Laughter after tears

Apr 24, 2002 at 12:00 am

In the days after Sept. 11, there were times it seemed as if the world would never laugh again. The people at Detroit’s Second City Theatre, a satellite of Chicago’s groundbreaking sketch comedy house, felt differently. Although there is nothing funny about the tragedies of last fall, the group of actor/comedians knew laughter can sometimes be the best remedy and found a way to make light of the reactions to the terrorist attacks.

That’s the aim of Jihad It Up To Here, Second City’s 22nd revue, which takes a lighthearted look at the social ramifications of terrorism — ridiculously long lines at the airports and overzealous security, anthrax paranoia and stereotypes about Afghanistan. In addition to trivializing our terrors, the revue intertwines humorous character sketches of a struggling artist, a crazed florist and a hardcore rapper who can’t stomach the “n” word.

Jihad It Up To Here is our response as Americans,” says director Nancy Hayden. “Not to make fun of the tragedy, but [to] poke fun at our reactions. At first, everyone said ‘We’ll be patient travelers.’ Now we can’t believe the wait.”

It took Hayden about nine weeks to work the initial sketches into the staged improvisation. “It’s my job to shape the material given to me,” she explains. Besides choosing the skits for the shows, Hayden says the order of them is also very important. “You have to arrange shows in a certain order because that drives the energy of the show and you also want to be sure that everyone is equally seen,” she says. “The running order of the show is as important as the writing of the show.”

Hayden mentions that “Flower Shop” — a scene that rests on the off-center interaction of between a morose florist and a customer — was a skit that needed to be placed exactly right. “It’s too weird to put at the beginning of the show,” she explains.

Later, the audience meets Junkie Jim on a segment called “The Tookie Show” who hasn’t had a fix since the war against Afghanistan. The show “teaches” youth about Afghanistan using propaganda. When Jim receives a long-awaited package of dope he demonstrates how to shoot up using adjusted musical themes from “The Hokey Pokey.”

Actor Antoine McKay finds the “Bookstore” scene to be his favorite. McKay portrays a guy trying to appear hip in order to impress a girl in a bookstore. As it unravels, it becomes apparent that his character’s hip-hop attitude is really a facade hiding the fact that he is a highly educated, well-polished young man.

“I like this scene because it tells the truth about a lot of African-Americans,” McKay says. “Sometimes people have to be a certain way around certain people and it’s difficult to function. I’m certainly guilty of it.”

Hayden says that choosing a favorite scene is like asking her to pick her favorite child, but when pushed says the Bookstore skit is a favorite. “Mostly because we get the reputation at Second City for not being actors, but comediennes,” she explains. “These are characters that are real people and they make you think without getting on a soapbox. This scene is well-acted and real humor comes out of the situation."

Jihad It Up To Here runs Thursday-Sunday at Detroit’s Second City, 2301 Woodward Ave. Call 313-965-2222 for information.

Curtrise Garner is a freelance writer from Detroit. E-mail her at [email protected]