Friday, August 16, 2013
What's so funny about San Diego? A lot, according to Chicago’s famed improv comedy troupe "The Second City," performing their show "The Good, The Bad, and the I-5" at the La Jolla Playhouse.
A drumroll and late-night show announcer launch the new improv comedy show at the La Jolla Playhouse.
“Live from sunny San Diego.....iiiiit’s the Bob Filner Show!”
When the Playhouse invited "The Second City" to create a show about San Diego, it was before the scandal erupted at the mayor’s office. Months later when rehearsals started, the ensemble realized they’d struck comedy gold.
"First day of rehearsal, we sort of all walked in with this level of excitement," said Mitchell Fain, the cast member who plays the mayor, among other characters. "It’s like the comedic skies opened up and rained all good fortune on us."
Another cast member claimed it was like Christmas morning every day as the scandal involving mayor Filner unfolded.
At one point, Fain as mayor tells the audience: “In order to deal with my mistakes, I will be going on a two-week vacation to sex camp, paid for by you, the taxpayer. And I can’t wait to meet all my counselors.”
You can't blame the show's creators for aiming their comedic daggers at such an easy target. Wisely, they don't overdo it. Jokes about the mayor bookend the show and pop up occasionally, but over the course of two hours, the ensemble covers a lot of ground.
"The Second City" is legendary for its improv-based sketch comedy. Some of today’s most famous comics – Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Steve Carell – all graduated from its ranks. The company has done city-specific shows all over the country. The San Diego version is called “The Good, the Bad, and the I-5.”
"For this show, they sent out writers a couple of months ago," Fain explained. "They were taken around town and talked to people about what is specific to San Diego and what San Diegans find funny."
The writers (Ross Bryant, John Hartman and Barry Hite) develop a script, with lots of room for improvisation. The script also has to be flexible in case a major development happens in the mayor’s office.
"We structured a lot of this stuff so that we can maneuver no matter what he does," said Kevin Sciretta, an ensemble member. "If he resigns, stays in office or if he escapes and goes on the run, we can handle it."
San Diego offers more than an embattled mayor to make fun of - there’s Comic-Con, medical marijuana and the seals controversy in La Jolla cove. The San Diego Zoo gets its own rap song.
Some of the funniest material comes out of improvised scenes based on audience suggestions. The night I was there, the troupe made the most of setups as diverse as chainsaw juggling, dog vomit and dirt bike riding. The latter may have been my favorite skit, in which the two female cast members play rivals in Santee, one a young Iraqi immigrant, played by Marla Caceres, and the other an older woman on her porch rocking chair, played with a hammy accent by Andel Sudik. The story unfolds through requests from the audience, which these two talented comedians fold brilliantly into a ridiculous, gut-busting narrative.
In other skits, audience members end up on stage, so be careful where you sit.
Improv is so much fun because you never know where a scene will end up. You’re basically watching ingenuity in action. Improvisors have certain rules they follow to keep a scene going. Travis Turner, who performs with Second City, says you accept whatever scenario your on-stage partner presents.
"If I say I’m holding a gun and I’m going to shoot you and you say that’s not a gun, where do we really go from there?" he offered as example. "It's much better creatively if you say, 'I'm terrified.'"
The last few weeks will go down as some of the most tumultuous in San Diego history. As circumstances shift between the grave and the absurd, the arrival of "The Second City" might be just what San Diegans need. Andel Sudik has been with company for 10 years.
"One of my favorite quotes is Charlie Chaplin said 'To truly laugh, you have to be able to take your pain and play with it.'"
One audience member was asked if she could pick anyone to replace Bob Filner as mayor, who would it be? Her answer was Joan Baez.
The cast said they’re going to pass the suggestion on to the city council.
"The Good, the Bad, and the I-5" runs through Sept. 1 at the La Jolla Playhouse.