Second City is known for its first-rate comedy. From the highly established alums to the exceptional training program, this labyrinth of laughs is truly no joke. I have attended quite a few Second City shows over the years and am always impressed with the performances. I saw Kate Lambert in Let Them Eat Chaos a few months ago (which has since concluded its run) at Second City and jumped on the opportunity to find out just how she and her cast-mates came to be so hilarious. In this interview, Kate discusses all the elements of how to break into the comedy scene in the Windy City.
MC: When and how did you get into comedy?
KL: I was a theatre major in college, so I did some comedic plays but I never did sketch and my experience with improvisation was essentially limited to warm up exercises. After college, I came home (my parents live in a suburb of Chicago) and wound up staying after plans to move to New York fell through. I moved into the city and later decided to take classes at The Second City, and I just fell in love with improv and sketch.
Can you talk a bit about your experience at Second City’s training program and iO’s improvisation program?
The first class I took was Improv for Actors at The Second City. It was a great way to start doing improvisation and I remember after the first day that it just felt like a natural fit for me. After that, I got into their Conservatory and when I graduated, I decided to do Second City’s Music Improv Program and iO’s program. After I graduated from iO, I was put on a house team and have been performing there ever since.
How do the two improv schools differ from one another?
The Second City focuses on using improvisation to develop sketch comedy, so by the end of the Conservatory, you and your classmates have scripted a sketch show which you then perform. iO focuses on improvisation itself, and at the end of its program, you perform improv shows with your classmates and from those performances, some people are selected to join teams there.
With improv you never know if something is going to work/be funny or not. Do you have a funny improv fail you want to tell? How did you recover from it and keep going?
I think when you try to be funny in improv, it can really backfire on you. If an audience sees you going for a joke, I find they bristle at that. I did a corporate event once where someone told us something like, “Carol is known for this. If you say it, everyone will go crazy,” and then we used it in a scene and were expecting this big reaction, and there was just…silence. I thought it was hilarious. That kind of thing just kills me.
What are your three rules for being funny or keys to success in improv? (if you have any)
Aside from the improv basics, I like to use details and stories from my life when improvising—I think it helps to talk about what you know. I also think it’s important to be specific. During a scene, you could say, “I’m going to go home and have a couple drinks and watch a movie,” but I think it’s more interesting to say, “I’m going to go home, have a couple of Zimas, and watch From Justin to Kelly.” I think being specific is always more funny. And my third rule would be to always have fun. If you keep the playful nature of improv in everything you do onstage, you will enjoy it more, and the audience will as well.
How do you come up with your sketch characters?
A lot of times it’s a trait I’ve observed in myself or others and that I heighten for the sketch. And then sometimes it’s coming up with the situation and the point of view first and then developing the characters around that.
You just finished up Let Them Eat Chaos at Second City. What are you up to now acting/comedy wise? Any new projects in the works?
I am constantly writing and auditioning. I recently wrote a web series with a friend for The Second City Network that should be coming out soon. I also am in a comedy group called The Katydids and we have a web series called TEACHERS that we released and with which we are hoping to do more. I perform at iO every week and will be in a musical sketch revue at The Second City called American Mixtape that runs from March until May. After that, we will travel to Denver and perform the show there for a month.
When you tell people you do comedy do they often respond with, “Tell me a joke?” If so, what’s your go-to joke?
When people say that, it always makes me laugh because it’s like saying, “That’s your job? Prove it.” It just strikes me as such a funny request. I would love to do that to a surgeon. “You’re a urologist? Let’s see. Give him a prostate exam.” I don’t mind, but joke telling isn’t really what I do. I do have this joke that I made up that I will tell people; I think is really great, but two of my very good friends insist that it’s terrible. It’s about a donkey cashier at a grocery store.
Is SNL the dream?
If you’re involved in improv and sketch comedy, then SNL was probably a huge influence on you growing up. It definitely was for me. Being on or writing for SNL would be incredible. I feel that in this industry, what’s most important is just putting your work out there, and not having a be all and end all. I think that you just need to constantly be working, creating, and making sure you are going out for new opportunities.
What’s your favorite part about working at the legendary Second City and iO? What’s your favorite part about working in Chicago’s improv circuit in general?
It’s been really cool to be a part of this community. I took my first class at The Second City in 2006, and over the years, I have been able to perform with people that I admired when I was going through classes. For over three months this past year, I was able to perform on the Mainstage when one of the actors moved to LA. One of my favorite parts about performing on the Mainstage was the sets. Sometimes we would have special guests and I was able to improvise with people who I had seen on the Mainstage when I was in high school. It was really cool to improvise with people who were in some of the first Second City shows I ever saw.
It is also such an honor to be on stage and realize that everyone in the audience came to the show because they wanted to enjoy themselves; it is a room full of people who just want to take a step away from whatever is happening in their lives and just laugh. I think that’s a pretty incredible thing to be able to share with hundreds of people every night.
I also perform at iO with Virgin Daiquiri and The Armando Diaz Experience and doing that always reminds me of what a supportive community I am in. Any night of the week, you can look out into the audience and see so many fellow performers who have come out to watch shows.
Who makes you laugh/who are your comedy idols?
Some of my comedic influences are Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, Lucille Ball, Nora Ephron, Larry David, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, and Stephen Colbert. But my friends also make me laugh. Sometimes when I am sitting in a rehearsal when everyone is doing bits, I think how lucky I am to know people like this. To have people in your life who understand the ridiculousness or sadness in something, but can still find the humor? I think it’s such a gift.
What’s your advice for aspiring improvisers or those who wish to break into the improv/sketch comedy circuit?
I would say take classes, get as much performing experience as you possibly can, invest your time in projects you care about, create your own work, and treat the free gigs like they’re paid ones. ♦
You can now see Kate on TV Land’s Teachers Wednesdays at 10:30pm!
Photo Credits: Brian McConkey