North Barrington native plays angry Jesus in ‘Under 1%’
Ryan Archibald (seated, right) in Second City's "Improv All-Stars" plays angry Jesus in "Under 1%" at Up Comedy Club in Chicago. | Photo by Clayton Hauck for Second City
‘One Nation under 1%’
at Up Comedy Club in Piper’s Alley, 230 W. North Ave., Chicago
Saturdays and Sundays at 4 p.m. and some Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at various times through Nov. 18.
(312) 662-4562, www.upcomedyclub.com
Updated: August 22, 2012 3:42PM
Ryan Archibald grew up in North Barrington loving baseball, football, singing and comedy pretty much equally well.
He played football in the fall, baseball in the summer and sang in choirs the rest of the year. Comedy was strictly a spectator sport for him in the beginning, watching “Bill Cosby” and “Three’s Company” when he was little, then the Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman, Jon Lovitz era of “Saturday Night Live” in middle school, and “Monty Python,” of course. He also started attending Second City shows in Rolling Meadows as soon as he and his friends could drive.
His priorities shifted radically in college at the University of Illinois in Champaign, where he had played center and guard on the varsity football team until his junior year, when a series of injuries forced him to quit. Within a couple of weeks he had joined an improv show at a Champaign comedy club called Bit Parts. During his senior year, he and some friends formed their own troupe called Wet Paper Bag.
After college, he began taking classes at the Improv Olympic in Chicago, which led to performing in shows there, then at Second City and Amsterdam’s Boom Chicago. Now, at 35, he teaches and performs regularly at Second City, where he is featured in the “Improv All-Stars” show as well as the currently previewing Up Comedy room’s all-political satire show, “One Nation under 1% or, This Show is Not Going to Solve Anything but Neither is the Election, So Let’s Just Laugh about Both and Drink.”
Pioneer caught up with Archibald between shows for a quick chat about improvisation, politics (his moderate Republican viewpoint makes him the most conservative guy in the troupe and perhaps the whole building) and how much fun he’s having playing an angry Jesus.
PIONEER: What appeals to you about improv? Most people would consider it terrifying.
ARCHIBALD: I’ve been performing for 15 or 16 years, so I rarely get nervous anymore, which is a good thing. I really enjoy acting and creating and basically making people laugh. I still get a thrill from making something out of nothing. Creating memorable theatrical moments out of thin air is exciting to me.
PIONEER: How did you wind up performing at Second City?
ARCHIBALD: When I was a senior in college doing improv with friends, we started taking road trips up to see Second City. I’d known about them before, though, because there used to be one in Rolling Meadows and my friends and I went there to the shows as soon as we got our driver’s licenses.
I also started seeing shows at Improv Olympic, as well, and wound up taking classes there. I had a great opportunity to grow there for a couple of years before I started to work professionally. Then Second City asked me to be part of a long-form show there, which was really exciting. After that, I was hired to go to Boom Chicago in Amsterdam for a couple of years. Then, I toured with the Second City national touring company for a couple of years and went out to Las Vegas and performed for a couple of years in a Second City show at the Flamingo. That was really cool. We got to hang out with all the main-stage performers on the Strip.
PIONEER: There are a couple of writers credited for this show. Was it not developed out of improv in the usual Second City style?
ARCHIBALD: It’s something kind of new. They’re considering it a hybrid process. Two main stage actors worked with the director to develop material, and they gave us six or seven scripts and we started rehearsing with that. We were able to edit and rewrite and do the final sculpting of the sketches, in addition to bringing in our own material—so everyone in the cast has something of their own in the show.
It’s definitely a Second City show, it’s very hard satire. The difference is that it speeds up the development process and helps get the show up faster, which is important since there are so many rooms to fill there now.
PIONEER: Is this show entirely political? Is it primarily focused on the presidential election?
ARCHIBALD: I’d say the show is more about the disparity of wealth in this country. The 1 percent vs. the 99 percent. We do deal with the election and we’re, of course, trying to show both sides of the issues, though the show’s taking place in a left-leaning theater, with a mostly left-leaning cast. We take a couple of good shots at the conservatives, certainly, but there are also things in the show that should make them laugh also. It’s kind of a state-of-the-union show. Who exactly are we and how did we get where we are right now—and how did things get so screwed up?
PIONEER: What’s your own political outlook?
ARCHIBALD: I find myself being political out of necessity, just because of the field I’m in. I have to read about it and try to understand it as well. And strong opinions sometimes come out of that research. I was raised in a Republican family, but a Republican family that voted for Obama. So, we’re a little more middle-of-the-road. Even so, that makes me seem a little conservative in the field of comedy.
PIONEER: What’s the tone of the show? You mentioned hard satire.
ARCHIBALD: There’s a little more spectacle than you’ll see in a typical Second City show, but it’s dark. It’s also very audience-interactive. We’re trying to get audience opinion into the show every night, which is exciting. But the show is sometimes very dark, especially in the second act, which I happen to think is extremely strong and interesting. We take on issues such as health care and the war in Afghanistan. And it opens with Jesus (played by Archibald, ed.) speaking directly to Congress. And he’s not very happy.
PIONEER: Is he called as a witness? Is he being investigated?
ARCHIBALD: Basically, the scene is set up as C-SPAN capturing the historic moment when Jesus returns and gives Congress a piece of his mind. He says “I’m disappointed in you, you’ve misinterpreted my message and you’ve used my teachings to divide mankind.” He’s very annoyed. (Laughs.) It’s really fun to play an angry Jesus.
PIONEER: What other characters do you play in the show?
ARCHIBALD: I play a soldier, an American soldier in Afghanistan, and a dad trying to explain to his wife and kids that he doesn’t have enough money to take them to Disneyworld. He tries to sell them on a trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame instead. (Laughs.) And his son replies with videos that sound like negative political attack ads about the father. I actually play a couple of different husbands in different situations. And, a gay-bashing high-school bully, who basically sets up a rap song about gay rights.
We sink our teeth into some important issues in this show. I’m actually incredibly proud to be part of it. I think it’s the one I’m most proud of in my professional career. We’re lucky that Second City wanted to try a show with such a singular focus. And that’s paid off, I think, because the end result is prodigious.