I don’t normally take Clark home from work; while I don’t mind riding on the street or after dark, Clark always seems like a gamble I don’t want to needlessly take. My Clark route takes me right through Wrigleyville, and even the buses skip that part on weekends. But tonight, a Wednesday/Thursday at 2 a.m., I thought it would be easy sailing and give me some time to wind down/think. I started creating this blog post in my head on the way, and I realized that I had to come home and immediately type it up, lest anything be lost. So, here we are.
I’ve worked at Second City for six months or so now, and there are so many things I love about the place. The box office crew is top notch, and much like the improv and sketch many of us study or have studied, there is an inevitable rhythm and flow to our interactions with one another. The idea that we’re an ensemble and are there to support each other is something that just comes naturally, it seems. People covering/switching with people when they need it, people stepping up to the plate to help a sick co-worker, people becoming genuine friends and being in one another’s lives. I know that one of my co-workers really feels bad without makeup, and I know another one is working on the first stages of a new relationship. I know which people are super family-oriented, and I know the first people to call if I ever want a dance party. My home in the box office is good.
Being in the box office, we are the front lines for calls, but it also means that we see everyone as they come and go. Being in the new box office downstairs affords this much more than upstairs; there’s a huge set of plate glass windows we’re sitting behind, and the escalator is right before us. It couldn’t get more lovely for people watching. Some of the people we regularly see come and go are the players of the two main shows — The Second City’s100th Revue: Who Do We Think We Are, playing on our Mainstage, and We’re All In This Room Together, playing on the e.t.c. stage.
Many, many times a day, a customer calls about the shows and asks “Which one is better?” and “Which is funnier?” I know they probably think I’m blowing smoke up their asses, but the fact of the matter is, they are both fucking phenomenal and I’ve seen and love them both. Famous people have come from both stages, and the quality and caliber of the material and the casts are really talented. However, as a box office employee who has the opportunity and cause to walk through the Mainstage on a regular basis, I’ve come to see that show so many more times than e.t.c. (there’s no throughway for that theater — I don’t have cause to randomly wander through to punch out or go to the other box office). Being that I’ve watched those scenes over and over (and love them every time — they’re still captivating and funny), I’ve come to have more of a connection to the actors on the Mainstage. In this case, familiarity doesn’t breed contempt; it breeds admiration.
The actors themselves — three men (Tim Baltz, Edgar Blackmon, Steve Waltien), three women (Holly Laurent, Katie Rich, Mary Sohn) — are fantastic. On the occasions I’ve had to speak with any of them, they’re nice and gracious and goodhearted. But mostly, it’s seeing them go up and down the escalator — grabbing lunch, taking a breather during intermission, or headed in to the show that day. I haven’t had the opportunity to really sit down and talk with them about anything or nothing. I’m sure they know my face, but I’m fairly sure that none of them really knows my name. Don’t get me wrong — that’s okay — but I just am trying to give you some context for my thoughts here.
You may or may not have heard that Aidy Bryant, who was just on the e.t.c. stage, has left to become a featured member of Saturday Night Live. I think this Saturday is the season premiere, and I can’t wait to see her. I heard about when people have their last night at Second City, and how special it is. The classic Second City sketch shows have two acts with intermission, and then something they call “the set.” It’s generally another smaller act of completely improvised material. Second City derives their sketches from improv, but once a show is set, the same sketches are done night after night. On someone’s last night, the set is sort of a tribute to them — anyone they want to play with or favorite scenes they want to do — it’s sort of up to them. I went to see Aidy’s last night and it was very low-key; it wasn’t really discussed that it was her last night — the only way I could tell was that the cast members teared up for the last sketch and that during “freeze,” everyone tagged someone other than Aidy out for the whole set. It was really fun.
Tonight was Tim Baltz’s last night. He let people know about it beforehand and I knew from going to see Aidy’s a few weeks ago, that I definitely wanted to be in the audience for this one. Little did I know what I was in for. I’d seen the show several times all the way through, and in bits and pieces many more. I never grow tired of watching the sketches or the cast — they’re so funny and it’s even nice to see what the audience that night gets a kick out of. Needless to say, tonight was really fantastic.
The set was an assemblage of Tim’s favorite scenes interspersed with an anti-roast. Instead of making fun of Tim or razzing him or giving him shit with bawdy jokes or off-color tales, various and sundry members of his colleagues and current cast came up and paid tribute to Tim. I cried a lot tonight.
Some of the best improvisers in Chicago couldn’t stop saying what a talent Tim is. How he is a master of his craft and his work ethic is beyond compare. That he’s a wonderful friend — kind and loving and always there with a sympathetic ear and wonderful advice. That he’s just preternaturally good at improv and sketch. That they’ve all learned so much. It was really, really an honor to be a part of that audience tonight and hear people give him such praise and thanks. Like I said before, I’d be surprised if Tim knows my name. But, he always had what I call “a kind face.” I knew when these people were telling their stories and giving their love, that it couldn’t have been more genuinely heartfelt. Maybe it was the psychicness in me, but I could just feel their love and gratitude and sadness at seeing him leave. It was palpable. I had no doubt he was everything they said he was, and I was desperately jealous that I am not counted among his close friends; that I am not in his inner circle.
I learned he loves U.S. Presidents and that he hates horror movies (I always feel like I’m the only one!). I learned that he loves his family and that he likes to drive fast. I learned that if you want someone to really be in your corner, Tim’s a great guy to have as a friend. I learned that Tim speaks French — both in passing reference and when he spoke to his parents from the stage at one point, entirely in French. I couldn’t stop weeping. I didn’t need to know what he was saying — I could just *feel* it.
One of his fellow cast members, Katie Rich, had the highlight of the tributes when she came out after a scene Tim had just done with Mary where two people meet for a blind date and the guy is so nervous and scared and anxious that he reads all of his statements from cue cards on the date. I got a glimpse there of all the things people had been saying about him — he was so completely in character and so completely committed to the scene. There were tears in his eyes — this scared, nervous man who so desperately wanted to connect with this woman he had met, but knew that his anxiety had been getting the better of him for years. That to avoid rejection and refusal, he had developed a way to hide behind something to keep from getting hurt. I could have watched that scene all night.
When Katie came out, she embodied his character in female form, and had her own set of cue cards. She silently sat and handed Tim the cue cards, one by one, as he read what was on them. He read his own tribute, in Katie’s words. Her words were touching and funny and filled with love and gratitude. It was such a brilliant way to set that stage and to have him hear her words by saying them out loud himself. Again, I couldn’t stop the tears from running rapidly down my face.
I’m not even sure why I’m writing this — mostly to remember a lot of what happened, and to share it with you — I hope Tim can feel a fraction of the love I felt in that room for him. Oh, the great part? Normally, people stay for the set — it’s usually about 30 minutes tops — and those who leave are replaced by people who have come specifically to see the set that night for free. So, a two hour show starting at 8 p.m. would generally be over around 10:30 p.m. all told. Tonight, things finally wrapped up at 1 a.m. Fucking fantastic. It was never boring and it was never too much for me. I was just so happy to sit there and bask in the trove of talent before me.
Tim is off to greener pastures — I don’t know what all of his plans are, but I know he’s doing this fucking amazing web series called “Shrink.” Please check it out; it’s amazing. For all the people tonight who said over and over how much Tim had to teach them, I became one of their ranks tonight. When making his own thank yous, he said something I hope I never, ever forget: “Don’t chase pride, chase inspiration.”
Truer words were never spoken and never were they more needed by me than tonight. All my love goes out to him as he parts ways with the Second City. It probably doesn’t mean much coming from a stranger, but it’s hard not to love the guy, even from afar. Thanks for all the laughs, Tim. It’s been my pleasure knowing you from a distance, and I hope that in all the ways that make you great, you never change. Godspeed.