January 12, 2011

Second City does college

Nothing is funnier than the truth. Comedy, at its best, holds a mirror to the audience to prove this point. Whether you loved or hated The Second City’s college-themed performance, “The FAFSA and the Furious,” on Saturday night, it’s hard to suggest they failed to fulfill their purpose.
The Second City is America’s premier improvisation school based in Chicago. The group has produced a plethora of star alumni including Tina Fey, Bill Murray and Mike Myers. Last year, they made an appearance at Knox and were an absolute hit. One hundred fifty students were denied access to Kresge because of the number of people who came to see the show. This year, they returned with a show specially tailored for college students, and the result was uproarious.
An hour before show time, students were already sitting in front of the Harbach doors in the CFA lobby waiting to get good seats. When the doors opened at 7:30 p.m., the theatre was packed within a matter of minutes.
“Pomp and Circumstance” faded in on the speakers as the lights centered on comedian Daniel Strauss dressed in a graduation gown, cap and tassle. He proceeded to dryly recite song lyrics as a convocation speech, from Vanessa Williams’ “Save the Best for Last” to R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly.”
Strauss’s inspirational ramblings were interrupted by a montage of sketches about typical situations encountered in college, ranging from bad cafeteria food and the freshman fifteen to dysfunctional relationships and STD tests. All this was foreshadowing to a delightfully deadpan section in the second act that was entirely devoted to raising “red flags” for freshman navigating the dangers of college life. Such dangers included a homicidal roommate and a puma attack resulting from drug use. Comedian Derek Shipman advised, “Don’t do drugs, or you will be eaten by a puma.”
The team clearly did their research on Galesburg and Knox. In one sketch, Abraham Lincoln, played by Strauss, made an appearance when he descended from heaven to help a female student, played by Natalie Sullivan, with her physics homework. In an absurdist turn of events, she is charmed by his intelligence and falls madly in love with him. In a later improv musical, Carl Sandburg appears as a ghost to aid students in their escape from Freshman Preceptorial, an audience supplied topic. To end the show, comedienne Jessica Joy (as Lady Gaga) and the rest of the group performed a new Prairie Fire fight song.
Other moments that evoked a positive response were Emily Bronte’s comedy sketch, a Twilight parody that equated Republicans with vampires and a distraught plea for members from a representative of the Black Republicans club, played by Edgar Blackmon.
For their encore performance, the team performed a short musical called “Freshman Preceptorial.” When they asked the audience to describe what the class was, an audience member shouted that it was “like prison.” Thus, the musical was performed with the intensity of a prison drama. At the end of the show, the actors received a standing ovation.
Although laughter was rampant in the theatre, the show evoked a mixed response from some students.
“It was amusing,” said junior Ian Malone, “but not standing ovation amusing.” Benjamin Greuter, junior, disagreed. “I thought it was hilarious… it may have been hit-or-miss, but I tend to like that kind of [awkward] humor,” he said.
According to president of Union Board Britt Anderson, despite the similarity in turnout this year, The Second City’s approach was very different this time around.
“They kept it conservative last year because they thought we [Knox] were a Christian school,” Anderson said, “this year they [did] something more college-age appropriate.”
Indeed, if you attended last year’s performance, you might have been surprised at the slightly cruder version this year. However, the freedom that The Second City had this time allowed them to highlight issues that are real for many college students, such as non-consensual sex, substance abuse, sexual and racial stereotypes, and it let them do what comedy does best: help us laugh at ourselves.

Sam Brownson
Sam Brownson ’12 majored in philosophy and minored in anthropology and sociology. This is his second year copy editing for TKS; he is also currently a post-baccalaureate fellow in music and theater and will be composing the music for two productions as part of Knox’s Repertory Theatre Term. A self-described grammar Nazi, Sam worked as a TKS reporter and as a writer and editor for his high school newspaper before joining the TKS editorial staff. He also manages social media for Brownson Properties in Holland, Mich.

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