Cincinnati isn’t traditionally, let’s say, famous for its sense of humor. Despite the seemingly bottomless barrel of comic material to be found in stubborn city council standoffs, underperforming sports franchises, or troubled development projects, Cincinnatians tend to take their serious issues, well, seriously. It takes only about 10 minutes of listening to the ranting of local talk radio to see that we can come off as a perpetually grim bunch.
A funny thing, however, happened in 2010 when Second City—that venerable institution of comedy from up the road in Chicago—gave us a much-needed rug-pull with a Queen City send-up called Pride and Porkopolis at Playhouse in the Park. The five-person show, which featured a series of sketches and improvisations skewering everything from UC basketball and local government to our German-Catholic heritage and infamous chili, not only tapped into our collective Cincinnati-isms but also gave us an opportunity to step back and see our town through a different lens. The show became a word-of-mouth smash, garnering two extensions and setting records for both the longest-running show and the most ticket sales at the Playhouse’s Shelterhouse Theatre.
So maybe we’re not such sticks-in-the-mud. After all, the Chicago comics are returning to the Playhouse with a follow-up show, The Second City 2: Less Pride, More Pork, which will focus on joke-worthy happenings since their last visit.
One of the new show’s writers, Ed Furman, recently visited as part of a Second City “immersion team,” which spent three days touring both sides of the river to meet with city officials, the Cincinnati Zoo, organizers of the World Choir Games, business owners at The Banks, and Mayor Mark Mallory himself. Having completed that research, Furman thinks we’re ripe and ready for a second round of spoof. “Cincinnati doesn’t seem to have a sense of bravado to its pride,” Furman says. “It has a very down-to-earth, humble take on things. But it’s great to get people talking about their city. We’re not out to shock or be inflammatory, just to try to get a feel for the people. We realize that if something’s going to be funny, there has to be some truth to it—or it wouldn’t be funny.”
Furman mentions the streetcar project, the new casino, and the rejuvenation of Over-the-Rhine as potential fodder for the show, and he hopes to use an outsider’s assessment of the city to point out our idiosyncrasies. “We really want to home in on the city’s consciousness,” he says. “Like the way in which adults still ask one another what high school they graduated from.”
Furman has worked on roasts of other towns for Second City in the past, notably Pittsburgh, which he says has surface similarities but ultimately a little more bluster. “People in Pittsburgh might be a little drunker and have a little more of that blue collar swagger,” he says. “But our show in Pittsburgh didn’t sell quite like Cincinnati.”
Gene Beaupre, a political analyst who teaches at Xavier, thinks Cincinnati has a healthy sense of humor but also struggles with low self-esteem. “I think what’s happened to Cincinnati is that we’ve become very self-conscious to times in the media when we’ve been made fun of,” Beaupre says, “such as national issues surrounding Larry Flynt, Robert Mapplethorpe, Marge Schott. There has been a collective mentality of becoming cautious of outsiders going from making fun of us to ridiculing us. So exposing your city to someone from the outside can become a scary thought.”
Beaupre also identifies Cincinnati’s small-town atmosphere as a possible culprit for a lack of wider-spread jokiness. “Geographically, we’re not a big city, so we’re all very close to one another,” he says. “You have to be careful what you say because you might end up standing next to that person tomorrow in a checkout line at Kroger. We have a conservative consciousness—not just politically, I think, but as a lifestyle.”
But make no mistake, both the Second City and the Playhouse feel we are ready for another healthy ribbing. A longer run of Less Pride, More Pork has already been figured into the schedule. Playhouse Producing Artistic Director Ed Stern says he has been encouraged by the way the Chicago comedians have sparked a new generation to enjoy a little humor at the expense of their hometown. “Early on with older audiences, there may have been a certain kind of shock that Second City went there,” says Stern, “but as younger crowds started to come, they didn’t skip a beat with those jokes.”
Oakley resident Jodie Johnson, a 27-year-old who saw Pride and Porkopolis, agrees. “I know my parents enjoyed it, but I’m sure I enjoyed it more,” she says. “So many of the jokes poked at how conservative we are as a city, and I think even our young conservatives can laugh at that.”
Stern says it’s healthy for the city to laugh at itself. “Not in a mean-spirited way, but at our peculiarities,” he says. “If we have an issue with our sense of humor, maybe it’s just because we don’t make fun of ourselves enough.”
One thing is certain: We still have our manners. “I hear the audiences in Cincinnati are fantastic,” says Furman. “The only thing is that the crowds are a little more polite—they tend to wait until the end to clap.”
Of course we do. After all, we’re not Pittsburgh.
The Comedy FactoryChicago’s Second City is more than 50 years old and has launched the careers of such comic glitterati as John Belushi, Bill Murray, Tina Fey, and Steve Carell.
You Gotta ImproviseSecond City’s performers are famous for their improvisation; in fact, each new show features—along with scripted sketches— several built-in breaks for the audience to help performers determine a scene.
Pop CountercultureSpawned by students at the University of Chicago, the Second City began as a small, cabaret-style theater revue satirizing the political issues and figures of the turbulent 1960s.
Coming AttractionThe Second City 2: Less Pride, More Pork opens in previews on April 29 and will run until July 1. For more information, call (513) 421-3888 or visit cincyplay.com.
Photograph by Nathan Kirkman.Originally published in the May 2012 issue.
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