The Second City comedy players on Norwegian Epic have years of comedy experience, including other NCL ships
One of the acts on Norwegian Epic you hear the least about behind Blue Man Group, Legends at Sea and the Cirque Dreams and Dinner could be the one you remember most fondly; The Second City comedy troupe. Why? Because they are not only funny, they are likable.
I don't know about you, but I have a very hard time liking many of the comedians I see these days. Modern comedians just try way too hard, doing routines that are beyond questionable, they are unquestionably tasteless. And they obviously think any joke is twice as funny just because it has the f-bomb in it. Now, you can't drop the F-bomb on a cruise ship, and with the worst of them you can sense that is why they struggle with their own material even more.
But The Second City (yes, "The" is a part of the official name) on Norwegian Epic is so far beyond conventional standup comedy that I found their performances to be extremely likable. First of all, it is sketch-based comedy - so there is always a premise - and of course on NCL that premise often tends to be cruise ships. Secondly, even though there is a premise, all of the bits contain a great deal of improvisation, which is unlike most cruise comics who rarely go out on limb, but rather polish the same material in search of the perfect delivery for years.
The result is comics who not only have funny material, but they have the learned how to be funny people, not with the same material all the time, but by using their minds nimbly to come up with inane word associations and ironic commentary that you have never heard before.
In fact, the Second City's affiliation with NCL is now in its fifth year, having started on Norwegian Dawn. NCL now has Second City Troupes on seven different ships. Norwegian Epic has six players in it's the Second City comedy troupe each of them has been with The Second City for several contracts and each of them has also worked for Second City troupes on NCL before.
I spoke with Monica Wilson, an Associate Producer with The Second City in Chicago, on how the company has adapted to cruise ships as a venue. She said they can be the inspiration for a lot of comedic material, "from the buffet lines, to the enormous water slides, to the hours it takes to send just one email, to the captain's heavily accented daily report over the ship's loudspeakers - many of our biggest laughs come from making fun of the whole cruise experience."
"The ships are always an inspiration for comedy with the players on each ship, and as the players move from ship to ship and come together in various incarnations, the best bits get shared, adapted and polished to become funnier all the time," she says. About the Norwegian Epic cast, here is their background;
"But that isn't all we do. The NCL Second City casts often pull material right off the current Second City stages - as well as tapping into the 50 year archives of sketches that have been developed by Second City over the years. It's not unusual for our shows to contain scenes that were originally written and performed by such alumni as Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, Mike Myers, Bonnie Hunt or Martin Short."
But Norwegian Epic does have at least one all-original Second City show. The onboard cast developed its first ever interactive murder mystery show just for the ship by working directly with bestselling author Scott Turow ("Presumed Innocent") to create "Presumed Murdered" which they perform in the Spiegel Tent every cruise. I had a chance to see the show, and I was surprised that it was never mentioned how the show had come about. I had even heard a rumor that Scott Turow was on our cruise - apparently not true.
The Spiegel Tent is set up to do shows with a meal combined and that is where they show the Cirque Dreams and Dinner and the breakfasts with Nickelodeon for the kids. But the Headliners club on Epic, a big, low-ceiling room lined in brick and looking a lot like a big city basement was specifically built by NCL to emulate city-based Second City venues.
"It's as intimate as our theatre in Chicago," says Monica. "And because we offer so many shows in the cruise week, we're able to let loose and do some late night improv shows that are just for the adult crowd."
All in all, even though The Second City has been with NCL for six years now, this was my first chance to see their shows on a ship and I found them to be refreshingly funny for a cruise ship - relaxing and intimate comedy with lots of regular audience interaction. It's a lot different than watching a typical cruise ship comedian, doing the same cruise ship jokes, where I can always sense the tension he is feeling stage wondering if he is going to flop.