The False Exit

Barbara Wallace, who, along with her writing partner Thomas R. Wolfe created the TV series Welcome To New York (starring Christine Baranski and Rocky Carroll), talks about one of her biggest pet peeves, an almost indefinable bit of stage business that always feels forced (and is not to be confused with an actual exit). Barb also discusses her creative journey from sketch comedy in Chicago to writing and creating TV series in both Hollywood and New York. Featuring: whether or not actors should be allowed to breathe; conflicting definitions of “hugely successful;” the importance of writing the best thing you can, not what you think people will like; fighting for gender parity at Second City in the early 1990s; the mixed benefits of multiple streaming platforms; getting close enough to the glass ceiling to fog it up but not break it; the joys of working with TV legend Christine Baranski; and finally, the ABCs of surviving in showbiz – Always Be Creating your own content. (Length 21:15)

Meet Suzy Nakamura!

Suzy Nakamura, a familiar face from The West Wing, Dr. Ken, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Modern Family, Veep, and over a hundred film and TV credits, is in London shooting the second season of Avenue 5, Armando Iannucci’s comedy starring Hugh Laurie (left) about an interstellar cruise ship that gets knocked off course and struggles to return to Earth. Suzy talks about her journey from Second City to Los Angeles in the 90s; the early rounds of auditions; adventures in babysitting; the rewards and challenges of being in the room; memories of sitting around LA’s Farmer’s Market; fond recollections of the London A-Z Street Atlas; the origin story of the character of Ginger from The West Wing; the pleasure and catharsis of playing characters wildly different from yourself; being told to quiet down from the Harry Potter tour next door; and extolling the talent and genius that is Hugh Laurie. (Length 19:19)

Rachel Dratch Thanksgiving

Old friend (and Thanksgiving bestie) Rachel Dratch (Saturday Night Live) joins us for this very special 14th Anniversary episode! Rachel shares holiday memories; how she’s navigated her career; and reveals who she always associates with Abba’s “Dancing Queen;” the opportunities she’s had and the ones she’s fought for; how she’s drawn to more comedic roles than dramatic ones; how she’s made peace with the uncertainties of an acting career; the creation (with Paula Pell) of Debbie Downer (left); a shout-out to John Cariani and the late lamented Broadway-bound musical Minsky’s!; obscure silver dishes; a very special holiday meet-cute; doing Love’s Labors Lost with Shakespeare in the Park; and the glorious power of mid-level fame! (Length 22:22)

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.)

Appreciating Viola Spolin

Aretha Sills discusses her grandmother, the legendary Viola Spolin, who invented an entire discipline and whose book Improvisation for the Theater is a fundamental text for generations of theatre artists. Viola’s son (and Aretha’s father) Paul Sills took Viola’s teachings “to the world,” where they became the foundation for more than sixty years of American acting and comedy. Aretha discusses Viola’s early training with Neva Boyd at the Jane Addams Hull-House in Chicago and with the Group Theatre in New York; early exposure to opera from her policeman father; how Viola’s work inspired the Playwright’s Theatre, the Compass Players, and Second City; the value of Spolin’s theatre games in de-colonizing authoritarian teaching methods; and the importance of understanding and honoring the origins of this work (play). (Length 22:47) (Photo courtesy of the Estate of Viola Spolin, www.violaspolin.org.)

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.)

Episode 515. Baby Wants Candy

”Baby Wants Candy creates a completely improvised musical at every performance based on a single audience suggestion, and Tim Sniffen is one of its featured players in addition to being a playwright and parodist. Tim talks about what goes into creating musicals on the spot, his latest Wagner parody, whether improv Read more…

Episode 474. The Bicycle Men

”Joe Liss is an actor, writer, and sort of the improviser’s improviser, a Second City alum who’s performed onstage in Chicago, LA, off-Broadway, and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. He’s also written for film and television and is the co-author of The Bicycle Men, a very funny musical which has played Read more…

Episode 466. Creating ‘Improv Zombies’

”Creating shows using improv is not something the RSC does, but Reed Martin has used the Second City model to devise with his students a new show called Improv Zombies From Hell at Napa Valley College. With one weekend left in the run, Reed talks about how the show came together, using Read more…

Episode 459. George And Tim

”George Wendt (“Norm” from Cheers) and Tim Kazurinsky (Saturday Night Live, the Police Academy movies) are well-known to TV and film audiences around the world. But their extensive stage work from Second City to Broadway brings them to Chicago in the Northlight Theatre‘s world premiere production of Bruce Graham‘s Funnyman. George and Tim talk about this funny Read more…

Episode 448. Most Downloaded Podcasts (2014)

”With greater number-crunching power comes different search parameters! In the middle of 2015, we crunch the numbers again and discover the most downloaded podcasts of 2014 (or at least, the most downloaded podcasts of the second half of 2014). Featuring favorite guests, suspect math, literary revelations, podcasts from around the world, memories Read more…

Episode 399. The Second City

”Second City‘s legacy informs every aspect of contemporary comedy (including many alumni who’ve performed with us) and this week Executive Vice President and President of Second City Theatricals Kelly Leonard gives us the reduced history of Second City’s over-fifty year impact on popular culture. Featuring phenomenal growth, changing trends, ensemble spirit Read more…

Episode 249. Writer Brian Stack

”Second City alum Brian Stack has been a writer for Conan O’Brien since 1997, and he talks about his rise from improvising in Chicago to Emmy Award-winning comedy writing in New York and Los Angeles. Featuring advice on creating submission packets, backstage insight into the Jay Leno/Conan Tonight Show controversy, Read more…

Episode 236. Meet Ian Gomez

”Second City alum, character actor, improviser, TV star, and couch potato Ian Gomez talks about the wide range of roles he’s played, and how he managed to feature in not one but two landmark pop-culture weddings. Featuring backstage dirt from Cougar Town and Felicity, the challenge of keeping it real Read more…

Episode 195. Jon Glaser’s ‘Delocated’!

”Second City and Late Night With Conan O’Brien alum Jon Glaser not only talks, he sings about his very funny show Delocated, part of Adult Swim on the Cartoon Network. Featuring lessons on the value of sticking to one’s guns, the brilliance of ski-masks to protect one’s privacy, and the dangers Read more…

Episode 140. Chris Farley Show

”Second City and TV/film veteran Pat Finn talks about his friendship with late comedian Chris Farley, whose talent, heart, and (unfortunately) demons were all equally huge. Featuring comedian origin stories from the recent book The Chris Farley Show, Chris’s secret charity work, what he did on his very first episode Read more…

Episode 47. Play By Play (Pt. 1)

”LIVE! from the balcony of the Royal George Theatre in Chicago, Matt Croke, Reed Martin, and Austin Tichenor provide play-by-play commentary during an actual performance of The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged). Featuring live performances from Brad Harbaugh, Tim Schueneman, and Kiff Vanden Heuvel, and a special appearance Read more…

Episode 46. The Chicago Guys

”Meet Karl Hamilton, Brad Harbaugh, Tim Schueneman, and Kiff Vanden Heuvel, the newest members of the Reduced Shakespeare Company, and hear what it’s like to learn two RSC shows in four weeks. Learn some tricks about performing RSC shows and marvel at the attendance record we shattered last week! Featuring Read more…

Episode 42. That Dave Razowsky!

”David Razowsky, the improviser’s improviser, toured with the RSC and (at the time of this recording) was Artistic Director of the Second City, LA. Listen to his tales of touring, mistaken hotel rooms, and the limitations of farce. Featuring Austin Tichenor’s strict direction and surprisingly girlish laughter, and a special Read more…

Episode 33. Modern Slim Pickens

Character actor/comedian David Koechner (Anchorman, Thank You For Smoking, Snakes on a Plane) tells tales of typecasting and creating comic characters, and deconstructs his short-lived Comedy Central TV show, The Naked Trucker & T-Bones Show. Featuring a special appearance by Gerald ‘T-Bones’ Tibbons (left). Boop! (MP3. Length 26:20)

Episode 25. Follow The Mistakes!

”Mistakes…or oh-so-brilliant bits of comic invention!? You be the judge. We honor the god of chaos (Harpo?) and analyse the funny moments in our shows which began as screw-ups. Featuring excerpts from several of our stage shows, unnecessary vomiting, and a special appearance by Bridget Fonger, author of The Lazy Read more…