Comedy company visits Englert


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Naked flesh. And lots of it.

That image comes to Nick Rees's mind as his most memorable moment while touring with the Second City comedy troupe.

"I did a show where we got streaked by 25 students at a time," the actor said.

The Minnesota crowd he was performing for went wild at the sight of all that nudity.

"And then they just sort of settled down," Rees said. "And we went right back into the show as if this pile of flesh had not just cascaded around us."

That comedic professionalism will appear in Iowa City when "The Second City: Laugh Out Loud Tour" performs at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday in the Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St.

Second City Appeal

Second City is a famed comedy group, founded in Chicago in 1959. The company grew to include numerous training centers across North America, four touring companies, and a communications division, which teaches business professionals improv-based methodologies.

"The Second City is one of the first theaters to do things created by people from Chicago for Chicagoans," said Anthony LeBlanc, a previous performer and a current director and teacher at Second City. "That kind of spirit of really being in tune with your community and in tune with what's happening locally is what I think makes Second City such a unique place."

The revered comedy troupe has produced a long list of famous comedians who got their start on the Second City main stage in Chicago or on stages across the country with a touring group. The list includes such stars as Tina Fey, Steve Carrell, Stephen Colbert, John Belushi, and Bill Murray.

LeBlanc said the reason behind the actors' success is their ability to be in the moment and work as a group, skills they built during their time at Second City. Because of those skills, the members become more appealing to employers in the professional entertainment world.

"I think that person is more and more attractive and will do a lot more because [he or she] can easily make changes, work with people, make things happen, and still be funny, hilarious, and great," he said.

The Second City fingerprint can be seen on TV and movies but also on the University of Iowa campus and on similar campuses across the country.

UI junior Chloe Metzger is a member of Paperback Rhino, Iowa City's longest running improvisational group. She said the members of her group consider Second City to be an endpoint and an inspiration for how to improve their comedy.

"Any time we see a show, we talk about it for months afterwards, and we use it as an example for what we want to be," she said. "Not having a coach, we kind of view them as our little free coaches in a way."

The Second City Style

Members of the group described Second City's sketches and improv as being greatly varied in comedic style and subject matter.

"I kind of think of it as intelligent comedy, but that's pigeonholing it as one thing when it's pretty much whatever the actors want to make of it, comedy-wise," said Rees, a Sioux City native and UI alumnus.

Another member of the touring group, Kate Lambert said the diversity creates an interesting satirical hodgepodge of situations and moments.

"One of the great things about it is you can have a mix of playful scenes, but you also have some really irreverent scenes that really hit home both politically and socially," she said.

The touring company makes an effort to localize its comedy. The members spend time seeing the town and talking to people in order to understand the local dynamic.

"It tends to go over huge when you can list the local water park or the town councilman who did something dumb," Rees said. "It's something we try to do because we're here to perform a show for you guys, and you don't necessarily care what's going on in North Dakota, where we were beforehand."

The Second City: Laugh Out Loud Tour

The Laugh Out Loud Tour brings the most beloved sketches from throughout Second City's 50-plus-year history back to the stage. New, fresh faces portray characters previously played by Stephen Colbert or act in scenes written by Scott Adsit of the hit sitcom "30 Rock."

"I love digging into these archive performances just because you see how these people who are now pretty famous and have made their mark on comedy started out, how they were writing things when they were younger, and now how they've progressed," Rees said.

Lambert said she was also awed by the famous names she read on the pages of her scripts.

"I remember looking down as these lines I was highlighting that read Fey," she said. "It's a real privilege to be able to perform their work, and I'm just over the moon about it."

Rees and Lambert both said another thing they love about the tour is the opportunity to travel to a variety of places and interact with the people who live there.

"As someone who was born in Iowa, I really love the Midwest, so I like getting to go to these different towns that all have their own character," Rees said. "Everybody has been really cool and accommodating."

The Second City Effect

For LeBlanc, being an actor with a comedy group is not always where he thought his life would end up.

Since he was 5 years old, he wanted to work for NASA. He received degrees in computer science and physics at Loyola University of New Orleans. After moving to Chicago, he discovered his love for improv and auditioned for Second City. Now, Leblanc has been with Second City for eight years.

"I always wanted to be a part of something where I was affecting people or changing lives, benefiting mankind," he said. "I do feel that at Second City; our brand of comedy is something that is funny and affects people but also says something about the world."

Seeing people from all walks of life who work at Second City gave LeBlanc a new viewpoint.

"It's really given me the perspective that there are lots of different ways that different people do great things in this world," he said. "For me, Second City is giving me an outlet to do what I've always wanted to do in a way I never expected."

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