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Thursday, May 23, 2024
The Observer

Second City's RedCo Brings Down the House

Maria Massa

Don’t sit in the front row at an improv show.

Well, don’t sit in the front row at an improv show if you’re alone.

Well, actually, don’t sit in the front row at an improv show if you’re alone and it’s Valentine’s Day.

That lesson learned aside, though, holy moly — The Second City’s RedCo touring company put on an unbelievable show Friday night at Washington Hall.

RedCo, one of the three touring companies from the famous Chicago improvisational comedy theatre, performed a two-hour set combining “Best Of” sketches from The Second City’s archives, original material and live improvisation based on suggestions from the audience.

My role in the fun came after the intermission, when two members of the cast sat on the edge of the stage playing old women and asked audience members what they were doing at the show. Since I was lucky enough to be at the show courtesy of The Observer, my seat was located in the very front row, just right of center stage, at the perfect location for this kind of interaction with the cast.

Being the soundly ethical, married-to-my-job journalist that I am, I was, of course, alone at the show, regardless of it being Valentine’s Day, and the cast members turned the whole thing into a hilarious bit. I had fun, the cast seemed to have fun and the audience found my aloneness generally hilarious.

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That personal experience with public humiliation aside (don’t get the wrong idea, I was out of breath laughing at the whole thing), the whole show was fast-paced and fun, even with sketches that could’ve been pulled from anytime in more than 50 years of archives. The Second City tends to shy away from pop-culture references, which leads to material that’s less easily dated and more rooted in human nature that holds up throughout decades.

In some cases, according to RedCo member Jasbir Singh, the cast updates an old sketch to make sense in contemporary society, and with great success.

“There’s a scene where I get to play this guy who’s really lonely, and he listens to a podcast,” Singh said. “It’s a back and forth with this podcast, but the podcast is obviously not listening, and that’s really cool. That’s actually an adaptation from a sketch from Second City from 1961, where it was a guy who listened who listened to a vinyl and tried to make friends with the vinyl.”

One of the most memorable sketches from the night featured Eddie Mujica, who, according to stage manager Dan Grimm, is only on tour until the beginning of March when he’ll join the next Second City ETC revue in Chicago, as a corrupt senator with a distinct JFK-style accent. Facing an ethics investigation, he grows more and more ridiculous in responses to moral and ethical situations that had the audiences in tears with laughter. Material and characters like this have a timeless quality and may have been performed in the past by famous Second City cast members, like John Belushi, Amy Poeher, Stephen Colbert, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, Tina Fey or Chris Farley. Singh said current cast members look to these former performers for inspiration but put their own spin on characters and performances.

“When we do the ‘Best Of,’ we study the people who originally did it, and then we try to respect that and put our own twist on it. Not even our own twist, really — there’s just one way that you can do it. You end up making it your own, which is kind of an honor to get to do,” Singh said.

RedCo only stopped at Notre Dame for the one night, but there are plenty of chances to see them again across the country, as Grimm says they are almost always on tour.

“We tour all the time,” Grimm said. “We’re not like REO Speedwagon and have like a concert leg. That’s a pretty dated reference. Let’s just say we’re not Kanye and doing the Yeezus tour.”

Take an evening and go catch RedCo next time they play in driving range of South Bend, or, if that’s not you’re thing, take the South Shore Line to Chicago and see “The Second City’s 102nd Revue” on the Mainstage or “A Clowncar Named Desire” on the ETC stage, both featuring new material and currently playing every weekend.