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Chicago’s past laughs

Imagine a city where winters are frigid enough for polar bears, where abaseball team is so woebegone it hasn’t won the World Series since FordModel Ts first puttered down the streets and where electoral shenanigansare summed up in the cheeky phrase, “vote early, vote often.”

Imagine a city where winters are frigid enough for polar bears, where a baseball team is so woebegone it hasn’t won the World Series since Ford Model Ts first puttered down the streets and where electoral shenanigans are summed up in the cheeky phrase, “vote early, vote often.”

Find any of that funny?

How about a city where a disgraced governor swiveled his hips and crooned an Elvis tune at a street fair? Where a mayor, staging a debate during the Roaring ‘20s, placed live rats in cages to represent his opponents? And where the late columnist Mike Royko, referring to the tradition of political chicanery, once suggested Chicago’s motto, Urbs in Horto (City in a Garden), be replaced with Ubi Est Mia (Where’s mine?).

Laughing yet?

Pick a topic: Winter. Traffic. Sports. Politics. Most definitely, politics. In Chicago, all are good for a joke.

And soon the Second City comedy club — famed for its satire and improvisation — will use this fodder, as it turns its wit on the city itself. It has partnered with the Chicago History Museum, consulting with curators, performing a series of workshops and soliciting suggestions from audience members to shape a script that will touch on the present and the past.

The finished product, Second City’s History of Chicago, previewing in December, will likely lampoon familiar territory, such as the weather, notorious traffic jams and some famous modern-day names: The mayors Daley. The new boss, Rahm Emanuel. The California-departed TV talk show host Oprah Winfrey.

The writers will also explore places and characters that have defined Chicago over the decades. Al Capone, of course. But others best-known to the locals, such as Matthias “Paddy” Bauler, the top-hat-wearing, alderman-saloon keeper who left his mark with his cri de coeur: “Chicago ain’t ready for reform!” And Bughouse Square, a park that became famous as a public soapbox for leftist orators.

No matter what makes the cut, the show will reflect a brand of humour unique to Chicago, says Kelly Leonard, Second City’s executive vice-president.

“It is all about the intersection of high brow and low brow,” he says. “It’s a place in which Mike Ditka (the former Chicago Bears football player and coach) and the University of Chicago have basically equal standing, and the smashing together of those two make Chicago such a funny place to live in. If you think about some of the quintessential Second City characters — Bill Murray, George Wendt, John Belushi — they all have a kind of blue-collar wisdom to them.”

“It’s a very no bull---- city,” he adds.

 
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