- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The man in the front row of the Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse had been “marked” at the start of the show. 

For the concluding sketch, two cast members of the touring Second City comedy troupe pull the young man onstage — to his own embarrassment and the delight of his date. 

The Second City actors “cast” the man as himself in a stand-in role for Ebenezer Scrooge — they will retell “A Christmas Carol” using details from the man’s life, such as that he works as car salesman in Northern Virginia. The cast has never met or seen the man until this evening.

And go! The cast spontaneously re-spins Dickens’ tale of Christmas Eve redemption, with the actors rotating out the roles of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come and Tiny Tim, all the while making jokes at the man’s expense: constantly and purposefully mutilating his name, mocking his profession, making subtle jabs as to his domestic life. The sketch ends and the man takes a bow along with the cast. This reporter, seated in the front row next to the man, cynically asks if he really is a car salesman. “Actually,” he responds sheepishly, “I work for the Department of Defense.”

Tomorrow night, the government worker-cum-car purveyor will be replaced by someone else in the front row to be the ersatz Scrooge. Just another night in the chaotically spontaneous world of Second City, which invades the Drafthouse for two consecutive weekends.

“We don’t hold back any punches,” touring cast member Chris Redd said in a preshow interview with The Washington Times. “That’s what I like. [The audience] can definitely expect the unexpected. It’s a fun Christmas show.”

SEE ALSO: Debi Smith, National Men’s Chorus sing in the holidays

The Second City touring cast is based out of Chicago, home of the eponymous troupe so named as it was considered “second” to New York in the comedy scene. Famous alumni include John Candy, Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert and Nia Vardalos, to name but a few.

“I’m the youngest of four girls, so I think that wanting attention is something that’s a typical trait of the youngest,” said fellow cast member Maria Randazzo, a Cleveland native.

Mr. Redd and Miss Randazzo have toured with the troupe all around the country. The unknown makes the shows both fresh and exciting. Anything can — and often does — happen. Mr. Redd recounts an evening where an audience member pulled up onstage for a sketch passed out right in front of the hundreds gathered.

“There was a scene right after that where somebody passed out [in the scene]. It was so weird, but it was hilarious,” said Mr. Redd. “Once we found out he was OK, we went right to next scene [with the passing out gag]. It was funny later; it was awkward then.”

“We had one guy last weekend in Arkansas who was an older gentleman, and he just didn’t care,” said Miss Randazzo. “He’s like, ‘I’m gonna say whatever I want.’ So I love when people can get up there and, you know, hang with us.”

Mr. Redd recalls another moment in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where the town’s — indeed, the state’s — most famous employer was lampooned by a fellow cast member, somewhat to the chagrin of the audience. 

Mr. Redd recalls, “[A cast member] said, ‘Thank you for shopping at Target,’ and the next minute all these people are basically [screaming] for Wal-Mart, shouting, ‘This is blue country!’ One lady was like, ‘I’ll get my gun out if you talk about Wal-Mart!’ It was like, what is happening? These people are serious.”

“They were having fun though,” said Miss Randazzo.

“They were having a blast,” said Mr. Redd. “We brought it back, and the rest of the show was great.”

“That’s the beauty of what we do,” said Miss Randazzo, “is that something crazy can happen, and you can work with the audience, where you’re all going to laugh together.”

Mr. Redd, though he lives in Chicago, originally hails from St. Louis. As his hometown has been much in the news of late, it was natural to inquire if there are any topics that are off limits in the show.

“I don’t really see them as ‘off limits,’ but there is a crass way to do things,” he said. “Every now and then there’s a creative way to make commentary on something.”

To wit, during the Friday evening show, Mr. Redd, who is black, asked the audience for an imaginary prop to “bring” into a scene. One person gleefully shouted out “watermelon.” Mr. Redd ran with it, but also jabbed at the person, saying during the scene, “I brought this watermelon,” he said, turning to the audience member, “because I’m an [expletive],” which made light of what might have turned uncomfortable in lesser hands, but also provided levity and allowed the audience to roll with the moment.

“I think a lot of those topics are very easy to use as shock value,” Mr. Redd said. “Like, ‘oh, no one says this, so I’m gonna say it’ rather than being smart about it and having a purpose.”

“It’s improv, so anything can come up,” said Miss Randazzo. “So technically nothing is off limits, because anyone can say anything at any time. I think Joan Rivers once said that comedy is the way to ‘shrink the dragon’ for certain topics. Like you’re making people laugh or think about it something in a different and unique way. There are certain topics I get very uncomfortable about improvising onstage, because I just don’t want to say the wrong thing. There are topics I will not entertain or joke about.”

“I’ve never really been a fan of those types of jokes,” Mr. Redd said.

Both Mr. Redd and Miss Randazzo hope to follow the paths of Second City’s more venerable veterans into film and TV. Mr. Redd works several nights a week as a stand-up comic when not with the troupe. Miss Randazzo is proud to relate this is the first year where she didn’t need a full-time job outside of Second City to make ends meet.

“I get energized from shows,” said Mr. Redd. “I’ll be exhausted before a show, and then after a show I’m ready to hang out all night. You have your friends onstage to build something together, and it’s exciting. And I just love making people laugh, knowing that you can affect somebody in a very positive way.”

“There’s so many ways to just roll with it in these shows,” Miss Randazzo said. “Like I am a very clumsy person; I just fall. And the audience is probably like, ‘Should she be onstage?’ If you guys wanna see me fall, just come to any [of our shows],” she laughs. “Not pratfalls, actual falls!”

“The Second City’s Nut-Cracking Holiday Revue” will be at the Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse, 2903 Columbia Pike, Arlington, Va., Friday at 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. and Saturday at 1 p.m., 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. Tickets at ArlingtonDrafthouse.com, 703/486-2345.

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