Today I finished my last day of classes at Second City in Chicago. For an entire week I studied Level 2 Sketch Writing in the morning and Level 2 Improv in the afternoon. Then I’d go home, eat dinner, and either write a sketch or see a show, and then usually wake up early the next morning and write another sketch because the first one was dog shit. It was intense and tiring and mentally draining, and it was THE BEST GODDAMN TIME I HAVE EVER HAD EVER. Turns out that immersively nerding out in a world-respected comedy training centre is precisely my jam.
It’s been a long time since I studied at university, and when we were given my first night of homework, there was a little part of my brain that thought ‘I’m an adult, I don’t have to do this’. There was a much larger part of my brain that basically had a giant boner for sketch writing homework though.
In class, we dissected everyone’s writing according to the rigorous yet vastly accessible formula that we’ve learnt for writing sketches. My class is eight women and me, and everyone is intimidatingly good at writing. My first sketch is given a point for having a single memorable character, but that’s it – I’ve given no thought to the action on the stage, and the story is limp and barely transforms. But then, because it’s a good class, we are given the tools to recognise why the sketch didn’t hit those points, and strategies to rectify this. A couple of days later, I’m given the chance to rewrite a sketch, and I am surprised at how pleased I am, at how much I really wanted to make it better and to have it succeed. My first instinct when something isn’t great is just to scrap it, and write something else.
Our teacher, Jay, is friendly, funny, and possesses an iron hard focus. Somehow while everyone gets distracted by what seems a hilarious non-sequitur about a character named Loretta Fuckmebutt (of the Tennessee Fuckmebutts) Jay is laughing along and then instantly absorbs it into the lesson, and suddenly your mind is blown. Jay kept apologising to me, but insincerely I’m pretty sure, and saying ‘sorry, this class is a secret feminist tutorial’, which I kept smiling along to, but also was secretly thinking ‘yasssssssss this is heaven’. One of our assignments was to write a sketch with only female characters – Second City had identified that female representation in their sketches was still an issue, and their method of dealing with it was to make sure people are forced to write from female perspectives and female characters, beyond the idea of ‘Mum #1’ or ‘SLUTTY WAITRESS’, until it is normalised, and the entire idea of NOT writing equal roles for women becomes unnatural. Sitting in class with eight of the funniest, talented women that I’ve had the pleasure to meet made this feel like an incredibly important thing. Slow clap, Second City.
In the afternoons it was time to run around and be a dickhead in improv, which apart from being exactly as fun as I wanted, was a great way of getting myself out of my head after sketch. I’m starting to get this blank, malleable mind when I do improv, which is able to react and formulate responses and plans and characters in the moment, but doesn’t go into a scene with a whole bunch of backup plans like when I first started, as if I could cheat by thinking ‘if all else fails, just pretend to be an astronaut’. There’s also a great focus on story creation/ workshopping an idea through improv at Second City, which really appealed to me. I’ve also started noticing differences between improv schools – some of the ‘rules’ I learnt at UCB in New York were directly contradicted here.
My improv teacher, Irene, is one of those people who always seems to be slightly dancing. She has an amazing ability to force people out of their comfort zones while smiling incredibly brightly, so you don’t even realise you’ve just been bullied into doing something really dumb, because she just seems so happy about it. She also seems to genuinely enjoy watching people do dumb stuff. Throughout the week she gestured with a thick bandaged finger, because on our first day of class she stuck it in a blender and had to get eight stitches. Later on she went on to lose the nail off it. But it was hard not to notice, and follow every single direction that the finger pointed out.
Today I am going to walk halfway across the city and see some art – I’m doing this because I haven’t really seen any of Chicago, just this weird triangle between my AirBnB which is full of jocks, and various comedy theatres. I apparently have to go and look at a statue of a giant bean. I love this city.
This post is generously supported by the Thiel Grant for Online Writing, and is included in a 50 part series called ‘HELLO INTERNET BOY’ ranging from March 2015 – March 2016