Smile…It’s a Wild, Rowdy, Wonderful Life at The Second City Toronto

Scott Sneddon

Scott Sneddon

Scott Sneddon is Senior Editor on SesayArts Magazine where he is also a critic and contributor.

Jillian Welsh, Christian Smith, Natalie Metcalfe, Clare McConnell, Matt Folliott. Photo by Paul Aihoshi

It’s good to enjoy a laugh or two (or thirty) around the holidays.

Laughter can be celebratory. It can be cathartic. It can be healing. Plus it’s powerfully escapist. And you may need escape, given the excess of hustle, bustle, and social and emotional complexity at this time of year. Which is where The Second City’s new holiday show It’s a Wild, Rowdy, Wonderful Life comes in.

It’s festive, it’s fun, and it’s silly. It’s also agnostic: while Christmas is frequently in the satirical crosshairs, there’s an equal opportunity focus on diverse holiday traditions. The chameleon-like comedians of The Second City find no shortage of holiday silliness to mine – from non-denominational etiquette to holiday carols to extreme holiday visiting. And since it’s a Toronto show, a vein of Hogtown humour runs all the way from the Finch subway to the Ford brothers.

My personal (and emphatically non-scientific) laugh-o-meter responded to standout sketches about a man mistaken for Santa on a subway, a return visit from Mary Poppins, and a half-improvised sketch filtering the Nativity story through audience-volunteered lenses. My funny bone also responded to less holiday-relevant content, including a monumentally silly sketch about a large bat, and a child’s virtuoso 3-minute rebuttal of her mother’s attempt at fun feeding.

Naturally, there are moments of audience interaction . . . the best of which comes courtesy of two Eastern European women played by Clare McConnell and Matt Folliott. Adorned with headscarves and exaggerated accents, they enlist audience members in putting themselves out there . . . and supporting one another through laughter. It works. There’s a sweetness beneath the terror, as the comedians tease improvisational gold from anxious audience members.

Natalie Metcalfe, Jillian Welsh, Matt Folliott. Photo by Paul Aihoshi

One of the cleverest aspects of this show is the way it coheres as one show, despite covering such diverse terrain (I have touched only a fraction of the sketches in this article). The extended final sketch uses a cringe-inducing, but true-to-life, holiday conceit as a premise for revisiting the best-realized characters from the first 80 minutes of the show. This brings the show to a crescendo of laughter and a satisfying conclusion.

The only small misstep occurs with a couple of sketches that lean hard into making character-driven, important statements about gender inequality or gay rights/representation. It feels as if these sketches don’t quite know how to end, so they finish on limp half-jokes. They either need a truly funny, surprising final dodge to escape the seriousness . . . or they need the courage to own a sincere message and let it hang out there without a final laugh. (This second option would get my vote. The sheer volume of laughter these comedians create earns them the right to do this once or twice). But this is a minor quibble, given the range of comic goodness on offer here.

Overall, It’s a Wild, Rowdy, Wonderful Life is polished, moves fast, and really feels like a show. Plus you’re guaranteed to laugh your hindquarters off, which makes it perfect for a holiday work outing . . . or en evening with family and friends. After a tight 90 minutes at the show, you’ll be happier, your mind will be clearer, and you’ll have some new favorite lines and moments to smile about afterwards.

So here’s one more final thought. The Second City creates new holiday shows every year: one for adults, like It’s a Wild, Rowdy, Wonderful Life, and one for children (this year’s is a musical called The Naughty Listers.) Maybe . . . just maybe . . . a respite to skewer holiday traditions deserves itself to be elevated to the status of tradition. Alongside annual revisits of A Christmas Carol (whether you’re partial to the Alastair Sim movie, the Soulpepper live performance, or another version ) or the movie It’s a Wonderful Life (from which this show takes its name), you could do worse than pencil in yearly holiday laughter at The Second City to release tension, clear the head, and bring you closer to colleagues, friends or family.     

Photo by Paul Aihoshi

News You Can Use

What: It’s a Wild, Rowdy, Wonderful Life, produced by The Second City

Performed by Clare McConnell, Matt Folliott, Natalie Metcalfe, Christian Smith, Jillian Welsh    

When: On stage until January 1, 2019

Where: The Second City, Toronto Mainstage Theatre 51 Mercer Street, Toronto, ON M5V 9G9

Info and Tickets: secondcity.com

© 2018 Scott Sneddon, Sesaya / SesayArts Magazine

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