Last year we attended the first annual Second City Break Out Festival at Chicago’s Second City and we were blown away by the talent who performed more like seasoned headliners than emerging talent. This year Second City teamed up with NBC Universal once again to deliver another round of emerging artists from diverse backgrounds, and they’ve proven that they can deliver one of the best (if not the best) diverse talent shows in the country.
There were five shows over two nights spotlighting young artists performing stand up, sketch, improv, musical comedy and spoken word, and everyone was on top of their game from the Break Out Artists, to host Tim Meadows, the Second City staff and even the audience. Meadows, who you know from his ten season run at Saturday Night Live, also hails from the hallowed halls of Second City. And notwithstanding a few moments where he forgot the name of the show he was hosting, Meadows crushed both nights, and the audience loved him.
There wasn’t a single bad performance and so many outstanding sets- this year may have even topped last year’s line up. The 2016 stand-out-performances-among-a-stand-out-group belonged to Defiant Thomas Brothers, Tien Tran, and Martin Morrow.
If there was an MVP award for the showcase of talents, we’ve gotta hand our vote over to Martin Morrow, (@martinMmorrow) one of the most versatile comedy performers on stage today. Morrow first caught our eye at last year’s Break Out festival. He’s a sharply unique voice who considers Baron Vaughn, Roy Wood Jr, and Patrice O’Neal inspirations. Morrow is a pro, polished beyond his actual years in comedy, and he can pull off smart insightful comedy as well as he can dive into high energy, absurdly silly characters (just look up Farty Marty). Watch for him to be the next Chicago break out talent.
There is no doubt that Tien Tran should be on anyone’s list of up and coming comedic voices. Please get her name right. She’s not Hank. She’s not Tina, (although you can find her on twitter as @hanktina), and she’s definitely not two-time Olympic Medalist and figure skater Michelle Kwan, but she is immensely talented and undeniably likable. Tien performed one of the strongest stand up sets on the first night of the festival, and went up for some improv with the Bob Curry Fellows on night two.
The Defiant Thomas Brothers were a complete surprise for us. Seth and Paul Thomas (collectively the Defiant Thomas Brothers) grabbed some well tread comedic paths and mined them so skillfully as to make them feel completely fresh and original. They hit the stage twice, first to deliver a flawless take on the classic ‘Who’s on First’ routine that was particularly beloved by those who would rather score an ounce than pay attention to baseball. But it was late in the show that they delivered their true knockout punch, with a musical performance that can only be described as “The Jew Song” that had the audience alternating between dropped jaws and howling laughs- and that’s with a 50+ N-word chorus thrown in.
The Defiant Thomas Brothers aren’t new. In the early 2000’s Seth Thomas and Paul Thomas were a sensation, winning awards and festivals and accolades all over the country, but the duo split in 2006. After a nine year gap, they’re back and strong as ever. Expect them to pick up right where they left off, particularly since in the interim years since the Brothers split, America fell in love with another comedy duo- Key and Peele- and the television void left when Key and Peele ended their show to pursue other projects, is wide open.
A few other favorite moments came from Joel Kim Booster (@ihatejoelkim) who has a huge future ahead of him, Sonia Denis, (@sonideni) a frenetic, confessional comic who had some of the best stage presence of the fest, Mark James Heath (@mjh708) who had the strongest material of anyone, and Sammy Arechar (@sammyarechar) who is on his way to being a great original voice in stand up. Gotta give special mention to Odinaka Ezeokoli who stole the show from the powerful underground comedy rap group FYF Crew with some killer physical comedy.
Also returning to the Break Out Fest stage was Chris Redd (@reddsaidit), who is a perfect example of a break out artist who went ahead and broke out. In the year since we saw him last, Redd has been getting a lot of critical love, most recently for his role in Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, in theaters now. He plays Hunter the Hungry, a young rapper modeled after Tyler the Creator, and word on the internet is, he’s stealing his scenes.
It’s always a blast heading over to Second City where the audiences are always in a great mood and ready to laugh. It’s such a great room, and the energy is always high both on and off stage. It’s too late to see this year’s Break Out Festival, but you can catch all of these great comics by checking in on their social media pages and websites, and get over to Second City for Mainstage or any one of their great shows.