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Famed comedy club seeking laughs in Chicago’s past
CHICAGO (AP) - Imagine a city where winters are frigid enough for polar bears, where a baseball team is so woebegone it hasn’t won the World Series since Model Ts puttered down the streets and where electoral shenanigans are summed up in the cheeky phrase, “vote early, vote often.”
Find any of that funny?
How about a city where a disgraced governor swiveled his hips and crooned an Elvis tune at a street fair? Where a mayor, staging a debate during the Roaring `20s, placed live rats in cages to represent his opponents? And where the late columnist Mike Royko, referring to the tradition of political chicanery, once suggested Chicago’s motto, Urbs in Horto (City in a Garden), be replaced with Ubi Est Mia (Where’s mine?).
Pick a topic: Winter. Traffic. Sports. Politics. Most definitely, politics. In Chicago, all are good for a joke.
And soon the Second City comedy club _ famed for its satire and improvisation _ will use this fodder, as it turns its wit on the city itself. It has partnered with the Chicago History Museum, consulting with curators, performing a series of workshops and soliciting suggestions from audience members to shape a script that will touch on the present and the past.
The finished product, Second City’s History of Chicago, previewing in December, will likely lampoon familiar territory, such as the weather, notorious traffic jams and some famous modern-day names: The mayors Daley. The new boss, Rahm Emanuel. The California-departed Oprah.
The writers will also explore places and characters that have defined Chicago over the decades. Al Capone, of course. But others best-known to the locals, such as Mathias “Paddy” Bauler, the top-hat-wearing, alderman-saloon keeper who left his mark with his cri de coeur: “Chicago ain’t ready for reform!” And Bughouse Square, a park that became famous as a public soapbox for leftist orators.
The cast is pondering ways, too, to find yucks in the Haymarket labor-police clashes of 1886, silliness in the Great Chicago Fire, maybe even a joke about _ ready for this? _ Daniel Burnham, the architect who shaped the city’s lakefront.
No matter what makes the cut, the show will reflect a brand of humor unique to Chicago, says Kelly Leonard, Second City’s executive vice president.
“It is all about the intersection of high brow and low brow,” he says. “It’s a place in which Mike Ditka and the University of Chicago have basically equal standing, and the smashing together of those two make Chicago such a funny place to live in. If you think about some of the quintessential Second City characters _ Bill Murray, George Wendt, John Belushi _ they all have a kind of blue-collar wisdom to them.”
“It’s a very no bull–- city,” he adds.
There’s another truism about Chicago. Misery is something of a badge of honor.
“Chicagoans kind of wear their imperfections,” Leonard says. “The Cubs are horrible. The weather is the worst. Our politicians are corrupt and we keep electing them. You either weep and go into a fetal position or you laugh. And we choose to laugh.”
To prepare for this show, Second City cast members rehearsed at the History Museum, just a few blocks from the comedy club. They invited the public and tour guides to watch, solicited suggestions and added their own ideas after poring over exhibits in the museum.
By Tom Fitton
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