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Second City is ready to make its audience laugh ? and participate

For Eileen Montelione, preparation is an essential part of improv comedy.

Montelione arrives in town Thursday as a performer in the Second City's green company, which will play four sold-out performances of the famed comedy troupe's new show "Laugh Out Loud" at the O'Reilly Theater, Downtown.

The show features classic sketches from the Second City archives, musical accompaniment and audience-participation segments.

But it's most revered for the performers' improvised skits, which are based on whatever people in the media and in the streets are talking about that day.

Creating lively, topical and hilarious material on the spot requires dedication and daily study to keep the material fresh and immediate, Montelione says.

"You don't get a day off. You have to get up every morning and read the newspaper and study 'The Colbert Report' or 'The Daily Show' to see what they're doing with the headlines," she says. "These are the things that people want jokes about."

Her usual sources range wider than you might expect -- from Mother Jones to National Geographic.

"They're great for cultural references (and) ... ideas for things you wouldn't know existed," she says.

For world and national news, Montelione scans newspapers such as The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. For trends and pop culture, she goes online to the Huffington Post, which she calls "super accessible" and "succinct."

Vigilance is necessary to make sure that already-written sketch material doesn't get stale or out-of-date.

"We have sketches in the show about Occupy Wall Street. If you don't keep tabs on it, it could be irrelevant by that night," she says.

As part of a touring company, Montelione also knows it's essential that she does a bit of research on what's happening on the local scene.

That could mean including references to the area's sports teams and their chances for making the playoffs or the town's most widely talked about political gaffe.

Alternately, it allows performers to anticipate and discuss topics they might want to avoid or dodge.

"Nobody wants jokes about (ex-Penn State assistant coach) Jerry Sandusky. Nobody is ready to laugh about that," she says. "If somebody is shouting out Sandusky (for inclusion in an improv), you've got to be prepared (to decide) how do we handle that."

That's one of the advantages of being part of a performing ensemble instead of soloing as a stand-up comedian, she says.

"The ensemble takes care of itself. When you've got other people backing you up, one of them will figure out what to do."

Additional Information:

Second City's 'Laugh Out Loud!'

When: 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 5:30 and 9 p.m. Saturday

Admission: Sold out

Where: O'Reilly Theater, Downtown

Details: 412-316-1600 or www.ppt.org

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