The soul of the Second City

I never write about work or roommates. Largely because any time I’ve wanted to write about either, I’ve wanted to complain or bitch or make fun of or ridicule. This marks a new era in the time of The Smussyolay, because I will probably take to writing about both these days. The latter, because I am my own roommate for the first time in 38 years. I have a large-ish studio in Edgewater, not too far from the old “Section X” where I lived with my Craigslist stranger, now friend, Preston, and a host of characters. The former I will write about, because I truly love my job. I also work with a host of characters, but for the most part, I find them endearing and wonderful, and even when I sometimes find them a little contrary to my own personality, I quickly see how they are actually all parts of myself, former or present.

So. Second City. I work part-time in the box office.  I had initially applied for a full-time job working in their business communications department — helping people get set up with improv/sketch for their conventions, business meetings, etc. I’m still a little sad I didn’t get the job; I think I would have been great there. However, they hired from inside, so I can hardly be upset about that.  It also gives me hope that they will continue to hire from inside and I might still have a chance to move up some other time.

I was tipped off to the job through a friend — I met S through my friend, Hixx. She read for the last “First Time,” and when I didn’t get the other job, she offered me a job in the box office. I was happy to get the opportunity. To work. To work for her. To work in the box office of Second City. When we talked about the job, the only thing that concerned me was the pay, but it was more than unemployment, and somehow, some way, I was making enough to barely scrape by on that, so more than that was going to be okay.

I figured I’d be working with a lot of comedians — people taking classes there, people younger than me. I was not incorrect. But I also assumed being younger than me comedians, they’d be in the throes of their best party years — always ready to go and get the next one, always talking about their latest escapades, always on about the next opportunity to par-tay.

It’s strange. I don’t know if they know that I don’t drink and just don’t talk about it in front of me because they think I’m a prude or a narc or wouldn’t appreciate it or whatever (1). What I actually suspect is that they just aren’t in the throes of potential or actual alcoholism. That most of them just don’t have a problem with drinking/drugging. It’s not to say they don’t drink or get high. I think some of them do. But, by and large, I think they are there to work to get money and also to actively and seriously study their craft. The craft of comedy. Writing, acting, directing, living, breathing comedy.

It’s an interesting place to be. For a variety of reasons. Sometimes, I feel like I fit right in. I feel it’s a lot like coffee club. I see so many people with the same traits of the alcoholic. Insecure, competing, searching, trying to be liked, trying to be accepted. If not on a small level, then on a macro level — we’re all trying to get people’s approval by making them laugh. It’s terribly stereotypical, but it’s the truth. There’s something completely addicting and soul-soothing about the sound of laughter. It’s best done when it’s coming *out* of you, rather than being the one begging for it, but it still works that way.  Getting it coming to you still works to heal the soul; it’s just not as satisfying and the high doesn’t last as long.  You need it again and again.

And sometimes, I see it in the people I work with. I think it’s unconscious, but sometimes in the conversations we have, people will just drop outrageous statements and have silly things to say — obviously to get a laugh, to throw out a bit. It’s something that I’ve always struggled with; one reason I’ve always enjoyed the “art of slow comedy” that Jimmy Carrane works in. The fact that I like the quiet moments and the cathartic laughter that comes from feeling awkard or uncomfortable, not necessarily from dropping the intentional statement meant to get a rise or a laugh. The pseudo-joke (2).

But, I really love the people I work with. They are all really funny and they are all really kind. They all have their own distinct personalities and they are all really decent people. They’re down-to-earth. They’re relatable. 

The other thing I find interesting about SC and very much like coffee club is how much people just take you in and accept you on face value. I got hired, and it’s just accepted that I’m walking around the halls unaccompanied and taking my own soda from the gun and just having the run of the place. There’s a lot of trust and acceptance and a lot of “welcome, make yourself at home here.” I find that’s not how it is most other places. It’s “we’re keeping an eye on you, because you’re new and stupid.”  There’s just a lot of autonomy and independence at SC, which I absolutely love and have always craved.  For instance, when I asked one of the night managers what the dress code was, he said “Just make sure you don’t look homeless, and you should be fine.” Amazing.

I think that sort of attitude must come from the general philosophy of improv and sketch. You trust your team/fellow improvisers. You take care of each other. You know that the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts. You say “yes,” and ask what you can contribute to the scene, the team. I love that. I love Second City.

(1) For instance, a few of my c0-workers were talking about the word “retard.” I didn’t say that word for years. And then, it came back into vogue. And I didn’t really have any interest in saying it — I do find it offensive. Then, I went through a phase where I’d find it come up in my head. I’d want to say, “that’s retarded.” Yipes! I don’t know why. It’s just an old 7th grade habit, I guess. That’s what we used to say. We were young and stupid. We also used to say shit was “gay.” But, I don’t say it, and unless I’m your close friend, I’m not going to tell you not to say it. But, they were talking about it and talking about saying it, and I must have had a look on my face — I don’t know how my face looks EVAH — and the one guy was like, ‘She doesn’t like it. We won’t say it.” And I felt stupid. Like I was cramping their style or they thought I was an asshole.  I don’t know. I fight not to feel like an old lady sometimes. I just never want to feel un-cool, you know?

(2) I have a thing about guys in comedy. I think they’re sexist. I have a few friends who are always doing stuff, and maybe they’re asking *other* girls to participate (webseries, etc.), but they certainly aren’t asking me. And it pisses me off. I think there’s a huge boys’ club in comedy and it just makes me SO mad. I wonder how all the successful female comedians have dealt it with it over the years. In improv, in stand-up.  Cause it’s like … just because you guys are always doing dick jokes and bits doesn’t mean you’re funnier than I am. Just means you’re doing dick jokes and bits.

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6 thoughts on “The soul of the Second City

  1. Glad you like the job and appear to be fitting in. I have a general problem with comedians, especially the improv kind. They think they are funnier than they really are. You can go into any neighborhood tap and find funnier people on the barstools. Women comedians? Sorry even worse. The only successful ones are ones that try and outgross the guys. Lampenelli, Barr, Rosie? Need I say more? All gross out artists. The one that doesn’t quite fit the mold is Ellen, very funny, but I am sorry good female comics are harder to find than a 3 dollar bill.

  2. Mr. C, try: Jackie Kashian, Maria Bamford, Chelsea Peretti, Kathleen Madigan, Erin Foley, Jessi Klein…. And these are just the working road comics I can think of that are fantastic. I also like Sarah Silverman, Natasha Leggero, Tig Notaro, Jen Kirkman etc. but they might not be your cup of tea.

    Comics are like musicians: for every good one there are a thousand mediocre ones. The difference is you can tolerate and “hide” a mediocre bass player in a band (especially if he owns the van).

    Broad brush, man, not cool (although i sort of like the pun)

  3. I readily admit it could just be me, but comics really don’t do it for me. Check out any improv crowd, 90% do improv on their own, that’s why they think it’s funny. As far as the women go, I’m familiar with most of those, but where’s a Moms Mabley when you need one. The bass is easy to play but difficult to master.

  4. Yeah, i guess that was a cheap shot at bass players. I saw Stu Hamm when he came here with Joe Satriani in the ..hmmm.. late 90’s. As comedian Jackie Kashian might say, it blew my tiny lizard mind

  5. Oh but the point is correct. There are a lot of bad musicians out there. Speaking of bad, so glad the obnoxious blowhard Rosie is gone. Every person on the show said she was the worst person they have worked with, and although out jobs were ecstatic they didn’t have to deal with her anymore. Of course Rosie says it was everbody else’s fault. She learned that from her good friend big ears.

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