Second City is the world’s most famous improv theater company, the launchpad for great comedians including Tina Fey, Bill Murray, Stephen Colbert, Jane Lynch and, of course, Madison’s Chris Farley.
But hey, no pressure if you're a current member of the cast.
Chicago actress Laurel Krabacher, who has been a member of Second City's touring company for about a year, knows there are high expectations when she walks on stage.
“I think people are expecting to see the next people that will be on 'SNL,'” Krabacher said. “People pay pretty good money for tickets. I definitely feel the weight of wanting to do a great show and try to fill the shoes of someone like Chris Farley.”
Krabacher is part of the six-member touring Second City troupe coming to Overture Hall Friday night for “Second City Summer Blockbuster.” The show is a mix of sketch comedy and improvised scenes, and the sketches are both new ones written by the cast and “archives” of Second City sketches written by previous generations.
“We have a scene in there that Steve Carell used to do,” she said. “That’s incredible. That feels pretty special. It’s just cool to read their writing. It’s so good. And then to do something and know that Tina Fey once did it.
“And then doing our own material is also super rewarding. When it works out, you feel pretty proud of yourself.”
Despite the name of the show, Krabacher said there’s really nothing summer-related in the sketches.
“The show we’re doing that we wrote, the shell of the show, is kind of about the future, and what we expected the future to be like versus what it actually is,” she said.
Krabacher said that taking Second City comedy nationwide can lead to a wide variety of reactions. She's expecting a good one in Madison.
“Sometimes, going out to places like Madison on Durham, people are so into it and so excited,” she said. "Sometimes the response can be even better than in Chicago. In Chicago, they’re like, ‘seen it all before.’
"But going to the middle of nowhere, those places can be scary. In the fall we toured a political show, and our agenda is pretty liberal. That made some people mad. Also our comedy is in general — when it’s not political —it’s pushing the edge, which can make these conservative, middle-of-nowhere audiences kind of nervous.”
For Krabacher, improv has changed her life both professionally and personally. Studying theater in college, Krabacher was frustrated that she wasn’t getting good roles in university plays.
“Someone suggested that I take an improv class to feel more confident,” she said. “I just fell in love with it. It’s nice to get to play so many different roles and create your own roles instead of being locked into one thing.”
She’s felt the effect of improv and its philosophy of accepting and building on what comes your way (nicknamed the “Yes, and...” philosophy) in her personal life as well.
“It sounds so cheesy, but just that 'Yes, and…' concept has really filtered through the rest of my life. Just being able to do new things. I’m also better at having conversations," she said. "I’m a better listener.”
After moving to Chicago, Krabacher got into the theater scene, performing at the Annoyance Theatre and the famed iO Theater, where she did the long-form version of improv known as “the Harold.” Developed by Del Close, the godfather of improvisational performing, the Harold is a half-hour performance in which different scenes and characters begin crossing over and cross-pollinating with each other.
Second City’s improv is largely short form, featuring a series of short, unconnected scenes.
“I totally prefer long form if I’m being honest,” Krabacher said. “I’ve been doing it a lot longer and I’m better at it. I’m still intimidated by the short form, but luckily the people in my group are really good. I’m learning from them for sure.”
Last year, Krabacher also staged a one-woman show in Chicago, “And Now You Know Everything About Laurel Krabacher,” which drew heavily from her life for inspiration.
“It really was pretty raw,” she said. “I told the audience everything. It really felt like a big milestone for me. Somebody had asked me to do it, and I thought, 'Oh God, I’ll have to do this.’ It turned out to be something I was really proud of.
"It was funny but also touched some people, which is what I love about doing theater.”