I am honored to have a friend, Mojopo (her well known internet name) that recently began to attend Second City Training Center. She was kind enough to take time out of her schedule to grant me a short interview.
Second City is not only a nickname for the City of Chicago, Illinois, but the name of an improvisational comedy enterprise, that started in 1959 in Chicago. They also have a presence in Toronto and Los Angeles. Many of you may remember the spin off television show Second City TV started by the group in Toronto that premise was to be a small independent TV station. I having worked in TV most of my life, found it to be excellent play on real life at working at a small station. Most though of Second City Training Center's fame is now their long list of famous graduates. Many of the stars you know on Saturday Night Live studied there. A small list includes Tina Fey, where she met Amy Poehler, who have both gone on to star in their own TV shows, 30 Rock and Parks and Recreations. All of the memorable original cast of SNL attended including John Belushi, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner and Dan Aykroyd. The list goes on and on, but there is little doubt that Second City Training Center has shaped much of the television comedy over the last 40 years.
What is Second City?
The Second City has specialized in sketch comedy and improvisation for 50 years, here in Chicago. I am a student at the Second City Training Center, enrolled in the writing program. Second City has companies based in Chicago, Toronto and Los Angeles.
Why did you decide to go there?
I've been aware of Second City for my entire life. When I was a kid growing up in the border US/Canadian border, I was a big fan of a Canadian sketch comedy program called SCTV. Second City TV (SCTV) was a fictional network in Canada, populated by legions of oddball characters in ridiculous situations, and the actors were students of Second City. If I had to pick my greatest inspiration to write comedy, I would instantly choose SCTV.
I'm a writer, and I want to learn more about sketch comedy but never had the opportunity until now. Second City has an amazing reputation in the industry, too - they are the Harvard, Yale and Princeton of comedy, all rolled into one. Lucky for me, I live in the Chicago area now and it's terribly convenient to attend classes. I still pinch myself every time I go to class because I am that much of a comedy geek. Most of my comedy heroes have received training at Second City and I get to go there? Are you serious? Oh.my.GOD!!!
How long have you attended?
Level One of the writing program began in January 5th, 2010. I know because I wrote it down in my journal. I won't tell you what I wrote, but it is very much like "Today is the first day of the rest of my life." I have since advanced to Level Three. Four months later, and I still have much to learn. It's been challenging and tremendously rewarding. I hope o make it through Level Six by the end of the year, and continue on with some advanced courses in the Spring of 2011.
Do you find it improving your style?
Yes. There is a method to the madness;. At the training center, they are teaching us how to take our funny business seriously and it requires no small measure of discipline. There are steps to take, notes to jot down, components to study and we are learning a skill. I hate to use the word "craft". That sounds pretentious.
One of the first commitments we made in class seemed easy enough: Write something in a journal every day for at least 30 minutes. No problem, right? It was more difficult than I expected, because I've been a big fan of keyboards and typing for what - 20, 30 years? This exercise put me back in touch by slowing things down, forcing me to think before writing, and I had the satisfaction of creating something by hand. It's a messy process, too, because there is no cutting and pasting. This takes me back to a time when I fell in love with words, when I was learning how to write, and yes - it does make a difference.
When I first started building sketches, I wrote some cringe-worthy hot messes - things I would like to burn from the memories of my instructors and peers. Everyone goes through that, though. The thing is, our instructors encourage the dickens out of us! They give us the freedom to fail, and to learn from our mistakes. Every week we get on the tightrope, we fall and there is a net to catch us.
Are any of your instructors well known graduates?
No. Most balance teaching while working on their own careers, making their Big Break happen. Some teach full-time. With something like writing, names might not jump out at the average person, although they are known in sketch comedy.
What makes Second City the best place to study? For you or anyone?
The brilliant part of Second City is that anyone can learn something here. Some folks sign up for kicks, others take classes because they want a career. No matter their expectations, a student is going to be changed in some way and have a great time. I have certainly come out from behind my keyboard, because every week we get up in front of our classmates and run-though each skit we've written. The feedback in real-time is a terrific experience, and we bond. We advance forward at the same pace so we have a great deal of trust in each other. It's a meshing of personalities from all kinds of backgrounds, and a confidence builder.
Sometimes we do improvisation exercises in class, and those are fun and terrifying. No answer is wrong, and we agree to never deny a premise. If someone says a line, we consent to go forward on a train of though by saying, "Yes, and...", and then fill in the rest. Google "yes and" sometime - it's an improv mantra worthy of 167,000,000 hits.
If someone is serious about a career in comedy, they cannot go wrong with credentials from the SCTC.
Where did you get the name Mojopo? Is it a stage name?
I used to work with a woman named Susan at a company in Richmond, VA, who named me "Mojopo" back in 2001. The nickname was a play on my real name (the initials MJP), and it's all because Susan was a big Austin Powers fan. She started calling me Mojopo, and it caught on. Mojopo became bigger than me, and it's hard to remember a time before Mojopo. I used to think the nickname was carrying me, but no. I carry Mojopo, and I do whatever she tells me to. Her comedic instincts are much better than mine.
Anything else you would like to add?
I like hot dogs, growing tomatoes, sitting down and Ambien. My greatest personality defect is that I know the words to almost every song that has ever been written, but I am hopelessly tone-deaf. When I grow up, I would like to teach someone how to read. Also, I am a Liberal Democrat. I would love a career in entertainment, perpetuating the Liberal Media bias in some way - however big or small.