The Second City That Never Sleeps | Live blog of the theater's 24-hour benefit
We were in for a nerdy morning when music producer and musician Steve Albini sat down to interview political blogger and statistician Nate Silver. Silver brought along a copy of his book, The Signal and the Noise, for a live auction. "All bids will be in hexidecimals," Silver quipped.
Albini's polite discussion with Silver included questions on his into foray into data analysis via pro baseball and his stint as a pro gambler, but most of us, I suspect were interested in Silver's political calculus in the 2012 elections and its subsequent demolishing of right-wing punditry. He took a nice swipe at Dean Chambers of Unskewed Polls, who called Silver "thin and effeminate," struck back at the nasty Politico article written about him in October and cited Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post when asked to name someone he thought was well meaning but clueless. "She hears a symphony in which Mitt Romney is conductor of the orchestra," he said. Silver says he doesn't often argue with political hacks but that he will occasionally counterpunch and always twice as hard.
Their discussion led to some very funny scenework from the ensemble including one based around hate mail and another about a company who fudges their numbers with disastrous consequences. The book, personally signed by Silver to the highest bidder, ended up going for $310. Not bad.
After Fred Armisen's absurd, winning set, the cast invited the crowd to join them in rehearsing a few simple dance moves to LMFAO's neo-Jock Jam "Party Rock Anthem." Everyone in the theater, as well as the remaining 40 or so fans waiting in line, were then led outside to the intersection of North & Wells to perform a mini flash mob featuring semi-synchronized singing and dancing to an audience of cabbies and a single bewildered tow truck driver. The whole thing was over very quickly and also offered fans the chance to ask Jason Sudekis for pictures on the walk back to the venue.
The early morning happening turned out to be the producers' clever way of keeping the show rolling while allowing JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound to set up onstage. Soon after everyone returned to the theater, the band launched into a barn-burning performance, featuring covers of Wilco's "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" and David Bowie's "Let's Dance," as well as a few original tracks. The band had the entire room on their feet, energized and dancing like it wasn't nearing 3am. As a special treat, Armisen took over lead vocals for a performance of "Fist Fight" by Crisis of Conformity, a (pretend) hardcore punk throwback band that originally appeared in an SNL sketch in 2010.
The crowd was both heavily hyped and liquored up at this point, making for a rowdy stretch of suggestions, to the apparent delight of cohosts TJ Jagodowski and Michael Patrick O'Brien. After tearing through countless improv games as the night progressed, the cast began consulting things like a book of horoscopes and an audience member's wallet for inspiration for scenes. As dawn approached, the crowd began to thin and the improvised material became darker and more bizarre, sprinkling in non-sequiturs and bits about death with more frequency.
Just after 6am, Beau Golwitzer, O'Brien and Scott Goldstein were challenged with the task of conveying nonsensical sound effects (ex: John Stamos brushing his teeth in the Bahamas) to Jake Schneider and Rich Sohn in a sort of foley-oriented $10,000 Pyramid. Watching the borderline delirious performers struggle with this gargantuan task was one of the most rewarding parts of the graveyard shift.
The sound effect game wrapped after an insane 40 minutes, just in time for Will Oldham (better known as Bonnie 'Prince' Billy), as well as a bunch of young kids, to take the stage. Oldham, who was accompanied by fellow folkie Emmett Kelly his entire set, performed two sets, the first featuring three beautifully strange songs (including an excellent cover of The Everly Brothers' "Christmas Eve Can Kill You") which established a unique tone for the family friendly improv that would follow. The aforementioned kids joined their performer parents for a charming set that served as a reminder that improvisation is a lot like just playing pretend.
Bonnie returned for three more songs in front of the kids, including "There Is No God" a hymnlike and weirdly inspirational song that elicited some bewildered looks and chuckles from audience and performers alike. Oldham again relinquished the stage, and kidprov resumed for through the end of the 8 o'clock hour.
The Second City isn't sleeping and neither are we, but our eyes are drooping just a bit. At 11pm, the ensemble, that now includes all of Cook County Social Club and many others, plays the improv exercise Hey Fred Schneider, What Are You Doing? Midway through the game, B-52s frontman Schneider (yes, the one and only) bursts onstage with a facetious pout on his face.
Schneider is funny. He's clearly not an improviser but he's quick-witted, opinionated and plays at the top of his intelligence. In one scene, he plays a cross-dressing nine year old wearing his mother's panty hose. During the game Dr. Know It All, in which ensemble members link arms to answer questions as a single unit, the answer to the question of how America will solve the fiscal cliff debacle was met with the answer, Obama needs to send Republicans to hell. Schneider and Sudeikis played especially well together in Fred Freeze Tag.
Former Pixies bassist and Breeders front woman Kim Deal played several short sets. Deal, 51, is in good shape although years of chain smoking has left its mark on her already raspy voice. Neverthless, Deal played hits like "Fortunately Gone," "Cannonball" and "Gigantic" while the ensemble took turns improvsing between sets.
By 1am the evening is starting to devolve. TJ Jagodowski comes up with an impromptu and completely nonsensical game in which audience members can make a $5 wager to guess which ensemble members have dried kale or soup crackers in their pockets. Second City's Katie Rich is in the crowd and she correctly guesses Ryan Archibald has kale in his pocket but loses her money when she let's in ride and misses on a second guess. Music producer Steve Albini takes a hilarious stab and also fails, but a surprising number of people guess correctly.
At 1:30am Portlandia and SNL star Fred Armisen wows the crowd with 30-minutes of solo material. After doing his best Elvis Costello impression, Armisen challenges the audience to give him any city, region or country in the world and he'll do that accent. I wasn't sure if he was bullshitting us or not, but he sure did impress with his imitation of Lithuanians, Icelanders, South Africans, Egyptians, New Zealanders and many more. Armisen also nailed it with a series of totally random impressions including a guy checking into a W Hotel and a guy sneaking away after listening for awhile to blues music at a Chicago street fairl Totally random and totally funny, Armisen killed.