Liz Allen’s ‘Mother’

Improviser, improv coach, and “ensemble whisperer” Liz Allen discusses her one-person show Tonight, I Am My Mother, her darkly comic exploration of her mother’s alcoholism, in which Liz plays multiple roles (seamlessly). Liz talks about moments of discovery in her childhood; reveals her script’s inspiration; shares stories of working with comedian Mike Birbiglia on his film, Don’t Think Twice; marvels over her show’s Shakespearean levels; confesses the importance of taking creative license; and celebrates the rewards of bringing a complicated family member back to life. (Length 24:39)

Ondřej Pšenička’s Magic

He’s fooled Penn & Teller three times, and now Ondřej Pšenička is fooling audiences every week at the Chicago Magic Lounge in his new show 52 Lovers. Ondřej reveals surprising secrets (but not all of them!) about how he builds his tricks; the difference between being a manipulator and being a conductor; how comedy can enhance the magic when it doesn’t accidentally ruin it; how his theatre background made him a better magician; the crucial importance of audience management; and magic’s inherent promise to bring audiences back to a place of wonder. (Photo by Martin Vecera.) (Length 21:24)

Writing ‘Tragedy Averted’

Washington Post humor columnist Alexandra Petri discusses her Shakespearean summer camp comedy Tragedy Averted, now having its midwest premiere at the IO Theatre in Chicago. Tragedy Averted showcases four Shakespeare heroines – Juliet, Cordelia, Desdemona, and Ophelia – who bond at summer camp while struggling with romance, friendship and difficult dads. In conversation with the production’s director Dee Ryan, Alexandra shares the origins of her humor; the depth of her nerdery; inspirational messages from W.H. Auden and T.H. White; the comfort of knowing she always wanted to be a writer; spoileriffic exegesis; her firm belief that any crisis can be addressed head-on, Hamlet-like, by writing a play about it; and how fan fiction means you love the source text but have a significant bone to pick with it. (Length 19:14)

Harpo And Chico

Reed Martin has written Harpo and Chico and Bill, a new comedy about Harpo Marx, his son Bill, and Harpo’s brother Chico as they try to put one final live stage show together late in their careers. Written during the pandemic, Reed’s play is is now having its world premiere (under his direction) at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton. Reed discusses how the script came to be, how it’s evolving with his all-student cast, and where it might go from here; how he got to meet Harpo’s son Bill; how Reed exaggerated the drama (but only a little); how you can’t find a single person who has a bad word to say about Harpo; the importance of family both onstage and off; and how Reed’s performing the public service of introducing a new generation to classic comedians and timeless bits. (Length 22:16)

Measuring The Laughs

On the eve of our upcoming tour of The Complete History of Comedy (abridged), co-authors and RSC co-artistic directors Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor talk about measuring the success of a production, and how it’s easier with a comedy but not so much with a drama. Reed and Austin reveal how comedy opens up the heart; how laughs preceded by quiet moments are usually stronger; their greater willingness to go on a comic journey than a tragic one; a shout-out to George Saunders’s book A Swim in a Pond in the Rain; their feelings about whether Chekhov’s plays are actually funny; their ability to take their own notes about slowing down; how not all laughs are created equal; a special appearance by half an EGOT winner “Weird Al” Yankovic; the complete song, “I Laughed Till I Cried;” and the ultimate challenge of wondering whether a quiet audience is enthralled or simply bored. HEAR HERE! (Length 20:36)

Meet Frederick Fronkensteen

Actor Sean Fortunato (TV’s Fargo) discusses playing the iconic role of Frederick Frankenstein in the Mercury Theater Chicago production of Young Frankenstein, Mel Brooks’s musical version of his own legendary film, co-written by and starring the great Gene Wilder. Fortunato talks about the enviable range of roles he’s been able to play (from Malvolio to Otto Frank to Willy Wonka); how they navigate some of the 50-year-old jokes; the challenges and rewards of playing in venues of varying sizes; how he approaches comedy from a place of seriousness and sincerity; and the glory of channeling Gene Wilder’s spirit, rather than copying his specific performance. (Length 15:13)

Lenny Bruce Lives

Actor and writer Ronnie Marmo (above) talks about his one-man show I’m Not a Comedian…I’m Lenny Bruce (directed by Joe Mantegna), which he’s toured all over the country for over 400 performances. A longtime actor (Criminal Minds, General Hospital), Ronnie reveals how he first fell in love with the so-called “foul-mouthed” comic who never actually cursed all that much; how he was first arrested in Chicago; how Lenny threatened the status quo and “obscenity” was just an excuse to arrest him; what it’s like when the audience is your scene partner; his showbiz origin story; and ultimately, the importance of always being in a play, whether they’re paying you or not. (Length 20:51)

Bringing Back Comedy

The original cast (pictured, left to right: Reed Martin, Dominic Conti, and Austin Tichenor) returns to The Complete History of Comedy (abridged) for performances this April and July of 2023 and they discuss how both the show and their performances have changed; how different people can get away with different jokes; the value of bashing away at the material; the audacity of comparing ourselves to Shakespeare; how it’s our most autobiographical show; what it’s like to act with other companies like Chicago’s Goodman Theatre and San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre; fixing certain punchlines; and a special appearance from Grammy Award-winning comedian “Weird Al” Yankovic! (Length 18:49)

‘Shrew’ In Cincinnati

Director Jemma Levy discusses The Taming of the Shrew, now in rehearsal at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company and opening this week. Jemma shares her thoughts about this famously complicated play and reveals that she considers it a feminist romantic comedy; how she emphasizes its themes of performance and the shifting relationships of masters and servants; her belief that Shakespeare’s women are always the smartest people on the stage; how we watch Katherine and Petruchio’s first “meet-cute,” then fall in love and learn each other’s moves in real time; the theatrical and thematic value of including the audience; the fun of putting a bar onstage; and how Shrew compares with another complicated Shakespeare “comedy,” The Merchant of Venice. (Length 20:45)

Meet Tré Tyler

Tré Tyler (above left) joins the Reduced Shakespeare Company for this spring’s tour of The Complete History of Comedy (abridged), and endures the RSC rite-of-passage known as the introductory podcast interview. Tré shares how he first worked with Reed Martin in the African-American Shakespeare Company production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) , and discusses how he first learned about the RSC; how his parents encourage and inspire; the unique training he’s had as both an athlete and nerd; how he loves paying homage to the greats; the rewards and challenges of navigating personal relationships with fellow artists; and the danger of too much table work when what an actor really wants to do is get up and move! (Length 18:33)

Subversive Improv Guide

David Razowsky has written A Subversive’s Guide to Improvisation: Moving Beyond “Yes, And”, a fascinating, helpful, and inspiring new book that features incredibly insightful advice and exercises improvisers (actors!) can do on their own or in groups. An alum of both the Reduced Shakespeare Company and Chicago’s famed Second City (where he worked with Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert),  Dave discusses his own journey as an artist; from his roots as a young actor to a teacher with students all over the world; his book’s unique structure; how actors must and can develop their own self-awareness; the importance of bringing one’s authentic self to every scene; the joy of creating more monsters; and the rewards of improvising with Dee Ryan. (Length 23:14)

Cabaret ZaZou’s “Luminaire”

Cabaret ZaZou’s “Luminaire,” an intimate, interactive cabaret/cirque production performed inside a European spiegeltent on the 14th floor of the Cambria Hotel in downtown Chicago, is one of Chicago’s best-kept theatrical secrets. Frank Ferrante, the legendary actor and comedian who co-created the show and plays your host “Forte,” discusses the origins of the piece; how one best describes this particular circus-music hall entertainment; not just playing but embodying Groucho Marx; the art of making audience “volunteers” look good; the mixed blessing of missing the glory days of vaudeville; receiving actual blessings from Groucho’s son; admiring both the truth and range of Zero Mostel; celebrating the anarchy of the Marx Brothers; drawing on one’s heritage for both comedy and truth; the ability to use all the skills in an actor’s toolbag; and the power of an entire audience saying, as one, “All is forgiven.” (Length 20:27) (PICTURED: Frank Ferrante as Forte in Cabaret ZaZou’s “Luminaire.”)

Weird Al’s Guitarist

Jack Lancaster (above, left, with Daniel Radcliffe) plays Jim “Kimo” West, or at least a highly fictionalized version of him, in Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, the straight-faced and factually dubious biopic now streaming on the Roku Channel. Jack reveals the early musical training that helped prepare him for this (and many) roles; the challenge of standing out in an audition; the importance of great acting and great musicianship, especially when making something silly; dealing with a major case of Imposter Syndrome; buying his first grown-man suit; the thinking behind the decision of whether to be based in Chicago or Los Angeles; and the glorious fun of working with both Weird Al Yankovic and Harry Potter! (Length 18:33)

Protest Too Much

Stephanie Crugnola is the creator and host of Protest Too Much, a Shakespeare Showdown podcast that pits Stephanie against performers, educators, and scholars in a weekly battle of Shakespearean comparisons, challenges, and ‘best ofs’. Recently, Stephanie debated with Austin Tichenor the question of what is “Shakespeare’s Funniest Non-Comedy,” a conversation that lasted 45 minutes, and a 15-minute abridgment of which you can hear below. Featuring: Shakespearean pet peeves; the danger of sleeping on the Histories; how Shakespeare is all about contrasts; backup from Samuel Johnson in 1765; the comedy of ‘sad-off’s; comparisons to Monty Python and The Death of Stalin; and how Shakespeare is the king of tentpole media! (Length 20:38) 

Hamlet’s Prequel Adventure!

Dramaturg Kate Pitt joins us for a deep dive into the creation of the script for Hamlet’s Big Adventure! (a prequel), on which she cast her dramaturgical magic (and which we’ll finally get to tour once this stupid pandemic is over). Kate discusses HBA’s intertextual conversation with Shakespeare’s classic tragedy, and its biofictional elements, and reveals the identity of the most confusing Hamlet ever; how a prequel can (and should) reveal insights into Shakespeare’s play; how old Hamlet is; the importance of double confirmation; how both Ophelia and Hamlet have All. The. Feels; the value of deploying random skills; the question of how old Hamlet is, anyway; how the gravedigger is an unreliable narrator; the struggle of theater as a career and what to say about it to your kids about it; and finally, possible spoilers (especially if you know anything at all about the career of UK comedian Tommy Cooper). Plus: jokes for everyone! Poster Art by Lar DeSouza. (Length 32:01)

Here Are Frangela

Frances Callier and Angela V. Shelton, better known as Frangela, host the essential funny political podcast The Final Word and this Saturday night September 26, 2020, are performing as part of Stephanie Miller’s Sexy Liberal Virtual Tour, appearing right in your living room (on your computer)! Frances and Angela talk about how they joined comedy forces and share tips about the importance of using your voices; bringing the funny to the people; mutual Second City origins; memories of the TBS pilot The Week Reduced; the myth of world hunger; finding comic angles; possible spoilers to Star Trek: Discovery, the valuable bond of having opinions about everything; the importance of remembering that we have options and things don’t need to be this way; and the cathartic release of breaking crockery. (Length 22:04)

Crafting Colbert’s Comedy

Comedy writer Tom Purcell has been working with Stephen Colbert a long time, first as the executive producer of The Colbert Report on Comedy Central and now as the executive producer of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on CBS. (Pictured above and left, he also appears in sketches.) Tom discusses how he got started in the comedy business and what lessons if first taught him; shares boring origin stories; talks about the joy of vibing comedically; the importance of (and tips for) detaching one’s self; the value of mouth-feel; how fear is a mind-killer; how he misses the grease of unexpected interaction; and most heroically, how he eps turns today’s news — all of it, even when it’s unpleasant — into comedy. (Length 20:57)

Directing Sketch Shows

Like many theaters in Chicago, Second City shut down on March 13, 2020, the same day we were scheduled to chat with actor, writer, and improviser Frank Caeti, who was directing their current production. We kept our appointment and recorded this interview with the Second City alum anyway, thinking we’d post it once everything re-opened “in a few weeks”. Ha! Nonetheless, enjoy this fascinating conversation about the process of creating a sketch show out of nothing, and listen as Frank shares Bull Durham analogies; how a director acts as a head writer; the importance of compassion, empathy, and understanding; the value of group ownership; being patient as ideas go from half-baked to more fully-baked; embracing relative autonomy; gives shout-outs to institutional memory; the endurance required for encore late-night sets; the importance of audience feedback and the uncertainty of not knowing when we might get it again; and finally, the challenge of getting used to not touching your face and how philosophers are really the forgotten victims during this pandemic. (Length 23:17) (Pictured: Frank Caeti, left, with Dan Castellaneta (The Simpsons) in The Second City’s Christmas Carol: Twist Your Dickens at the Geffen Playhouse. Photo by Craig Schwartz.)

Brian Stack’s Music

Second City alumnus Brian Stack (The Late Show with Stephen Colbert; Late Night and The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien) has a knowledge of popular music that’s both broad and deep, and this week he shares with us the kind of music that gets him through tough times (like, say, a pandemic); how music intersects with comedy in surprising and hysterical ways; how Van Morrison is perfect for any occasion; his outstanding Neal Young and Michael Macdonald impressions; some comedic inspiration from Men Without Hats; and the importance of sharing your music (while not, of course, sharing your germs). (Length 23:08) 

The Reduced Shakespeare Company Christmas

Your new holiday tradition! The complete (unabridged) recording of The Reduced Shakespeare Company Christmas, produced by Connie Blaszczyk for Public Radio International in 1995, which has been unavailable for years and features Adam Long, Reed Martin, Austin Tichenor, and Matthew Croke in a special “live” recording from RSC HQ. Not to be confused with our stage production The Ultimate Christmas Show (abridged), the RSC Christmas features transmissions from Yule-Sat, Reed’s Happy Wholesome Holiday Poem, Carolers from Hell, just A Little Dickens, the incredibly helpful Carol Complaint Line, almost-25-year-old references, a very minor holiday apocalypse, 12 Tips of Christmas, our epic production of “The Complete Christmas Carol (abridged)”, an exclusive interview with Charles Dickens himself, and ultimately, inevitably, the True Meaning of Christmas. (Length 46:33)

Romeo And Juliet

The current Chicago Shakespeare Theatre production of Romeo And Juliet completely reinvigorates Shakespeare’s most famous play, emphasizing frequently overlooked themes and giving events an intense urgency that accentuates both the comedy and the tragedy. Director Barbara Gaines (who’s also CST’s founding artistic director) talks about what finally drew her to the play and how she emphasized certain things while eschewing too much romanticization; how she underscores the dangers of cycles repeating endlessly; creates powerful final images: how every Shakespeare play can be improved by setting it in a high school; how she adds tension and comedy to the balcony scene; gives us a reduced history of Chicago Shakespeare Theatre; and the wonderful but maybe not too surprising relationship between Chicago Shakes and Second City. (Length 24:02) (Pictured: Brittany Bellizeare and Edgar Miguel Sanchez in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, directed by Barbara Gaines. Photo by Liz Lauren.)

Standup Vs. Improv

Liz Allen is an improviser and teacher who, among other things, coached the improv team in Mike Birbiglia’s film Don’t Think Twice. Liz’s trip to the Mayo Clinic became an existential crisis that caused her to reflect on her work and career, and she shares with us her revelations about angels on earth, comedy with a purpose, misdiagnoses, spontaneous jokes, enriching laughs, weird complications, having a face for comedy, surviving a long night of the soul, embracing life lessons, coaching movie actors, the surprising spiritual element of joke-telling, and best of all: solid endocrine humor! (Length 20:10)

History of Vaudeville

To paraphrase Ken Burns, the story of Vaudeville is the story of America. And as we head into the 4th of July holiday weekend, it’s the perfect time to talk with performer and author Trav S.D. about his fun and highly readable book No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous. Trav talks about how his early love of TV variety shows led to his lifelong interest and discusses how conservatory training leads to working for the Big Apple Circus; how vaudeville resembles English music hall; narrow platforms and the benefits of only having three channels; shout-outs to both Stephen Holden of the New York Times and Chuckles the Clown; the appeal of a funhouse mausoleum as a final resting place; and a warning about terrible parents who don’t introduce their children to classic comedians and performers. (Length 18:35)

Balancing Twelfth Night

We continue the conversation with Professor Katy Reedy and her class at Lake Forest College, taking student questions about Austin Tichenor’s approach to directing Twelfth Night for the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company in the fall of 2018. Austin talks about the trick to balancing the comedic and dramatic elements in his production, Shakespeare’s anachronistic examples, illustrating sisters in loss, staging the subtext, taking actor suggestions, creating a world in which both comedy and drama can co-exist and where certain kinds of storytelling can happen, underlying tensions, potentially anti-climactic reunion scenes, going on a journey with your characters, the importance of working with really great people, and discovering that not everything is actually in the text. (Length 17:29) (William Oliver Watkins as Orsino, Caitlin McWethy as Viola, and Abby Lee as Olivia in Twelfth Night at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, 2018. Directed by Austin Tichenor.)

Discussing Twelfth Night

Professor Katy Reedy invited our own Austin Tichenor to speak to her class at Lake Forest College about his production of Twelfth Night that he directed for the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company in the fall of 2018. Austin discusses all the things he wanted his production NOT to be; how this great comedy is fueled by great loss; how Olivia threw herself into the physical comedy; the treatment of the treatment of Malvolio; speculation as to why Orsino is such a poorly written character; how to lean into both the comedy and the pain; and the possibly blasphemous notion that maybe Feste isn’t as interesting as many people think he is. (Length 19:50) (Pictured: William Oliver Watkins and Caitlin McWethy as Orsino and Viola, plus the entire cast of the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company production of Twelfth Night, directed by Austin Tichenor.)

Episode 637. History Of Blackface

Director and teaching artist Jerrell L. Henderson discusses the history of Blackface, the troubling and racist practice of white people “blacking up” to portray demeaning African-American stereotypes (which was, incredibly, the most popular form of entertainment in America for over 100 years). Jerrell discusses its roots in minstrelsy, almost-Shakespearean levels of layers and multiple identities; shout-outs to great performers like Daddy Rice, J. Rosamund Johnson, Bob Cole, Ernest Hogan, George Walker, Bert Williams (above); genuine love being the butt of the joke; how some entertainers are responding to issues of yellow- and brown face better than others; a legacy of trauma and historical objections; and how greater onstage and onscreen representation in entertainment matters. (Length 21:45)

Episode 633. ‘Nerdy’ Brian Posehn

Reed Martin (who literally wrote the book on the History of Comedy) interviews his fellow Sonoma Valley High School alum, comedian Brian Posehn, about Brian’s new book Forever Nerdy: Living My Dorky Dreams and Staying Metal, as a fundraiser for the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation. Brian talks about his favorite teachers and getting bullied, lighting up as a performer, polishing your material, touring with the Comedians of Comedy, killing the “Karkrashians”, working with Stan Lee, meeting his Star Wars heroes, shout-out to the Sebastiani Theatre, and talking about ‘spinners’ with Carrie Fisher. Featuring a special appearance by Brian’s fellow Mr. Show alum Brett Paesel, author of Mommies Who Drink: Sex, Drugs, and Other Distant Memories of an Ordinary Mom! (Length 24:19)

Episode 592. Christopher Moore’s ‘Noir’

Christopher Moore, the author of such wonderful comic novels as Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal; Fool; The Serpent of Venice; The Stupidest Angel; Bloodsucking Fiends; Practical Demonkeeping; Sacre Bleu, and many others, has a new novel out called Noir, and it’s wonderfully comic, weird, and surprisingly poignant, all of which are hallmarks of a Chris Moore novel. Chris talks about this new novel’s inspirations which, it turns out, are varied and many. Featuring San Francisco history, film and literary precedent, surprisingly Shakespearean inspirations, weird connections to Roswell, loving language, shout-out to Damon Runyon, the joys of touring (and how to train for it), teasing future novels, and the Top Secret First Thing They Teach You at Famous Author School. (Length 21:18)

Episode 584. The Comedy “Plantation!”

Kevin Douglas’ new play Plantation! is having its world premiere right now at the Lookingglass Theatre in Chicago, in a production directed by Lookingglass founding member David Schwimmer and starring eight phenomenal actresses. It’s a family comedy that deals with race and legacy and family and atonement, and in addition to its many laughs, some of which are definitely uncomfortable, its ending takes audiences absolutely by surprise and bring them to tears. Kevin discusses his creative process, explaining why he decided to create a comedy in the first place, and features the danger of clinging, the benefit of listening to actors, the value of a spoonful of sugar, and how Kevin’s next play will solve all the world’s problems. (Length 25:05)

Busy Busy Fall!

In addition to our ongoing UK Tour of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) , and our performances of The Complete History of Comedy (abridged) around the US, we're excited to make our debut in mainland China with performances of Shakespeare (abridged) at Read more…