by musical director Bryan Dunn, the cast sang songs about change, bursting spontaneously into song and dance between scenes. The themes of the night were perhaps a little too basic, though, to be memorable: recession, recession, and more recession.
Hopeful as they may be about Obama, the cast still spent a great deal of time impersonating crisis-flogged Americans, whose outlook was unrelievedly grim.
The most original sketch of the evening had the entire cast taking turns presenting funny facts, such as comparing the average number of languages spoken by Americans and Europeans.
To mix it up, they asked the audience to come up with some keywords for improvised sketches.
Even the improv, however, only lasted long enough to tie things back to the theme of the night – recession and more recession – and were over all too soon, after the first break of applause. It was clear; the cast wasn’t totally into it.
After a while, it even got boring. Maybe we were all just too tired after the relentless jokesmanship of the first half. Still, the audience, many of whom were Austrian, reacted remarkably well to the Second City’s ever-fresh style. However, I, as a Chicagoan, personally missed some of the diverse topics the Second City usually covers, particularly humor centered on relationships and daily life.
When asked how they liked Vienna, we learned that after several nights in the city, they still had no clue where to go after the show.
"I guess you guys wanna pick up some late-night Burritos?" I asked, jokingly. Their mouths watered. "This isn’t Chicago," I admitted, "but you can try your luck down at the Naschmarkt."