Actual fun at the symphony with The Second City Colin Mochrie, members of The Second City, and conductor Steven Reineke with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Photo: Jag Gundu.

Actual fun at the symphony with The Second City

Jenna Simeonov

It’s easy to see why The Second City Guide to the Orchestra is back by popular demand. I had no idea that there were so many actually funny things to say about the symphony orchestra - enough to fill two hours - but I suppose one should leave it to an improv comedy group to figure it out.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, under Principal Pops Conductor Steven Reineke, shared the stage with members of The Second City and host Colin Mochrie - Canada’s most famous improviser, of Whose Line Is It Anyway? fame - for a night of sketch comedy.

Writing jokes that include a symphony orchestra is actually a genius exercise.

My hat goes off to writers Carly Heffernan and Scott Montgomery, and particularly to writer/composer/pianist Matthew Reid, who sat humbly at the piano amid the TSO players. In character - and maybe otherwise - the Second City ensemble seemed to relish the chance to storm the Roy Thomson Hall stage and park themselves where they apparently don’t belong. The whole thing was a hoot; it wasn’t “funny, for the orchestra”, but properly funny.

Audience stereotypes, flute-sex toy jokes, the inflated power of theatre ushers - it was all coming at me like a good roast. It was like that weird experience where someone tells you about yourself, picking out details that seem random or unexpected. Mochrie and the ensemble made fun of how symphony audiences are old and wealthy - the opposite of the usual Second City crowd - and how we display varying degrees of trying to look smart.

Colin Mochrie and Principal Pops Conductor Steven Reineke in the TSO's Second City Guide to the Orchestra, 2019. Photo: Jag Gundu.

And writing jokes that include a symphony orchestra is actually a genius exercise. It’s a reminder that music - especially music that parodies the epic-ness of Mahler - can raise the stakes of a scene to such great heights that it’s impossible not to laugh. It’s the same reason that opera works, when done right; the words are good, the music is good, and the combo is way greater than the sum of its parts.

And just like that, I can already feel myself falling prey to the jokes about audience members who overthink things.



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