‘Campaign’ trail takes Second City to Denver

By Meryl Fulinara

Second City has had a string of critically praised revues on its record since the start of the 2008 presidential nominee race. With Chicago’s golden boy, Sen. Barack Obama, being the Democratic presidential candidate, the comedy troupe is going head-to-head with politics.

The theater, which began its run in the late ’50s, plays host to revues that last five to seven months, consisting of scripted and semi-improvised scenes.

The advances of Second City have not gone unnoticed, as the troupe was invited to perform at Denver’s Fado Irish Pub and Restaurant during the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

“Campaign Supernova!” is directed by Matt Hovde, who also directed “Between Barack and a Hard Place.” It’s the newest revue to join the line-up of shows poking fun at politics, playing on the pun of social change and the divide that occurs when voters are forced to choose between three presidential candidates.

“We get political issues out there, but in a scenic way, not hammering them [on people],” said Amanda Blake Davis, who stars in Second City’s “Campaign Supernova! or How Many Democrats Does it take to Lose an


The show opened in May and has been running for the past four months. Davis said more dates were added due to the popularity of the show.

“[When we were writing this show] we didn’t know who was going to be chosen as a candidate; we were thinking that we could open the show and two days later it could mean nothing,” Davis said. “Our director made the conscious decision to focus more on the supernova; how the world is changing, what happens when it changes.”

In one scene, three women-played by Davis, Laura Grey and Megan Grano-have a conversation in a women’s locker room while they freshen up after their spinning class. The women chat with each other about issues like weight gain, plastic surgery and the hippest new clubs.  Suddenly the scene morphs into an exchange between the same females as three Middle Eastern women.

“Oh my God, I haven’t gotten a manicure, just cut off my hand,” Davis’ character says, complaining.  Then, abruptly turning into the Middle Eastern women, the Davis’ character is in the process of having a female circumcision, demonstrating how something so trivial as a saying can mean something completely different to someone else.

Audience member John Campbell, a student from Colorado State said, “The first half was not as political as the second half.”

In one skit in the second half of the show, Ted Mason, an ensemble actor, asks the audience, “What is one thing you would change about the world?” He gets one audience member to leave a message for Illinois Senate representatives. The audience member, Davis said, left a message about wanting to end the war in Iraq that ended up sounding anti-war and anti-military.

Mason encouraged the audience to start chanting in the background. Once the song was over, the cast bowed and the lights came up to reveal a man who was standing in the audience ranting and raving. “I just thought to myself, that’s a very aggressive standing [ovation]. It turns out he was an ex-Marine, who was obviously very offended,” Davis said. “For that person, I hated that that was the impression he was left with.  At the same time that person is allowed to have their opinion, you’re allowed to have your opinion. Isn’t it nice that we can all have our own opinions and get to voice them?”

Last year’s main stage revue of “Between Barack and a Hard Place” started the string of shows with a political undertone. The show was a social commentary of a nation divided and featured a love ballad entitled “Where Was Al Gore Before?” in which performer Molly Erdman sings about the love between Gore and his wife, rhyming “Tipper” and “zipper.”

The show centers around the battle between Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and a charming rival who seemed to be part of everybody’s social circle, who Abraham Lincoln refers to as “B.O.”

A few months after the opening, the troupe was asked to perform excerpts of the show for an Obama campaign fundraiser where the candidate was in attendance.

Satirized politics have long been around, but have gained momentum over the past few years,  following the success of the parody-news hosts Jon Stewart and Second City alumnus Stephen Colbert.

“Stewart and Colbert can do that every night …  meanwhile, we have to write a show that will run for five [to] seven months trying to sustain a live audience,” Davis said.

Davis said Second City has been doing political satire, but what’s hard for it as a theater is that there are people doing it better and faster on a nightly basis.

“It’s hard to come up with new jokes about candidates. I find [these] jokes to be very entertaining,” said Eve Turow, a 21-year-old student at Amherst College in Amherst, Mass., who attended “Campaign Supernova.”

There were about 2,200 attendees at “Chicago Night,” hosted by Sen. Dick Durbin and U.S.  Rep.  Rahm Emanuel, where the Second City troupe performed, said Glen Eastwood, the acting general manager at Fado.

The troupe played both Monday night and Tuesday afternoon. Eastwood said there was a wide range of people in attendance at the show including politicians and their kids, convention goers and their friends.

“It was a terrific event, and we were honored to be invited,” said Robin Hammond, co-producer at Second City.

Catch “Campaign Supernova! Or How Many Democrats Does it Take to Lose an Election?” at The Second City e.t.c. Theater, 1608 N. Wells St., 2nd Floor of Piper’s Alley. Call the theater for tickets at (312) 664-4032.