Facebook fights, Twitter beefs, and the Right and Left Poles of social media have never been as bitter as they are today. It seems only fitting that comedic theatre group Second City is performing at the Kennedy Center this summer, delivering their hilarious take on America’s state of disunion.
An Almost Accurate Guide to America: Divided We Stand is a collectively written, satirical look at politics in the U.S. today. The one-hour-and-45-minute show is similar to a play, with several connected vignettes and a lot of improvisation. Part of the show even includes taking suggestions from audience members.
So, who gets raked over the coals by the theatre group, known for their searing satire? According to long-time Second City actor Ryan Asher, everybody does.
“We’re actors, artists and comedians, so generally we are left-leaning, but we have a lot of fun making fun of the left as well as the right,” Asher says. “We want everyone to be able to laugh at the show; we don’t want to isolate part of the audience.”
The show’s inclusiveness is part and parcel of Second City’s overarching goal to be diverse and all-encompassing. The theatre group offers fellowships, comedy camps and opportunities for underrepresented groups in their multiple locations – Chicago, Toronto and Hollywood. And because the show was written collectively by its actors, different perspectives made their way into Divided We Stand.
“In politics, it’s mostly old, straight, gray-haired white men,” Asher says. “And that’s not a reflection of the country. I think our show is much better at having different kinds of voices from different backgrounds who are like, ‘Hey, I’m a person that exists and this is how I’m affected by the politics that are going on.’”
But the push to amplify a range of voices onstage is not unique to Second City. Angela Alise, a recent addition to Second City’s cast, says it’s been going on for awhile, and will hopefully continue to do so.
Divided We Stand is Alise’s second show with Second City; she performed in her first, Black Side of the Moon, at Woolly Mammoth in 2016.
“It was about the black experience,” she says of the show. “It was us telling stories and talking about the black voice in America, and how we’re not all a monolith – we’re not the same, there’s not a set way to be black.”
There’s no shortage of people who are angry about the issues that some of Second City’s shows deal with, and rightfully so. But taking a comedic approach to a heavy problem can sometimes be just as productive, especially when it comes to representation.
“It’s hard to be a female comedian and not be called a female comedian,” Asher says. “‘Oh wow, that woman was funny; what a f–king surprise,’ or ‘Oh wow, it wasn’t all just white people. What a surprise.’”
Representation makes a difference, but laughter does too – even though it may seem like laughing about politics is out of the question for many these days. But seeing emotions that mirror yours expressed onstage, especially in a way that has you wheezing with laughter, is catharsis. For example, Black Side of the Moon was performed just after a long, tumultuous election.
“We got here the day after the election, and I remember people seeing the show and being like, ‘Thank you,’” Alise says. “But I think that’s what comedy does. It gives you that release. And even though our show gives thought-provoking ideas about politics, it still allows people a chance to just laugh and relax for a bit.”
Theatre has been in the spotlight frequently since last year’s election. And public figures who endorse – or even advise – any side of the political spectrum, especially onstage, are bound to get some hostile reactions. Despite this, reactions to Divided We Stand have been positive thus far. Asher says she hopes politicians attend a performance in the nation’s capital.
“It’s important for them to actually look at the response that the people are giving them – [to] see what we wrote about, what the people are laughing about – and maybe they’ll get to laugh too.”
Alise added, “They probably really need it.”
So do we all.
Catch Second City’s Almost Accurate Guide to America: Divided We Stand at the Kennedy Center through August 13. Tickets are $49-$69. Show times, dates and tickets are available on the Kennedy Center’s website.
Kennedy Center: 2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.kennedy-center.org