A Q&A with Second City’s Adam Archer and Danny Catlow

Adam Archer and Danny Catlow of Second City's "Free Speech (While Supplies Last)," images via Second City

Adam Archer and Danny Catlow of Second City’s “Free Speech (While Supplies Last),” images via Second City

Wednesday, Oct. 26,  WCU campus saw the middle of the always-exciting Homecoming week, and brought an improv show to us from famed comedy theater Second City based out of Chicago. 

Second City has often been a stepping stone for the most revered of Saturday Night Live alum, including Bill Murray, Mike Meyers, Chris Farley, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, just to name a few.

The BlueCo. group from the theater presented their hilarious show “Free Speech (While Supplies Last)” on the Bardo stage, roasting our nation’s current state, poking at our obsession with political correctness and of course, taking smart jabs at certain presidential candidates with bad hair and cliché pantsuits.

The six players included Adam Archer, Danny Catlow, Alison Gates, Eve Krueger, Greg Ott and Maria Randazzo. Being an improv show, there was no lack of audience involvement, where a few lucky attendees were roped into leading sections of the auditorium in a rendition of “America the Beautiful” (including one an unfortunate, unsuspecting Canadian). Others called out suggestions for places, favorite foods and kitchen utensils to be used sketches improvised by the quick and smart actors. The Bardo Arts Center boomed with laughter.

Earlier in the day, I had the chance to talk with Archer and Catlow, who shared with me their respective journeys in comedy as a career, dealing with, ahem, outspoken audience members and the process of putting together “Free Speech (While Supplies last).”


WCJ: So, have you done many shows on college campuses?

Danny: I’d say we mostly do shows on college campuses. That’s one of our main venues when you’re part of the touring company.

Adam: We go to college campuses a lot. It’s always interesting because a lot of college campuses just have theaters that are open to the public, so while we may be expecting a college crowd… it’s always diverse, as far as age goes. It’s all over. It’s always a good time, though. We love coming to college campuses.

Danny: I feel like colleges are usually better audiences than like, small town civic centers.

WCJ: How did each of you get into improv?

Danny: I was a depressed teenager. And I took a class, and got hooked… I did some performing as a kid and got real weird and kind of stopped doing that stuff, and improv opened me back up to how much I love performing, how much I love comedy, and kind of like tricked me into following some sort of career path that I never thought I would. And I’m really thankful that I took that first step, because it’s all that really makes sense to me.

Adam: I did theater in high school, much like Danny… I certainly was not doing well as far as like, school and everything like that. I started doing theater, started doing better in school. Started doing university theater at Columbus State University and Second City came through I’d always liked improv, but I didn’t know you could get paid to do it, or get paid to do comedy, outside of being a professional stand up. I didn’t know how people got on Saturday Night Live or anything like that. I just thought, “oh, I’m not a stand up so I can’t do that.” But then I saw Second City and they did a workshop with our college and that was the first dive into “oh this is what improv is,” as opposed to “yeah, I can make stuff up on stage.” I graduated, sort of forgot about comedy, just did theater, and I guess 2008-ish, I started it following it more specifically, and then in 2011 I moved to Chicago to study it more… and that’s how I got here.


WCJ: I know the show you’re doing tonight is on the political satire side, can you talk a little more about that?

Adam: It’s called “Free Speech (While Supplies Last.)” Luckily, this election process has given us a lot of stuff to work with, and we created the show. We rehearse, we improvise sometimes to create scenes. We get an idea, then we improvise through that idea, and something comes of it that may stick, and then we take what we like and write it out, scripted, until we polish it up to a final product, and that’s how we got this show. We deal with everything that’s going on in the news. We try to make it as current as possible.

Danny: I think, to speak to having that idea… we’re focusing on the current political climate, improvising, and coming up with these ideas. This show is a show we built to be a political show. It wasn’t like, “oh we have all these political ideas.” It was like, “we want to take a political show on the road.” Because…

WCJ: It’s the right time.

Danny: Yeah.

Adam: We have stuff in our show that isn’t necessarily political, because just a constant political barrage…

Danny: Two hours of Trump jokes gets real tiring.

WCJ: [laughs] So, did you guys write it all together, just your group?

Danny: Yeah, each company has its own show that they take on the road. There’s three companies that tour. We are called “BlueCo.” We have a different show than the other two touring companies. Ours is developed by our performers…

Adam: We all have a hand in it. We of course have a director, and our director helps us navigate, [by saying things like] “don’t worry about that, follow this,” or “give me more of this.” She helps us be efficient with our time, keeps us on a deadline, and helps us get our product out.


WCJ: And the show is partially written, partially improvised?

Danny: I would say about 70 percent written, 30 percent improvised.

Adam: And there’s moments within written scenes that require improvisation… and those places are obvious of course. We want to help the audience enjoy it, and not be confused about what we’re doing.

Danny: Also, I feel like, especially since we do the show on the road so much, and we trust each other, that within written material, we can kind of throw different words or choices around… have a little fun with it. It’s not like this insanely rigid play.There is a sense of freedom within the written pieces.

Adam: And that sort of comes from the ever-changing political climate… with a 24-hour news cycle, you’re going to have new things. And if we don’t address it, our show may not be as current, so there’s definitely places where a current event can be inserted.


WCJ: With the show being political, I’m sure your audience reactions have been wide in range. Are there any past audience responses that stick out to you, as a good experience or a bad experience?

Adam: Everyone typically comes to a Second City show to laugh and enjoy themselves, so unless they don’t know anything about what we do, they may be outraged or offended by the idea that we’re panning Trump, or digging at Hillary. But for the most part, everyone just wants to have a good time. Some people can put away their political biases and understand it for satire, and some people can’t. We’ve had a wide range of reactions, from cheers to people leaving at even the mention of a certain subject. We have a scene early on in the show… it’s sort of a hot button issue and as soon as it got mentioned [we’ve had people] stand up and walk out, right in the front row. But we’ve never had anyone yell, or be aggressive… We were in one city, and we were supposed to improvise a song based off of a suggestion of something that bothers an audience member, and the audience member who was selected was like, “oh, I don’t know, I don’t know,” and another audience member shouted out this blatantly racist suggestion. And we all took a moment and let that sink in, and the audience was on our side in this experience, and they were like, “whoa,” and we took it. The performer created a song, and turned it around back on the audience member, improvised a song calling that person a racist. We hit on it a few more times, the audience loved it, and once again, the audience wants to have a good time.

Danny: And that person went to jail right after the show.

Adam: [laughs] We called the police immediately. No, that person stayed the whole show, and we made fun of them the whole show. So there’s something to that.


WCJ: What do you hope people take away from your show?

Danny: Fun. I hope people have fun. It’s a bummer when… if you ever read a Yelp review about a restaurant, and somebody’s like, “I don’t get why people like this,” I always feel bummed out for the restaurant. So I hope no one would leave our show thinking, “I don’t get it.”

Adam: I hope people have a good time. If they walk away thinking about something in a different way that they didn’t think before, that could be a side effect of our show… [I hope] they share laughs at different moments, and all have a great experience, and all walk away laughing. That’s what we do. We do that through political satire.


WCJ: What do you think Trump and Hillary would have to say about your show?

Adam: I’m sure Trump would immediately say it’s unfair and try to sue us. [laughs] I don’t know, what do you think, Danny?

Danny: I think Trump would say that it’s not funny, it’s unjust, and we made up facts. [laughs] I think Hillary would rock out.

Adam: I think Hillary would really enjoy it. And we make fun of her, too. [laughs] That’s a harsh term, but we tackle both sides a little bit. I think Hillary has a better sense of humor.