The Second City’s Unconventional Holiday Revue delivers holiday laugh therapy

Scott Sneddon

Scott Sneddon

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

left to right: Hannah Spear, Nicole Passmore, Andy Assaf, Matt Folliott, Christian Smith, Jillian Welsh (photo by Paul Aihoshi)

The holidays fast approach, bringing with them fun and festivity, but also the stress and strain of increased expectations and bursting social calendars. So it’s a treat each year at this time to unwrap The Second City’s new holiday show. I believe that a therapeutic laughter break should be mandatory amidst the annual madness of of office parties, shopping marathons and get-togethers with family and friends. And like clockwork, a new edition of this show arrives each year before the crazy begins in earnest, offering itself up as an oasis of holiday-themed catharsis. 

This year’s offering, The Second City’s Unconventional Holiday Revue delivers the laughter we’ve come to expect, though in something of a different formulation. From its opening – which turns the stereotypical tables when an immigrant passenger (Andy Assaf) conducts a hilariously tone-deaf interrogation of his white taxi driver (Matt Folliott) – this is more a show of individually strong moments than a thematically coherent whole. 

But don’t see that as a failing. You’ll find strong, recognizable and truly funny holiday moments here. An SNC Lavalin Christmas party sketch co-opts the entire performance hall to realize the dynamics of a cringeworthy corporate holiday party. Two Dollarama employees (Nicole Passmore and Hannah Spear) hepped up on bargain basement Christmas spirit are impossibly earnest guides on what they see as a magical shopping experience. And the hiring of a dementedly different type of mall Santa (Spear in another manic turn) is also a crowd-pleaser.  

Some past sketches are revisited – as where Matt Folliott plays a Windows computer acting out an interaction that starts with a forgotten password, and a workplace sketch where Christian Smith promotes a Macedonian post-Christmas holiday to bemused co-workers. But even if you’ve seen versions of these sketches before, the cast are all-in, so familiarity won’t dim your enjoyment. Your mileage may vary on some of the singing numbers and a gesture-focused sketch – but that’s like the holiday season itself. There’s a lot going on – it can’t all be your cup of tea. 

What stood out for me about this show is how the company has built its strongest, most inspired material – including the final number of the show – around audience interaction. Most shows find a couple of clever ways to make use of the live audience. Here, the best sketches feature the audience in full co-creation mode. In one, a family feast of reluctant family members is assembled around the culinary flexibility of the mythical “Turducken” (or 3-bird roast). In a second, a Hallmark Cards brainstorming session features diverse department heads spitballing card sentiments in real time. And finally, a full-blown performance of A Christmas Carol is built directly around the audience (I won’t spoil how). These sketches bring forth the impressive versatility, knowledge and creativity of the cast. They pivot hilariously in whichever direction they need to –  never too busy for acerbic asides, which track the distance covered from the initial premise in order to accommodate the audience input.  

So to cut a long holiday story short, I recommend doing yourself a favour by booking tickets to The Second City’s Unconventional Holiday Revue. You know things are going to get crazy. So build in a brief hiatus for laughter. You’ll be glad you did – and so will the co-workers, family members and friends you will be spending too much time with during this period.   

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What: The Second City’s Unconventional Holiday Revue | Directed by Connor Thompson | Musical Director: Ayaka Kinugawa | Stage Manager: Sam Polito | Presented by The Second City Toronto

Performed by Ansy Assaf, Matt Folliott, Nicole Passmore, Christian Smith, Hannah Spear, Jillian Welsh

Who: Audiences 19 years of age and older

When: On stage until January 5, 2020; running time: 

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

Info and Tickets: secondcity.com

© Scott Sneddon, Sesaya / Sesayarts Magazine, 2019  

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