OLD TOWN — At The Second City, audience members can get their hilarious idea on stage by bidding on an improv scene, with the money collected by the comedy club later being donated.
What bidders don't know before ponying up cash in the bidding war is that the recipient of the donations is Planned Parenthood Illinois. They find out after the winning scene is performed.
"When it's told that the money goes to Planned Parenthood, the response is usually positive, but not overwhelmingly so," said Katie Rich, a Mainstage cast member who came up with the donation idea. "We get some boos from time to time, because people don't fully understand what Planned Parenthood does."
So far, more than $32,000 has been raised for Planned Parenthood.
"We were shocked to see how much money they were able to raise and very pleasantly surprised and honored," said Lara Philipps, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood, a reproductive health services provider, was in the national spotlight last year when anti-abortion activists called on the government to cut funding to the organization because it offers abortions.
Planned Parenthood staffers and volunteers popped by Second City last month as the comedy club announced its donation total.
The idea for the bidding section of the show spawned from last year's election Super PAC spending.
When the cast of Second City's "Who Do We Think We Are?" was writing the show, they wanted to create a scene to illustrate the efforts of Super PAC lobbyists. The writers came up with a plan to allow the audience to buy their way into the act.
"I think the greatest ones we ever got were, 'A Telethon for Hurricane Sandy With the Jersey Shore Cast Members' and one guy who just said, 'I want to see a scene where you're all in a birdbath,' " Rich said by email.
Audience members have offered up as much as $500 during a show to suggest a scene for The Second City cast to improvise.
The caveat during each night's lobbying session is that once people put money into the pot, they don't get it back, even if they are outbid.
That tactic and the extreme will of comedy fans to see their favorite Honey Boo Boo scenes in real life have stirred up a few bidding wars in the crowd, but there have been no fistfights — yet.
The smallest amount raised in a night was $1, but the average is about $35 or $40 a show, Rich said.
"Surprisingly, they loved it!" she said of the audience's reaction. "We didn't know how it would go, but it ended up being extremely successful."
The show, which is The Second City's 100th revue, continues through Feb. 24 and runs at 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday; and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $23 Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday, and $28 on Friday and Saturday.