Brave New Workshop, Acme Comedy Co. and at least a dozen other homegrown favorites provide enough local laughs to justify building a wall to keep outsiders at bay.
Such an initiative, however, would mean missing the sense and nonsensibility from Second City and the Upright Citizens Brigade, two forces making a friendly invasion of the Twin Cities this month with nothing less than satirical anarchy on their agenda.
On Saturday, BNW turns over its downtown Minneapolis stage to the touring company of Brigade, the 25-year-old comedy troupe based in New York and Los Angeles that dives into taboo subject matters without a safety net. Just down the street: the continuing run of “The Realish Housewives of Edina: A Parody,” a wicked sendup of the Bravo TV franchise, designed largely by the brain trust at the Second City, an enterprise that’s as much a part of Chicago as deep-dish pizza and Wrigley Field.
“Realish” is technically a production of Minneapolis’ New Century Theatre and consists of six cast members all based in Minnesota. But the show was co-written by Second City veterans Kate James and Tim Sniffen, who both bring Chi-town swagger to a farce that forces audience members to consider whether their addiction to reality TV is more harmful than a daily diet of eight soft drinks.
“Second City is all about putting a lens up to people in power and giving you a different perspective,” said director Matthew Miller, who lives in Chicago’s Wrigleyville neighborhood and has taught in Second City’s on-camera training department. “It’s a tradition that Chicagoans revere, even when they’re on the losing end in some of their sketches.”
Not that the local production spends any time skewering Windy City Mayor Rahm Emanuel. References to 3M, the Mayo Clinic and meteorologist Sven Sundgaard abound. In a well-received joke conjured up the night before the premiere, the snobbiest of the housewives demeans a frenemy by hissing that she must shop at Cub Foods.
Meanwhile, Chicago’s original Second City Theater is selling out on a nightly basis, just a little over a month after a fire nearly gutted its Old Town home. But the storied institution, where everyone from John Belushi to Tina Fey honed their chops, isn’t churning out superstars at the rate it once did.
Stephen Colbert, Amy Sedaris and Steve Carell are all alums, but that was back in the ’90s.
Sniffen believes the ability to break into movies or get cast on “Saturday Night Live” straight from the ranks of Second City has gotten more difficult in recent years because of increased competition from the Internet.
“You can make something in your basement for ‘Funny or Die,’ get a million hits and suddenly you’re on the radar,” Sniffen said.
The odds of being discovered are significantly better these days at Upright Brigade. Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, the team behind “Key & Peele,” started working together on its Los Angeles stage, and co-founder Amy Poehler orchestrated the rise of Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, who created “Broad City.”
Lindsay Calleran, who will be part of the tour company performing in Minneapolis, said it helps to be based in a major city.
“New York pushes you real hard because everyone here has their nose to the grindstone,” she said. “If you take one day off to hang out with your family, you feel insecure about it.”
While Calleran and her castmates won’t be incorporating as much local flavor as “Realish” does in their show, they will get familiar with their surroundings by grilling their driver on the way from the airport and poring over the local paper in the green room. And, of course, there’s the tradition of incorporating story ideas through audience-participation games, the high-wire act for most renowned comedy troupes.
“We did a show at the University of Delaware where one guy revealed he had to move out of his dorm room because his roommate was a kleptomaniac,” she said. “It was half an idea, but that’s all we needed. You take something like that and run with it.”
“Realish” may be more structured, but it’s not completely ignoring the crowd. In a running bit, an unsuspecting audience member is picked out as one of housewives’ lovers and is forced to react on the spot to some good-natured cooing and nuzzling.
Those who don’t want to risk getting in on the act at either of the two productions are advised to sit in the back. But do so knowing that you’re missing the chance to have a front-row seat to a more than welcome invasion.