My junior year of high school, a friend of mine made my teacher reschedule a test in our Government and Politics class because we and another friend were going to see the show Maury taped live. Maury is probably best known for the eponymous host’s catchphrase, “You’re not the father!” which he shouts when the results of the DNA test are revealed. The audience, unfailingly, is shocked that the man in question is not the father. We had a great time.
So it greatly disappointed me to discover that Chicago does not have quite the same TV tape–viewing culture as New York. The Windy City, as I am discovering, prefers its entertainment in the live variety. Identity Heist Starring Meghan Babbe, a show out of the Second City Training Center, finds its niche somewhere between Chicago and New York, with a live show modeled after an ’80s late-night show taping.
The Second City has a pretty grand tradition of one-person productions. Membership is a rite of passage for the people who will be on Saturday Night Live in five years, a sign of talent deep in the comedy trenches, close to being whisked up to the major leagues. Tina Fey and Rachel Dratch did a show at the Second City back in the ’90s called Dratch and Fey and it was instrumental in getting them on to SNL.
Meghan Babbe does not fall short of that mantle in Identity Heist. Babbe, who cut her comedic chops at the Second City and Reductress, is an honest host and the linchpin on which the production turns. While the show’s premise—a talk show set in the alternative ’60s, in which President Jackie Kennedy has ushered in an era of unprecedented female dominance—seems a little zany at first, Babbe’s exciting setting and punchy dialogue with her Andy Richter–type co-host, grounds the show and lets its comic genius shine.
She’s almost Samantha Bee–like. Aside from the obvious similarity of being women hosting late-night shows, they both have a similarly feminist undertone, and a kind of oh-how-the-tables-have-turned sense of humor about their uncharacteristic power. “People are going to lose their jobs if this guest is not found,” she says to her pretty-boy secretary with barely concealed frustration. “People are going to have to go back to their jobs as retirement home lifeguards.” But while Bee shines when she skewers politicians and bureaucratic incompetence, Babbe’s true bread and butter is in her interviews.
That is to say, her guests are what truly make Babbe’s show. Babbe’s secretary playing the guest he lost had good lines (“I like sticker art and grout work”) as does the British-accented Rachel More (“Sorry about the colonies”). Babbe’s straight-woman personality is the perfect Letterman-like counterweight to all the absurdity she sits across from at her desk. She offers sound advice (“You know what they call the last-ranked person in medical school? Doctor”) that her guests play effortlessly off of (“Yes, we’ve all made it”). And lest these spoilers deter you from going, the guests change every week so seeing this show is a who’s who among up-and-coming Chicago comedians.
Overall, the show is kind of like the hit-and-run of comedy. The jokes are primed and delivered in a way that’ll keep you discovering new humor the entire ride home. And if that doesn’t sound enticing, go to the show anyway! It changes every week.
Clarification on Feb. 7, 2018, 9:01 p.m. CST:
The show is not a Second City show, but rather a show out of the Second City Training Center.