OLD TOWN — "Saturday Night Live" stars Fred Armisen and Tim Robinson, electoral math wizard Nate Silver, and the standup duo of Jason Sudeikis and Olivia Wilde — all under the same roof for just $20 — would steal the show right off Broadway.
But those acts and many more that are scheduled to perform at Second City this holiday season during the Letters to Santa 24 Hours of Improv and Music, will be overshadowed by the big pull of the night — a chance to bid on a private living room concert by Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy. Tweedy, who is also scheduled to perform during the improv marathon, will play 30 songs of the winning bidder's choice.
"It's unique, and it's a big money maker," said Heather Whinna, who runs the event and is married to musician Steve Albini. "Our joke is we do this whole thing and it's a lot of work and it's all for a half-hour of bidding."
Last year's lineup of famed comedians and musicians raised $89,000, which Whinna and her husband personally deliver in the form of gifts and cash to families on Christmas morning with the help of Chicago's Onward Neighborhood House. This is the sixth year Tweedy will offer up his talents to the auction, and when last year's bidding reached $23,000, he agreed to play sets for the three groups bidding at that price.
"It's a possibility for somebody who is a big fan of Jeff's music to save up with 30 of their friends for an experience," she said.
Other auction items in the past have included two tickets to see "SNL" with a personal tour from Armisen, a lifetime pass for two to events at Lincoln Hall and a day in the studio with Albini. A complete list of items that will be available this year hasn't been made public yet.
This will be the 11th year of the event, but could be the best yet because "Saturday Night Live" and its cast of Second City Alumni will be done taping by Dec. 18.
"We sort of struck gold this time," she said.
The marathon event kicks off at 6 p.m. on Dec. 19, with Fred Schneider, the former frontman of the B-52's, who will be improvising. Tweedy, Chicago's JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound, Bonnie Prince Billy and Tweedy's son's band, The Blisters — among others — will take the stage every 2½ hours. There will also be improv from a cast of 14 or 15 world-class comedians between sets.
"It gets real grim around 5 a.m., but luckily for me I have super generous friends who are willing to come in and perform during those times to help keep the rest of us going," Whinna said.
About 20 or 30 audience members usually stay for the whole 24 hours, but ticket holders are welcome to come and go.
"It gets a little lean around three in the morning, but at five it begins to kick up again," said Second City's co-chairman and CEO, Andrew Alexander.
JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound are scheduled to perform with Armisen, also of IFC's "Portlandia" fame, at 2:30 a.m., which might keep the building packed.
The money from the charity has been given directly to families each year on Christmas day.
In the past, Whinna, her husband and other members of the event would pick up letters to Santa from children at the post office, but those letters are now anonymous, so they decided to go through Onward Neighborhood House. That organization provides Whinna with letters from Chicagoans and their children of what they want and need for Christmas.
"They don't know you're coming, so on Christmas day you just knock on their door," she said. "We bring them [presents] in and I give them the money and we try to get out of there as quickly as possible so the overwhelming emotional moments they have are with their families."
Here is the full schedule:
6 p.m. - Fred Schneider
7:30 p.m. - Robbie Fulks
9:30 p.m. - Jeff Tweedy
midnight - Kim Deal
2:30 a.m. - JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound/Fred Armisen
5 a.m. - TBA
7:30 a.m. - Bonnie Prince Billy
10 a.m. - Nate Silver and Steve Albini
noon - Jenny Gillespie
2 p.m. - TBA
4:30 p.m. - The Blisters
Improvisers include Sudeikis and Wilde, Armisen, Ryan Archibald, Emily Candini, Dina Facklis, Scott Goldstein, Shelly Gossman, TJ Jagodowski, Brendan Jennings, Michael Patrick O'Brien, Sam Richardson, Tim Robinson, Rebecca Sohn and Rich Sohn.
Tickets for the event are available on Second City's website for $20.