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All images from the Second City website.

Second City’s Brandon Hackett on comedy, Beavertails, and musical theatre

By Lee Pepper on February 4, 2016

We spoke with with Brandon Hackett, who is part of the Touring Company of the storied improvisational comedy troupe The Second City.  Hackett, with the rest of the Touring Company, will be in Ottawa tonight performing The Best of The Second City, which features some of the best-loved sketches from the company’s long history, as well as the improvisation for which they’re best known.

Brandon-Hackett-for-websiteHow long have you been performing with The Second City, and what have your experiences been like so far?

I have been performing with The Second City for just over three years. I started out as an understudy with the Education Company (“Ed Co”) and, this past June, was hired to TourCo. Working in greater and greater capacities has been very fun, but also very challenging. There’s a ton of material to learn, and you’re often juggling several different revues in your head at any given time (right now, I have the current Best Of, the Hooking Up show and the Mainstage show swirling around in my brain, ready to be performed at a moment’s notice). At the end of the day, I get to perform very fun improv sets with my hilarious and supportive cast mates, which is extremely rewarding.

On this tour, you’ll be revisiting some of Second City’s ‘greatest hits’.  What is it like working with that material, and how are you keeping it interesting for yourselves and for the audience?

Performing The Best of The Second City show is a tremendous opportunity for learning and growth. As an actor, you’re presented with the wonderful challenge of bringing your own interpretation to a role, while still doing justice to the original writer/actor’s performance. And because the sketches are tested and honed, you feel protected.

Performing the same scenes over and over again can get a bit tedious, but fortunately there are moments in our shows where improv is built in, so we’re still able to play around but within a controlled structure. I wonder if I answered this “fun” enough?

You’ve written and performed a solo show, as well as taken part in a more communal, improvisatory style of writing with The Second City.  Do you have a preference between those two ways of working?

It’s tough to really say. I love the control and singularity of vision that comes with writing and producing my own work, but it’s just so much fun to create through improv with your friends. The latter also alleviates a lot of the pressure of “Will anyone else find this funny?” because you’ve got six brains working on something, as opposed to just one. So, I’d say I prefer both and neither!

Our blog is Ottawa-specific, do you have any hot takes on Ottawa, or things you’re planning to do while you are in town?

I haven’t been to Ottawa in awhile, but my inclination would be to walk around and discover the city. That said, we’ll be pretty busy with the show, so I don’t know if I’ll really get that much of a chance to do anything. As for hot takes, how’s this: Ottawa is pretty rad and architecturally beautiful and also I still dream about that one delicious Beavertail I had the last time I was here.

You recently expressed a contentious opinion on Twitter, that Grease is “a bad dumb musical”.  While I happen to agree, I’m curious what you think is the worst thing about Grease, and how could it be improved? 

I could maybe talk about how unsettling I find “nostalgia,” especially as it pertains to periods of history where social relationships conformed to rigid and regressive heteronormative standards and that are uncritically looked at as the “Good Ole Days” (for the same reason, I refuse to watch Gone with the Wind); I could also maybe talk about how the movie version of the musical basically ends on the thoughtless message of “change yourself to fit in” (the movie version of Rock of Ages pulls the same de-sophistication of the message of the stage show by forcing a happy ending for the wrong character and ultimately avoiding any meaningful lesson in service of a generic and Hollywood-friendly “follow your dreams” message).

HOWEVER, the real reason I consider Grease to be a “bad dumb musical” is because, tautologically, it is a “bad, dumb musical.” The music is as banal and flavorless as a raw potato, and the plot is threadbare and limp as a dead fish, making for the least appetizing meal EVER. Grease could be improved by simply not existing.

I also wrote that tweet because I wanted to troll my friends who were really into Grease and were genuinely excited about the live broadcast. I actually love musical theatre. And my taste in it is often BAD!! I have the Original Broadway Cast recording of CATS on my iPod, and I STILL LISTEN TO IT. I could recite for you, right now, the entirety of “The Naming of Cats.”

The Best of the Second City will be performed tonight, Thursday, February 4, 8:00 p.m., at Algonquin Commons Theatre, Algonquin College, 1385 Woodroffe Avenue., as part of Cracking Up the Capital. Tickets are Tickets $14.95 – $29.95.