So StivOO and I were walking around the city, looking for unexploded fireworks left over from Thanksgiving, and all of a sudden, we were at Piper’s Alley, the home of Second City. There, some weird lady, wearing an ironing board as pants and wire hangers for curlers in her hair, lured us in with a sign that said “Free Sex and Money”. StivOO and I made a pact to go for the money only because we would be able to pay for sex with it, which is always more fulfilling than getting sex for free. When we walked in, to our astonishment, there was neither free sex nor free money. Immediately, we were swooped upon and placed before an improv training recruitment officer. After twenty minutes of berating, spitting, bull whipping and orifice violating, StivOO and I had enrolled in the beginner’s level of improv training offered by Second City. That’s right, they wouldn’t let us in unless we violated some of their orifices, including light sockets.
Our first class was Thursday, January 5. Upon arriving, we received our official Second City Training Center Student ID card (pictured). As you can see, this card tells us that Second City does not have a graphic designer on staff, as a lemur with a lisp could have designed a more professional card. I would have expected at least a caricature of Steve Carell on it. My card expires March 5th. This way, if I’m no good, they can keep me out of their hallways after putting up with me for a mere two months. That is assuming my talent doesn’t earn me another card for the following session. And by talent, I mean two hundred and sixty dollars.
StivOO and I entered a windowless training room, which, as we learned later, also serves as the staging area for the Second City skybox stage. I spent the first ten minutes sniffing the carpet and walls hoping to get a wiff of Tina Fey sweat from years gone by. All I could sense were gallons of Rachel Dratch residue, which, I’ll admit, is funnier, but not as sweet smelling as Tina’s. Our instructor, Jackie, eventually showed up and told me to get my nose off the wall and have a seat.
Jackie entertained us with about fifteen minutes of introductory yak yak. Then she demanded that we partake in our first exercise. I don’t know how much actual improv we’ll end up doing in this class. I think it’s more wax on, wax off type training. Before we know it, we’ll know how to inflict karate on unsuspecting whale watchers. The exercise consisted of the eighteen of us trainees meandering around the room, making eye contact with others and saying “hi”. I, being the overachiever when convenient and easy, chose to say “hello” and “howdy, pardner” to some of my fellow classmates. They seemed to enjoy it and I can tell they really, really like me a lot. StivOO and I avoided each other, as we have made eye contact plenty of other times and have even said hello to each other on occasion. Next, Jackie expanded on that motif and told us to continue doing the promenade, but this time, introduce ourselves and provide a one sentence statement about ourselves. This is where I was thrown off, a little. I stuck to the rules, stating things like, “I have shoes”, “I get itchy when bowling”, and “I’ve never been eaten by an alligator.” Consequently, I rifled through the entire class. Classmates I met tried conversing with me, but the rule was to say one thing, so I turned my back on them right quick after their first comment. Then I noticed everybody was paired up and talking. That wasn’t the direction. We were only supposed to say one thing! And, Jackie did nothing to prevent it. So, I went back to sniffing the carpet until the next exercise commenced.
Next, we circled our blossoming improv chuck wagons. Jackie instructed us to shout out our names while accompanying it with a unique physical movement. She demonstrated by shouting her name and doing a karate type kick. We were to all repeat what she did, using her name and movement. So we did. People decided to follow the rules this time, if you can believe it, which was good because sniffing the carpet was starting to make me gag. Then, we began doing our own with the group repeating the name and movement. I screwed mine up. I attempted to do the Brady Bunch “Keep On” single knee kneel-down with the flamboyant arm circle, but it came out more like an around the world bowling move. I have never been more embarrassed the entire month. StivOO chose to go with the classic 213 Thumper move. I won’t describe it, but he did it wrong, too. I corrected it when it came around to me. We were both failing miserably as improv-ers. Jackie turned that ordeal into a game where one person would start with her/his own name and move and then say another persons name and do their move. That person would pick it up and lay it down to pass it to another person, and she told two friends, and they told two friends and so on and so on. I presume the intent was to get us to learn each other’s names and loosen up in the process. I can only speak for myself, but I don’t think it worked so well since the only people's names I can remember are Crotch Grab, Nipple Tweak, Squat Kick and Take Your Leg Off (amputees are welcome at Second City, by the way).
Once that was over, we maintained our circle. It’s a symbol of unity and it promotes ensemble behavior, which is a cornerstone in improv communities. OK, I don't know what I'm talking about, but it may be correct. We did stay in the circle formation in order to play a game called Time to Start Sweating and Hurt Yourself. You may know this game by its other name, Kitty Wants a Corner. To play the game, one person starts in the middle of the circle. Jackie volunteered since the rest of us didn’t know how to play. The person in the middle of the circle, the Kitty, is supposed to go up to one of the people on the perimeter and say, “Kitty wants a corner.” The person spoken to was to instruct the Kitty to ask one of his/her next door neighbors and point to which one. Then the Kitty would go to the person next to the first person, as instructed, and ask the same question. The point here is to show how stupid cats are, since circles have no corners. Not in this dimension, anyway. While this was going on, the other people on the perimeter were supposed to be trying to make eye contact with each other. Once two people achieved that, they had to attempt to run across the circle and switch places. The Kitty’s goal was to usurp one of the switchers and commandeer an empty spot on the circle, causing a new Kitty. The people on the perimeter had no incentive to switch places, but that didn’t seem to matter. I guess the incentive was to try to screw over one of your fellow classmates by causing them to become Kitty. So much for the ensemble unity. This is where the sweating and injury came in. Cinderblock walls surrounded three quarters of the circle. In order to get to the opposite open space without crushing my skull, I had to accelerate and decelerate faster than a driver’s ed student on the first day. My metabolism didn’t like that very much, so I began to drip. My knee didn’t like that very much either, so I began to think, in between the intense pulses of pain surging underneath my knee cap, about having reconstructive surgery . My pain was eased when I later learned that StivOO twisted his ankle. What a dork. Old people shouldn’t play improv games. I never had to be Kitty, so I guess I won. It helps when you stop switching places halfway through the game because you’ve blacked out from trauma shock. Besides teaching us why cats are retarded, this game got our blood running and facilitated some incidental collisions and fondling, otherwise known as foreplay, further promoting the ensemble unity.
Finally, Jackie stopped the insanity with an endearing, “Game Over.” Before I could go take a shower, Jackie had us splitting up into pairs. I ended up with Ron, otherwise known as Belly Scratch with Tongue Out. He’s a fifty-year-old orchestra leader. Nice guy. StivOO, conveniently, ended up with one of the four women in the class. I’m sure it was coincidental and the fact that she has the body of a professional athlete (soccer player) had nothing to do with it. His partner was Erin, aka Put Your Leg Behind Your Head. This exercise was boring so I won’t get into it too much. It involved intensely examining your partner, turning around, closing your eyes, and turning back around to try to figure out why your partner’s zipper was undone and he was wearing a shoe on his head. I like to think I won that game, too, since I didn’t fall down and I stopped sweating. The fact that it wasn’t a game doesn’t matter. I won.
After a short break, we all took a seat around the room. Since we did such a fine job in the prior exercise, Jackie asked us to pair off again, where your partner was the person sitting next to you. As luck would have it, Erin was sitting next to StivOO. I was also sitting next to StivOO, but I was on the wrong side of him. Erin and StivOO were partners, again, amazingly. I turned to look to my left to find Richard, the ADD, attention-deprived, trust-funded, unemployed spaz sitting next to me. Also known as Point at Yourself. Our task was for one partner to listen while the other partner told her/his life story in five minutes. Then, the listening partner would summarize the life story to the class in one minute. After half the class’s stories were told, we switched and the listener in each pair got to tell his/her life story to the other. I finished recapping my life to Richard about a minute early. It’s not that there isn’t much to tell. I don’t pay attention all the time, so I’m not sure what happened in my life. Consequently, my story was pretty boring. Luckily, Richard lives in his own little world, and the class now thinks I co-starred with Mel Gibson in Braveheart, I’m a champion dart player and I make up two of the six children in my family. Richard was so all over the place with his story to me, it was hard to keep track. I ended up keying my portrayal of him on an incident in high school where he quit the wrestling team because a teammate was leering at his tallywacker in the shower. After living through that, I’m guessing anything else that happens to him is trivial. And then there was StivOO and Erin. Oh, they are both so cute and successful. They had a grand ole time relaying each other’s stories. It made me sick. Physically sick. I had to re-swallow some puke, I tell ya. Of course, StivOO brought up Marty, which brought about some interest from the class. However, there were only about three or four people in the class that were familiar with him. And it turns out Erin is the granddaughter of hall of fame baseball player, Red Schoendienst. Relatives of famous people, isn’t that cute? But the worst part was that StivOO had the numbskullity to tell Erin that he and I are friends and that I am the funniest person he knows. And, she remembered to tell this to the class. Thanks a lot, StivOO. Nothing like setting everybody’s expectations of me super high so they can scorn me when all I got is poo comments when we get to the improv stuff. I would have run right out of there if my knee hadn’t been swollen to the size of rutabega. Besides ruining my improv career, the point of that exercise, as far as I could tell, was to give a chance for people to brag about themselves through a proxy. I tried to brag, but my fireman coloring trophy in kindergarten didn’t seem to stand up to the Iron Man triathelete chemical engineer with an MBA, or the woman with five thousand college degrees writing a mystery novel, or the computer wizard dude who designed his own coding language when he was twelve and whose hobby is to use one hundred dollar bills as post it notes.
Jackie finally dismissed us. I put my head down and limped out. On the way back to my car, the spirit of John Candy appeared in front of me and said, “You should have gone with the One Handed Cartwheel instead of that weird bowling move.” It wasn’t a bowling move, John Candy, Mr. Dead Smarty Pants! This is going to be a long eight weeks.