Queen’s alumni teach & perform comedy online with Second City

Comedy troupe goes digital during pandemic

Second City brings laughter to quarantine life
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During quarantine, Queen’s alumni Garrett Rodman (Arts ‘05) and Carly Heffernan (Arts ‘07) have moved comedy troupe Second City’s classes and improv shows online. 

In an interview with The Journal Rodman and Heffernan said Second City has a proud history dating back to 1959. It was founded that year in Chicago by a small group of performers making improv sketches based around political satire.

In 1973, the company established a theatre in Toronto with a comedy troupe featuring alumni Dan Aykroyd and Gilda Radner of SNL fame. 

Heffernan, who has performed and directed sketches for Second City and now teaches classes, explained that despite the pandemic offering a lot of free time to writers, it poses challenges to productivity. 

“[Quarantine] has been a great downtime for a lot of writers, but it can also be a source of great writer’s block when we all have that voice ringing in our ears that Shakespeare wrote King Lear during the plague so we should do something equally as grand,” she said. 

Heffernan now teaches a course inspired by the conditions of the stay-at-home order, in which she and her students are writing a comedy show specifically designed to be performed live on Zoom, an online video chatting platform. 

In addition, Rodman, who works in artist management, explained that pivoting Second City’s operations online was a tall task because of the large number of members in Toronto, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Despite this, he says the group’s teachers did what they do best and improvised. 

“All of our teachers were absolutely amazing in all three cities,” said Rodman.

He also said that in response to a bad situation, the teachers and students of Second City employed the famous improv technique of “Yes, and…” which is a method of cooperation wherein other members of the group accept and elaborate on what one has said to ensure the show is cohesive. 

Rodman was pleased to see a large percentage of students say “yes, and. . .”  to Second City’s pivot online, adding the group has created even more opportunities for online learning by developing new classes. 

“We’ve also created a program called our Escape Series where we’re offering advanced improv, stand-up and writing [lessons] in this four-week format,” Rodman said. “It’s basically indoor recess for adults and it’s a chance for you to try improv…all without leaving your iving room.” 

According to Heffernan, performing improv online is a different dynamic compared to performing on the stage, especially regarding audience participation. 

“It’s taking improv and putting it into more of a TV format,” she said. 

Traditionally, Second City improv shows will invite input from the audience to shape the direction of the show; viewers can still do that through the Zoom chat feature but “it looks and feels far more like a TV show,”  Heffernan said. 

The two Queen’s alumni agreed the expansion of Second City’s online offerings, which was prompted by COVID-19, has been a blessing in disguise. They said it allows the group to spread laughter to people all around the world who may be feeling scared or alone. 

“[Comedy] helps people break up the routine of their physical isolation and working from home,” said Rodman. 

In that vein, Heffernan added that “in this moment in time, people are really craving connection and we are able to give that to them.” 

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