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May 11, 2005

I've seen plenty of improv in Chicago, but this weekend I went to my first Second City show.

The sketches were borne of improv but came to the stage scripted and rehearsed. As a result the comedy was polished, smart and very, very funny. And the players clearly understood that the most impor-TIMING!

An unadvertised aftershow featured Second City alumnus Jim Belushi. (Speaking of funnier, more gifted older brothers, Happy birthday, Hank.)

Most of the crowd was from out of town -- the Ed Debevics caps and tank tops gave them away -- and they ate him up. A celebrity! A TV star at Second City! For them it was like going to Wrigley Field and catching a home run, a bonus thrill that all the folks back home will be doomed to hear about. They didn't seem to mind that he was unfunny, flat and possibly a little drunk.

I found the rest of the cast to be much funnier and sharper, so it was strange to see them fawn over him, too. They were the All-Star pitcher and he was the washed-up slugger, and they were letting the ball run through their legs in order to make him feel better.

The final bit was the common improv game of freeze. In it, two players act out a scene. At any time someone on the sideline can call "Freeze!" and then tap a player, assume their position and take the scene in a new direction. Once Belushi got on stage, each cast member in quick succession tapped whichever player was opposite him, all for the sake of briefly sharing the stage with The Celebrity. Meanwhile, he was stuck there like a mannequin -- an unfunny, flat, possibly drunk mannequin.

For the record, if I were to guess who will next make the jump from stage to screen, my money would be on Antoine McKay. I just hope that when it's his turn to return to the stage as The Celebrity Alumnus he acquits himself better. It will help that he has a fantastic sense o-TIMING!