I have wanted to attend a Second City improv class since I was twenty years old, but somehow it took me until last week to actually get to it. (Sixteen years later, oh my.) This begs the question: What took me so long? The answer: For the first ten years, I was too busy getting drunk. Then I had to spend time getting sober, and staying sober. Then I got pregnant and had a baby. Comedy class, while the desire still flamed, was forced lower and lower down my growing list of priorities and responsibilities. Needless to say, when I finally entered the newly renovated John Candy Box Theatre last week, I was ecstatic.
Like recovery meetings and Groovy Baby, class at Second City commenced by making a circle with a bunch of strangers. (I got this!)
“What’s wrong with this circle? This circle needs help. Let’s try again.” Said our energetic instructor Greg, with a welcoming grin. Once the circle had improved, he announced that we’d go around and each introduce our names and offer a little bit of information about ourselves.
Similar to the early days of recovery, my heart began to throb so quickly and fiercely that I wondered if people could see my chest move. Although I can stand at a podium and address hundreds of people with confidence, I’ve always struggled with intimate settings. It’s a feeling that dates back to the eighties, when my go-to in these situations was “My name is Jennifer and I like jellybeans.” (And since Groovy Baby circle introductions are accompanied with train whistles and bongos, it’s less intimidating.) Anyway, back to Second City. As we went around the circle, it quickly became obvious that most of the class was made up of experienced improv students or practicing comedians. I wondered what I’d say. Palms sweaty, I blurted out, “Hi, I’m Jen. I’ve wanted to take a Second City class for sixteen years and this is my first time. I also have a baby boy and I rarely get out in the evening, so I’m really excited to be here.”
“You look excited! Mom’s big night out! [Laughing] Are you going to go crazy, hit a club and get drunk?” said Greg, with a laugh.
“Hopefully not.” I stuttered. (Although in my head I was thinking that I missed the opportunity for a very well timed, dry and awkward comedic response: “Hopefully not, since I’m an a-l-c-o-h-o-l-i-c.”)
In the rooms of recovery, once we’ve gone around the circle to introduce ourselves and our addictions, the floor is open for sharing. Some shares are uplifting, some are gut wrenching, sometimes we laugh, sometimes we cry. There are a lot of feelings. In Groovy Baby, once we introduce ourselves, we do not share our secrets, our worries, our successes, but we do acknowledge our feelings through sing-song. “Some people may be HAPPY [we all smile], some people may be SAD [fake tears], some people may be ANGRY [GRRRR!], some people may feel NERVOUS. Whatever you’re feeling today – just let it out.”
Second City offered a nice blend of the two: a safe environment to be open and honest where everyone is invited to make animated and silly faces, like a playful and experimental toddler. So what were we actually doing? Frantically clapping, screaming about goats, shouting at each other, letting our body kind of spaz out and do its own thing. There was more physical movement than recovery, but no conga lines (yet) like Groovy Baby.
However, all three arenas offer a release that is as noticeable as when you uncork a bottle of champagne, or deflate a giant red helium balloon: the pressures that one feels from their daily grind, from ongoing challenges (work, relationships, addiction, isolation, lack of sleep) are immediately diffused.
And it’s after the initial diffusing (i.e., loud claps, liberated jumps, flailing limbs and a few loud POWs) that I began to get comfy and find my groove at Second City. And this is when the work began.
We paired off and had to look into our partner’s eyes (a task that I found challenging on its own) and tell stories back and forth. I was reminded of childhood camp games, and similarly to back then, all my stories ended with either shit, piss or barf. Funnily enough, this is also how many of the stories end in the recovery rooms, and how the babies punctuate the games at Groovy Baby. (It’s the essence of life, I suppose, but I would like to improve on my ‘comedic’ repertoire.)
But what I loved more than playing, releasing stress, or letting my guard down with strangers, was that like recovery, Second City was an environment that brought together people from all walks of life, into a setting where everyone was equal and welcome. Bay Street, students, aspiring actors, moms who are bloggers (but not mom bloggers), servers, pentathlon athletes (there was one!) – we’re all together, all the same, all having fun and respecting each other, while jumping and screaming about goats. Therapy comes in many forms.
On July 30th, The Second City Training Centre Toronto will host the Grand Opening Ribbon Cutting Ceremony to celebrate the major facility expansion to the third floor of 99 Blue Jays Way, including the new home for The John Candy Box Theatre. Take a class!