Take this with a grain of salt, because I don’t see every show at The Second City, but the new mainstage revue, “Don’t Quit Your Daydream,” is one of the most consistently funny shows—maybe the funniest—I’ve ever seen on that stage.
Second City has grappled more than most live-performance companies with the fallout of the racial reckoning these last few years, and has done so with mixed success. But as a matter of practice in the way they’ve always developed comedy, they keep at it—tweaking, finessing and learning. They’ve offered an annual fellowship to train BIPOC actors for about a decade, and in each of the last couple of years they’ve presented an all-BIPOC-show each February that the press is not invited to attend. The growth is evident on the stage in this new revue, which has cast off the earnest-but-not-funny striving of recent years and tackles racial issues with a casual grace indicative of the best of Second City’s long heritage of social comedy. This is also in no small part due to the diversity of the cast, which is at least half BIPOC.
In one of the more spot-on sketches, Andy negotiates to leave the incredibly boring “white heaven” in the afterlife and visit “Black heaven,” where the party is going strong. But he has to pass the litmus test given by gatekeeper Julia, who eventually relents and offers him a day pass. When he offers to bring her into white heaven in return, she says, “No thanks, I’ve been to Portland.”
Hilarious sendups of our overly serious cultural moment abound—the grist for the Second City mill since the place started back in the 1950s—such as the group that sits down, one by one, as grievances are listed, until the lone white male stands alone. Or the double date where an old friend shows up with his new girlfriend, “Flip-Flop.” One hitch, though, she’s imaginary, but no one dares call this out… Or when an older sister picks up her much younger brother after his college graduation and they bond over old songs on the radio, up to the point where she starts mangling lyrics. Who could forget the Eurythmics’ classic “Sweet Dreams,” in which Annie Lennox sang “this cream is made of cheese”? (Refreshingly, both actors in this sketch are Black, but the material is not, save one early joke about confusing Howard University with Harvard University.)
For a long time, Second City has crafted an overarching theme for its shows, building sketches to support the concept as a framing device. But too often those themes end up, well, overly contrived and not funny. Fortunately that’s not the case here, since director Carisa Barreca wisely just let this standout cast go crazy.
Speaking of which, go see ensemble member Evan Mills in this intimate setting while you can: I wrote before that he was poised to be a breakout star with his blend of madcap physical zaniness—somewhere in the Jim Carrey-Ernie Kovacs spectrum—and overall comedic chops. In this show he flexes his singing skills as well, and I’m more convinced than ever about his future trajectory.
“Don’t Quit Your Daydream,” The Second City Mainstage’s 111th Revue, is in an open run at The Second City Mainstage, 1616 North Wells, secondcity.com.