Monday, February 28, 2011

Vanessa and Paul talk SNL

In the Chicago Tribune, featured cast members Vanessa Bayer and Paul Brittain talk about their experiences so far on Saturday Night Live.
When "Saturday Night Live" returns March 5 after a two-week hiatus, the host will be Miley Cyrus, a celebrity who has recently been the subject of repeated mockery on the long-running NBC comedy series. A recurring sketch called "The Miley Cyrus Show" debuted on the second episode of the season, featuring new cast member Vanessa Bayer playing Cyrus as an incomprehensible teenage motormouth talk show host who rolls her eyes whenever dad Billy Ray pipes in with a lame comment.

In an uneven season, it is a head-turning performance that stands out, and it got Bayer — who joined the show a few months ago after an audition at iO Theater here in Chicago — noticed early on. Cyrus' appearance next week on the show will no doubt be the culmination of Bayer's nascent career in television.

"She's so fun to do," Bayer said, talking by phone from her East Village apartment in New York on Tuesday, midway through her brief vacation from the weekly grind. She has spent the last several days mostly catching up on sleep. This is the first in-depth interview that she has given since joining the show. Even six months into the new gig, she said, "There's always a part of me that's, like, freaking out."[...]

Halpern only gives 15 performers a slot in the showcase. "Vanessa had about five different characters ready to go, including Miley Cyrus, and I could see that they were things that Lorne could take and use tomorrow," Halpern said. "That's what he wants — he wants to see characters and pieces that he can use right away and put into the show. When he's here, the new season is literally just a few weeks away, so he wants to see something where he goes, 'There it is. I got something we can use for the show.'"

Among the rookies this season, Bayer seems to have had the most airtime, playing characters featured prominently in a large number of sketches. The same hasn't been true of Brittain, who tends to show up in most sketches as human filler. (Bayer honed her comedy chops locally at iO and the Annoyance Theatre, and both she and friend Brittain are veterans of Second City's four-month Norwegian Cruise Line tours.)[...]

As for the disparity in airtime, there doesn't appear to be any tension between the Chicago rookies. "I don't know who has gotten more or less airtime, but I will say that it is so luck of draw what scenes get in," said Bayer. "There will be scenes that make it to dress rehearsal but get cut for the show, so it's such a random thing. Like, I remember when I used to watch the show, you think there's 10 scenes that are written for the show, when really there are 40 or 45 scenes that are written; 12 get picked for rehearsal and then 10 get into the show."

Brittain's patience is likely to pay off, colleagues said.

"He's a real easygoing guy," said Bayer, "which is exactly the energy that I need as someone who can be a little high-strung." And in the opinion of iO's Halpern: "Paul is going to be the dark horse if Lorne uses him right. He's a real ball of energy, but he's not pushy. He really can play anything."

Cast member Jason Sudeikis (who also trained at iO and Second City) said: "Paul just has a quiet confidence to him that I wish I could steal a little bit from, and Vanessa, I don't think I've ever seen her not smiling. They're both doing great. But it's so interesting, it's only like their first six months — and yet they probably feel like it's been three years."

The Chicago connections help. One of the biggest challenges for new performers, Halpern said, is "getting the writers on staff to write for you. And I think because Vanessa and Paul already know some of the writers from Chicago" — the aforementioned Gossman and Flanigan, as well as Michael Patrick O'Brien, who was hired from Second City in 2009 — "they probably have a slightly easier time of it."

On the Russell Brand episode this month, Bayer worked with Gossman and Flanigan on a sketch called "Livin' Single" that featured Bayer as an upbeat talk show host/single gal enthusiastically grinding against Brand.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Second City to open theater for stand-up

Even though Zanie's is right down the street on Wells, Second City has announced that they are opening a theater for stand-up comedy.
Andrew Alexander, CEO/Executive Producer of the legendary Second City has partnered with Robert Hartmann, CEO of Levity Entertainment, to create Chicago's newest Stand-Up and Comedy Cabaret theatre located in Piper's Alley. The new theatre is scheduled to open October 1st, 2011.

The theatre will be located in the former Tony & Tina's Wedding space in Piper's Alley which also houses The Second City e.t.c. Theatre and The Second City Training Center campus. Designed by Ryan Nestor of Barker & Nestor, the new space will be a 280-seat classic cabaret-style theatre featuring a bar and restaurant component. President of Second City, Diana Martinez and Vice President Kelly Leonard are working on programming and operations which will include headline comedians, performances of Second City theatrical productions, alumni shows, and improv shows.

"With the addition of this theatre, we are truly turning Piper's Alley into an exciting Entertainment destination. This club will be a great home for stand-up, sketch artists and alternative comedy. With its retro nightclub feel, this space will evoke the memories of the days of Mr. Kelly's and the Gaslight Club," said Andrew Alexander, CEO/Executive Producer of The Second City.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Cash Cab Chicago starts today

I just finished watching Cash Cab Chicago and it's nice to see the scenery of Chicago on TV. It's also nice to see one of our fellow improvisers, Beth Melewski, hosting the game show.

The Sun-Times spoke with her about the show recently. From the article, it appears that she will be going back to the ETC stage for good until the beginning of April.
The new “Cash Cab Chicago,” debuting Monday on Discovery, follows the New York installment weeknights, with the same concept: Contestants must answer trivia questions for cash as Melewski drives them to their destination. If they miss three questions, they’re ejected from the vehicle — no matter where they are.

“I think weather has been kind of a hilarious factor,” Melewski says. There are no consolation parting gifts of umbrellas or boots.[...]

If texting and driving is a bad idea, game-show hosting and driving is even more difficult. But Melewski is proud of her driving record. “I tapped a valet sign once,” she admits.

Before filming, she had to pass taxi certification tests. “It was really the hardest thing I’ve ever had to study for,” she says. “It’s a tough process. Be nice to your cab drivers because they went through hell. And tip well.”

It’s thoroughly entertaining to watch a group of hipsters en route to Schubas trying to come up with the names of seven founding fathers. But any humiliation is minimal.

“There’s nothing really negative about the show,” Melewski says. “You pick people up, and they can win money. It’s such a basic, amazing premise. People either haven’t heard of the show, or they absolutely love it. It’s all about feeling good and rewarding people for knowledge.”

Melewski left Second City’s e.t.c. stage for three months to tape 40 episodes. She couldn’t resist. “I got to stay in town and shoot a national television show,” she says. “That never happens. Put some more icing on that cake.”

Now that the show’s wrapped, though, she’ll be back at Second City to perform the show she co-wrote, “The Absolute Best Friggin’ Time of Your Life.”

“I’ll be there till the beginning of April,” Melewski says.

Despite rattling off question after question for months, Melewski says she retained “just nuggets” of information. But that doesn’t mean she didn’t learn anything.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Another tribute

Mainstage alumnus and current Second City instructor Tim O'Malley pays tribute to Joyce Sloane over at his blog.

Cash Cab Chicago debuts Monday

Beth Melewski was interviewed by Chicagoist. Word has it that she will be performing on the ETC stage on February 17th.

Cash Cab Chicago debuts Monday on Discovery Channel.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A moving tribute video

I don't know where they dug up the footage from Stephen Colbert's last night on Mainstage at Second City but here is a very moving tribute to the late Joyce Sloane.

I won't lie. It brought tears to my eye. Watch it and then go share it with your friends.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Chances are you watched the Super Bowl and saw the Groupon ad. Furthermore, chances are you saw Conan last night and saw the parody ad featuring Brian Stack.

Groupon employees a large number of the improv community in Chicago.
From entry-level scribes and senior managers to its front-desk receptionist, Groupon’s roster boasts visual artists, musicians and comedians. Improv actors, in particular, abound — many of them in the customer service department.

“It’s a starting point for people to build rapport here and to bond,” With says. “And I think it feeds into the work.”

Groupon’s artist-friendly atmosphere is old news in Chicago’s creative community.

“If you were to trace the lineage of every customer service and editorial employee referral, and list the outside accomplishments of each individual employee,” customer service rep and improviser Andrew Smreker says, “you would basically have a diagram of Chicago culture’s central nervous system.” He goes further, claiming that “every person in every Chicago scene either knows a Groupon employee or is a Groupon employee, and everyone has at least applied.”

There’ve been some notable breakouts, too, including recent “Saturday Night Live” hire and erstwhile Chicago improviser Paul Brittain, who temped at Groupon in 2009, and stand-up comic C.J. Toledano, a new Conan O’Brien script intern. Onetime staffer Amanda Velez now works for Lady Gaga’s Monster Ball Tour.

“Collaboration is huge at Groupon,” says Toledano, who’s “still involved with Groupon,” via e-mail during a “Conan” break. “Everyone is constantly doing ‘bits.’ And it’s not like other work environments, where there’s that one unfunny guy who keeps trying to be funny and no one likes him, because everyone who has been hired has more than likely been referred by a friend or collaborator. Thus, they check out and their humor has been approved. I hosted and produced a late night talk show called ‘The Late Live Show’ at Second City, and I can say that about 95 percent of the writing staff is working at Groupon in some capacity. If you go to an improv or sketch show, I guarantee you would see four or five people who work at Groupon either onstage or in the crowd supporting. It’s an amazing environment that makes going to work fun. I can count so many times where I or a co-worker have said something like, ‘Man, I have tomorrow off, but all my friends are at work. I’d rather just go in.’ ”

Tributes flow in...

Jonathan at Jewlistic pays tribute to the late Joyce Sloane.

Outside of the many status updates on facebook, you can do a search on twitter for other tributes.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Statement from Andrew Alexander

Kelly Leonard just posted this:
Joyce Sloane’s impact on the Chicago theatre community cannot be measured. She nurtured thousands of young performers – she encouraged them, fed them, even housed them when needed. She was the mother of The Second City and she cannot be replaced. The loss is monumental but Joyce Sloane’s legacy carries on forever in the work of the artists of whom she was so proud.

Andrew Alexander
The Second City
May Joyce Sloane rest in peace.