Red Carpets, Champagne, and No Worries!


There are few times in this life when we can share a singular commonality, a shared experience, an extraordinary moment, that in ways that you never expect, fills you with awe, joins you together and humbles you and all around you.  Only a small number of events have occurred in my life that have given me this feeling. Watching an African-American being sworn in as president, something that I thought I would never see in my lifetime, seeing the U.S hockey team defeat the Russians in the 1980 Olympics, watching our country come together as one after the tragedy of 9/11, all of these things collectively filled us with a feeling that extraordinary things are possible.  An experience that goes way beyond the generous gift I was given, way beyond the sights and sound that we all were fortunate enough to share, way beyond anything I could ever imagine, has taught me lessons that will stay with me for the rest of my life.  I was with 301 individuals who were handpicked by the queen of daytime talk herself, Oprah Winfrey, to receive the trip of a life time to Australia.  My wife and I were lucky enough to be In the studio audience for her 25th season premier and while that experience of being in that audience and seeing the collective explosion of emotions, people hugging, and women crying, was amazing in its own right, it is nothing compared to the collective experiences and emotions that we all came to experience while actually being in the country of Australia not just as guests of Harpo, but as guests of this amazing country.  The one word that I have heard over and over by the people on this trip in regards to the way we have been treated and the things we have done, is Humbling, humbling because we are all just ordinary people.  We are all mothers and fathers, teachers and students, business owners and workers.  But somehow we all were given this gift, and when you talk to people in this group you start to realize why each person was chosen for this adventure.  Each person has a different story that makes them stand out, that makes them one of one hundred and fifty one who were picked to come and each bring someone special.  Then when you hear why that person they brought is their someone special you start to understand that good things really do happen to good people.  We all knew that this trip was going to be something special.  We all knew that even if we could afford to come to Australia ourselves we would never be able to experience it on the level that we would on this trip.  But what we never expected was how we would be treated as true guests of not just Oprah, but of the land down under.  These ordinary people whose only dream was to get tickets to just one Oprah show before her show ends this season, became instant celebrities.  They had been greeted by press and paparazzi, had the literal Red Carpet rolled out upon arrival to the hotel, only to be greeted with more press and paparazzi, appeared on the front page of papers, featured on news channels all over he world, had dinners hosted on the scale that would rival international celebrities and heads of state, and that was just in the first day. Collectively we experienced a country that was so grateful to have us and so thrilled to share with us there culture, and we are the ones who should be grateful, and we are.  We are grateful for this experience, grateful to have been picked, and that is why we are humbled, because we should be grateful to them.  We are all just ordinary people being treated extraordinary.  We are humbled, collectively humbled.  

We were given a gift but the gift we were given goes way beyond the obvious of the things we received and the places we went.  The gift was the message that Oprah herself expressed to us numerous time while on this odyssey, that great things can happen to all of us, that miracles can happen, that we did not make it to Australia by accident, that we were all picked for a reason, that there is a divine power that brought this together, that if a little girl who could never find her name on a pen or a plate could one day see an entire regatta of twenty one sail boats with her name as big as life flying from each of the sails, sailing under Sydney Harbor Bridge with a giant O lighted up for the world to see, then it is possible for each one of us to achieve whatever it is that we can dream.   

It’s not every day that these ordinary people are greeted on white sand beaches, only accessible by boat, by celebrity chef Curtis Stone, fed unbelievable food and given free drinks while being serenaded by Australian singing groups, as Oprah herself flies in on Helicopter to join us all for the party.  It’s not every day that we are taken to the Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven natural wonders of the world to snorkel with Gayle King.  It’s not every day the these ordinary people are interviewed by press and appear in papers or walk red carpets usually reserved for celebrities, get stopped on the street and have people excited to see us just because it’s us, dine with celebrities and treated with such kindness and hospitality that you start to wonder why.   If I take back with me anything from this adventure it is that we don’t need red carpets and champagne to make us feel that we are extraordinary because it is not about what we receive it is about what we give.  It is not about where we work or how much we make, it is about how we live, not living to work, but working to live.  It is about our family, our friends and knowing that, in the words of Paul McCartney,” the love you take is equal to the love you make.”   And in the words of Miss O, “everything is better when you share it with others.”  This trip, this experience, this moment, is one that I will never forget and not because of where I went or what I did, but because of who it was shared with, the collective experience, the extraordinary moments that filled us with awe and changed us forever.  Thank you to my 300 new friends. Thank you Oprah. Thank you Australia. Thank you.










The Second City, 50 Years of Jumping Off Cliffs

By Brian Dann

When I was nine years old Saturday Night Live went on the air and because my parents were usually out late on Saturday night, I got to stay up late and watch it.  Sure at nine years old some of the humor may have gone right over my head but I still knew that this was something different, some thing that we had never seen before. Watching John Belushi do his Samurai character, or Dan Aykroid try to sell us a Bass-O-Matic, Or Gilda Radner endear us with the sweet but always somewhat confused Miss Emily Litela, who ended every commentary with, “Never mind,” was an absolutely magical experience.  At nine years old it became my dream to one day be in the audience at SNL.  A few years later I learned something amazing.  I learned where most of these remarkable actors came from, and it was practically in my back door, The Second City.  I was so excited when I got to go to my first Second City show because to me it was the closest I would get to SNL with out actually going to New York.  After all, this was the place that it all began. In short, for me The Second City was incredible.  I watched the talent on stage trying to remember each one of there faces so that when I eventually would see them in movies or on SNL I could say that I saw them at The Second City first.  I honestly don’t recall who was on the stage that night but I remember that I could not wait to go back.  I watched the improv sets and marveled at how these actors could invent dialog right on the spot.  I never imagined that I could do that my self.

Then in my early twenties, just to do something different I decided to take an improv class at The Players Workshop.  It was one of those, lets go jump off a cliff and see what happens, moments.  I had no acting experience, except for playing a munchkin and the Tin Man in a forth grade production of the Wizard of OZ at Harand Camp where you could see my underwear right through my purple tights, and I for sure never did improv before. I figured what’s the worst that can happen, I forget my lines?  I loved it.  I can’t say that from the first class I fully understood improv, but just like when I watched the first SNL, or saw my first Second City show, I knew this was something different and I wanted more.  There were times that I struggled with it, and times that it all fell together, just like improv is supposed to, but the one thing that kept me going was knowing that at the end of this year long program, I got to perform my graduation show on the main stage at The Second City.  The day my graduation show finally arrived was the most exciting day of my life.  My entire family was there.  There I was standing back stage at the place that brought us such great talents like Joan Rivers, John Belushi, Bill Murray, Robert Klein, Harold Ramis, and Alan Arkin just to name a few.  I stood there and stared at the walls wondering what great talents must have been standing right where I was at that very moment.  Then the lights went down, the music started and there I was, on the Main Stage at The Second City, performing a show that, just like so many improvisers before me, I had written with my fellow actors through the art of “Yes and…”.  The audience loved it, they laughed a lot.  I spent the next hour jumping off a cliff to see what would happen, and what happened was I landed on my feet.  What happened was I understood how those brilliant actors did what they did at that first show I saw at The Second City.  I learned that if you can do this, you can do anything because improv is not about being funny, it is not about telling jokes.  It is about being fearless, it is about being connected, it is about being honest, it is about being selfless, it is about the other person and it is never about you.  And even thought I had only done one improv show, that day I felt part of something special.

I was lucky because I graduated from the Players Workshop the last year that The Second City Training Center accepted Players Workshop graduates to their conservatory program with out having to audition to get in.  I knew that ever becoming an actual cast member of The Second City was a long shot, so if that ever did happen it would just be icing on the cake.  Hell, I got to study improv at the Harvard of comedy!  What I learned at Second City, in the training center was invaluable, but the classes were not where I learned the most.  It was the improv sets at Second City ETC and the Main Stage, where for me as a young kid it had began, where I knew this was something different, this was something special.  It was through watching the talents of the cast at the time, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Paul Dinello, Scott Allman, Ian Gomez, Jackie Hoffman, Jenna Jolovitz, Dave Razowsky, and Amy Sadaris, in short, the most incredible group of improvisers and actors that I had seen in my life, that I learned my craft.  Watching these performers bring an idea to life and each night, tweak it and improve it, and take chances, and not be afraid, and know how to give, and know how to receive, and know how to be real, and not go for the joke, but instead find the humor that exists in life… is where I learned how to Improvise.  But most of all I learned that when you jump off a cliff, it’s ok if sometimes you don’t land on your feet, because sometimes that’s where the real magic happens.

So on this week that marks the 50th anniversary of an institution that changed the way the world laughs, I say thank you.  Thank you for this journey, thank you for bringing all of us, all of this talent that has enriched all of our lives, and while I may have never made it as a cast member of The Second City, thank you for teaching me the art of, “Yes And…”

Happy 50th Anniversary to The Second City.