Turn on your TV past 10 p.m. on any weeknight, and you can catch late-night talk-show hosts using humor to address current hot-button political issues. Many of these comedians became famous in Second City of Chicago, one of the most notable improv schools in the U.S.
Other notable veterans of the company include Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.
The Second City touring group will bring Look Both Ways Before Talking to the Englert, 221 E. Washington St., at 8 p.m. Feb. 16 and 17.
Englert events director Jessica Egli said in an email to The Daily Iowan that the show should be pretty full. She noted that the Englert hosts comedians a handful of times a year and that “the audience generally responds positively to political satire.” Second City appears at the Englert every year around Valentine’s Day.
“It’s a tradition,” Egli said. “They always do well. It makes a great date night.”
The shows will be a mixture of sketch comedy and improv, touching on “the things you wish you could bring up in mixed company,” according to the event description.
UI theater Lecturer Megan Gogerty, also a noted standup comedian and playwright, said she believes improv is the most popular training ground for today’s comedians.
“Improv is vitally important right now,” she said. “I think it is maybe the most pervasive comedy influence. You see influence of improv in comedy films, like Judd Apatow, and other films that are improv-based. That’s really new, they didn’t do that in the 1980s, where they improvise a lot of takes and then pick your favorite.”
When it comes to the type of humor employed in Second City shows, political satire is nothing new.
UI communication studies Professor Kembrew McLeod, an independent documentary producer, appreciates Second City’s forms of comedy, noting it has some history behind it.
“The combination of humor, satire, and politics began with Benjamin Franklin,” McLeod said. “His last major satire was pretending to be a Muslim who wrote letters to the editor about why it’s really important that Muslims should be allowed to enslave Christians. What he was doing was satirizing the arguments of white Christian slaveholders who claimed that it was the Christian thing to do because they were civilizing non-Christian Africans by bringing them over … [Franklin’s satire], of course, got the slaveholding elites up in arms and prompted discussion in the halls of Congress.”
However, Gogerty said, she doesn’t believe this kind of humor can change people’s minds.
“That’s not the function of political satire; we think it will change minds, but it doesn’t,” she said. “It gives solace to allies and helps crystalize ideas and reduce complicated ideas we can put in our pocket, which is really useful.”
Gogerty also questioned how risky the show would be.
“Second City is the least risky improv you’re going to find,” she said. “Nothing that makes that much money can be that risky.”
However, she still attested to how good the Second City performers can be.
“They’re always really bright, young performers, not that far out of college themselves,” she said. “Some of them might be the next Tina Fey or Amy Poehler.”