Still Be Smart!
(Originally published Summer 2002)
"Know what you don't know"
One of the finer points of your studies at The Second City is our focus on the world around us. Just getting up on stage and using your wits will only get you so far. It's imperative that you do some homework to help fill in some missing blocks of information you may have. To best learn character, satire, parody, styles and genres (the bedrock of our program) there are examples you need to know.
Read the news
TV’s eleven o'clock news just doesn't cut it. The stories are short, based on what is most "sensational" ("If it bleeds, it leads") and the reporting is given in sound bites, again what is most sensational. Satire is based on an understanding and having a strong point of view on issues, details you can only get from an in-depth story. Great stories about human behavior (awesome sources for scenes) are packed in the paper every day. Today's LA Times has a story about an illegal immigrant dishwasher at a Chinese restaurant who saw a bag of $203,000 fall out of a truck and turned it in; an article about a Russian crime boss accused of trying to rig votes at the winter Olympics; and a story about a city in Utah that wants to have Nevada's state line moved so it can be part of Nevada. If you don't have the time to read the paper every day Newsweek, Time, The Sunday New York Times, The Economist are all great publications that encapsulate the week's stories.
For great examples of satire, check out The Onion (at www.theonion.com), rent Dr. Strangelove, or read Jonathon Swift's awesome example (from 1729!), A Modest Proposal, also available on-line here.
Rent a classic
Make the next video or DVD rental a classic film. These films will help you gain a greater understanding and appreciation for character as well as cinematic, playwright and genre styles. Double Indemnity is film noir at it's best; The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, spaghetti western; Oleana a great primer on David Mamet; Dawn of the Dead both sci-fi and horror.
Know much about history
Due to my being a victim of the Chicago Public School system, my history education had to be filled in extra curricular-ly. The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy is not only a great source of information, but also a great bathroom book complete with timelines, definitions and descriptions of historical eras and decisive events throughout human history. It's a great place to jump-start your knowledge of history, and should you use any of the information people will think you're really smart.
And after all, isn’t that what it's all about?