Although The Second City is the most famous improvisational comedy troupe ever, I always approach improv comedy cautiously. Too often, improv groups tend to have a few weak members who bring the rest down and, my biggest pet peeve about the genre, tend to run long in the sense that the improvised comedy sketch continues way after the joke has been milked for any possible laugh (think of Saturday Night Live over the last twenty or so years). Fortunately, this is far from the case for the Second City comedy troupe I had the pleasure of seeing at the Flamingo Hotel and Casino where they are one of the house shows. This was a very good and entertaining show with almost none of the weaknesses I usually find in similar shows.
The Second City comedy troupe in Las Vegas consisted of Amanda Blake Davis, Martin Garcia, Bridget Kloss, Paul Mattingly, and Craig Uhlir. The group began with a freeze and switch genre sketch (as often seen on Whose Line Is It Anyways?) based on audience suggestions, found a female volunteer from the audience for a relationship show word association game, and quickly moved on to a really neat number featuring Amanda Blake Davis as a torch style lounge singer who improvised on an audience member's name, occupation, and so on. This particular number was very funny and well done.
What makes The Second City superior is someone controls the lights so there are sudden blackouts way before the sketch runs too long. This also sets a very fast pace for the show so if a particular skit is not that hot, the next one is not far away.
Another interesting but somewhat weird bit was having a cast member go out into the casino to have an unsuspecting gambler say the magic word that had been drawn out of the suggestion hat. This almost worked that night but it sitting in a comedy club hearing the material over speakers is a very strange experience.
The Las Vegas Second City group is strong, as shown in an interesting improv game that starts with two characters and totally changes each time a new character shows up, then, each character goes away and the cast members have to continue the skit they were doing before the new character changed the setup. This is an A B C D C B A skit where each letter stands for a different improvised comedy skit.
A personal favorite in that evening's performance (and something that is a regular part of the show) was the sketch where the actors had to improvise according to sound cues the soundman threw at them. Amanda Blake Davis, Martin Garcia, Bridget Kloss, Paul Mattingly, and Craig Uhlir were quite adept ad thinking on their feet and keeping the interest and laughter going in this and all the other sketches (save one perhaps). Other skits involved a couple of the actors in old people garb who, as a couple of old Vegas comics, improvised punch lines to the audience's suggestions. Another great bit featured Martin Garcia (who, I thought, was the strongest of the actor comedians on stage that night) in a last concert kind of skit.
The closer for the Second City show at the Flamingo Hotel and Casino is really, really cool, definitely original, and I will not spoil the surprise by revealing it.
This performance by The Second City comedy group reminded me why improvisational comedy can be excellent. This is a great and very fun show.
Unfortunately, the theater where the show is held is a detriment to the show itself. It is large enough and comfortable enough. Unfortunately, all that separates the theater from the casino is a curtain and a glass wall. If you are sitting stage left (i.e. anywhere near the entrance) you can always overhear the casino's sound and music, its messages, the machines, as well as any loud people making their way to the nearby restrooms. This proved to be very distracting and annoying, especially because the actor comedians do not have microphones (another weakness) so sometimes you miss what they are saying.
My suggestion is to sit stage right (as far from the door as possible).
I did bring up the microphone thing and was told a decision was made not to mike the actors as this was against improv rules or something. Considering Second City was once famous for its set pieces, only returned to real improv comedy some years ago, and some of the pieces are improvised but the setup is always the same, this decision, especially at The Flamingo, is questionable.
If you want to know a little bit more about the Second City experience, Craig Uhlir was kind enough to give us a few moments of his time and you can find that audio clip on our site.
We want to thank Brooke Schoening, supervising producer, her assistant Shannon (I am bad with names), and stage manager David Novich for allowing us to see the show and setting up the interview with Craig Uhlir, especially since I arrived out of the blue sort of thing.