Happy Birthday, Second City!
December 12, 2009 2:21 AM   Subscribe

The Second City, the world's premier theater of comedy and school of improvisation, is celebrating its 50th birthday. The school has had many notable alumni: Some early Second City performances by Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert, some reminiscences by Tina Fey, Ryan Stiles and Colin Mochrie, and Fred Willard.

Bonus: Second City had its own TV show for a while. The first episode of SCTV.
posted by twoleftfeet (37 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I was going to say - and thankfully you did link to the show - the cast of SCTV has had way more influence on comedy than those you mentioned in the body.
posted by cerulgalactus at 4:10 AM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

I would definitely include Harold Ramis in the alumni list.
posted by RussHy at 5:24 AM on December 12, 2009

Dude, that's like talking about SNL and only mentioning that guy from 30 Rock, Chris Cattan, and that chick that got fired.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 5:59 AM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


No mention of John Candy, Dan Aykroyd, Bonnie Hunt, Mike Myers, Chris Farley, Rick Moranis, Catherine O'Hara, Martin Short, Harold Ramis, Dave Thomas, Jim Belushi or George Wendt?
posted by paisley henosis at 6:17 AM on December 12, 2009

Second City succeeds because it builds of the theory of "playing up" to the audience. Smart comedy works. My prior comment here.
posted by zerobyproxy at 6:17 AM on December 12, 2009


No mention of John Candy...

Is your linking finger broken?
posted by Optamystic at 6:24 AM on December 12, 2009

Sorry, the above came off as grouchy. I just mean that it may be better to add links to those that you would like to see mentioned, thereby making this an even better post.
posted by Optamystic at 6:29 AM on December 12, 2009

Dude, you only mentioned 1/2 a Canadian?
posted by gman at 6:30 AM on December 12, 2009

This is amazing.
posted by oinopaponton at 7:40 AM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Second City is pretty awesome. But mostly they aren't improving on stage, they're performing skits that they developped through improv.

The IO is all about the long form improv, and many of the people performing at Second City got there start with improv at the IO.
posted by garlic at 7:57 AM on December 12, 2009

So they call themselves "Second City" because they're from Chicago, right? But Isn't calling Chicago a Second City a little pretentious? I mean L.A. has a far greater cultural impact on the United States then Chicago. N.Y is obviously the "First City"

Always annoyed me.
posted by delmoi at 8:04 AM on December 12, 2009

I mean L.A. has a far greater cultural impact on the United States then Chicago. N.Y is obviously the "First City"

This attitude is while I've always preferred Chicago to either coastal ego trip.
posted by zoomorphic at 8:25 AM on December 12, 2009 [10 favorites]

Chicago has been "The Second City" for more than a hundred years, delmoi.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 8:40 AM on December 12, 2009

As heard yesterday on NPR!
posted by Balisong at 8:44 AM on December 12, 2009

You link to Tina Fey and Steve Carell (neither are even remotely funny) and then skip over the SNL and SCTV people to Fred Willard.

posted by Zambrano at 8:53 AM on December 12, 2009

Your favorite Second City alumnus sucks.
posted by GameDesignerBen at 9:13 AM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

God Tina Fey is sexy.
posted by vronsky at 9:16 AM on December 12, 2009

The Best of Liz Lemon
posted by vronsky at 9:28 AM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

You link to Tina Fey and Steve Carell (neither are even remotely funny)

posted by Mcable at 9:31 AM on December 12, 2009

This is pretty weird to do a second city post and not mention any of the greats, not even Bill Murray. (And Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert are relentlessly unfunny.)

The Queen Haters
posted by vronsky at 9:52 AM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

That clip of Tina Fey from her Second City days is just like one of those self-deprecating flashbacks on 30 Rock.
posted by cazoo at 9:55 AM on December 12, 2009

Yes, the irony of Chicago's self-imposed secondary status is that the original Second City is second to the second Second City.
posted by GuyZero at 9:59 AM on December 12, 2009

I mean L.A. has a far greater cultural impact on the United States then Chicago. N.Y is obviously the "First City"

You should have ran with the idea that ranking major cities is ridiculous, rather than try to reorder them.
posted by Brian B. at 10:07 AM on December 12, 2009

A. J. Liebling is credited with coining the term. He's still correct though -- anyone out of Second City, the comedy troupe who's made it big has done it by leaving chicago for LA or NY.
posted by garlic at 10:20 AM on December 12, 2009

You mention John Candy, Dan Akroyd, et al. without mentioning to Alan Alda, Alan Arkin, Ed Asner, Del Close, Valerie Harper, Linda Lavin, Elaine May, Anne Meara, Jerry Stiller, or Joan Rivers?

Lame sauce.

posted by jeanmari at 10:23 AM on December 12, 2009

Is it possible that you need to do improv in order to appreciate the improv talents of others? Or that you need to learn to appreciate improv? I spent my youth not finding Jonathon Winters funny, and now I'm spending my adult years not finding Fred Willard funny.
posted by acrasis at 10:42 AM on December 12, 2009

Scott Adsit, Andy Richter, Mike Nichols, Dan Castellaneta...

Here's the big old list.
posted by Iridic at 10:43 AM on December 12, 2009

Second City, indeed.
posted by Paddle to Sea at 10:54 AM on December 12, 2009

Also, I've mentioned it before, but if you love comedy and you love documentaries, Second to None is the most amazing film I've ever seen. It shows the slow build of an Second City Improv Show over time, how the sketches evolve, and how funny stuff that shows up in practice ends up in improv games. More than anything, it is proof how quality improv is really dependent upon practice and practice with the same group who ends up knowing each other so well that their interaction looks effortless.
posted by jeanmari at 11:05 AM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

That Ryan and Colin clip in the FP is narrated by Joe Flaherty, also an SC alum and Lindsay and Sam's father on Freaks and Geeks! Smart comedy eff tee doubleyew.
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:06 AM on December 12, 2009

I had a big list of Second City alumni and started to link each and every one of them to something or other (hey, Dan Castellaneta is an alumnus so here's a link to Homer Simpson!), but... do you any any idea how many famous alumni it has? So instead I just chose links that actually had something to do with Second City.

Feel free to add more links as needed.
posted by twoleftfeet at 11:07 AM on December 12, 2009

Bob Odenkirk, Shelley Long <3>Manson :)
posted by vronsky at 12:04 PM on December 12, 2009

what the ?

posted by vronsky at 12:06 PM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

(cracks fingers and prepares to reminisce)

That website evolved from an initiative in 1998 when I joined The Second City's corporate promotions arm, Second City Communications. Headquartered on the other side of the bar, over the staircase leading up from the street and then led by the "Grand Poobah of Comedy" Joe Keefe, for reasons known only to the powers that be, the corporate graphics designer (GD), the accountant (controller?) and the account executive (yours truly) were based in 1207 E.Carson Street, Pittsburgh PA.

My email address to do business development for tradeshows, corporate events and other fun stuff was scctradsho@aol.com - I wept and whined, bullied and cried, and flew to Toronto to meet with Andrew Alexander to convince him of the need for a "infini@secondcity.com" email address - in those years the money was flowing from the IT industry into Comdex, Networld + Interop, E3 and all - and who would take an AOL (fer chrissakes peeps) address seriously? {from the wayback machine note the shift to the bellatlantic.net email address while we wait ;p}

The GD and I went to meet a website design firm called Halo and I remember the colour sketches of curtains and a stage. How cool it was, all maroon and animated ;p If I recall correctly from my old resume, the final result of that push to redesign was an 65% increase in merchandising sales and 35% increase in response rate to "cold calls" - spam was not yet that big an issue and it was still okay to email lists of tradeshow exhibitors with an offer to do their shtick.

I was the first H1B employee in their 40 years (my, how time flies), the only Indian engineer from Bangalore who was clueless about programming computers employed in America at that time (just before the Y2K bug hit, so they figured they needed to get on the bandwagon ;p) and on my first visit to HQ I was chased around the meeting room by "cowboys" wanting to scalp the Indian. Heh. We earned two free tickets to the Main stage every week and I'd use mine to impress clients and guests I'd want to entertain in Chicago, or Toronto. I regret never seeing Detroit. I still have my secret Santa gift from the annual Christmas party - my first blizzard in Chicago - and we were also given silver card cases with a $100 bill inside from the president.

As a newcomer to the United States, this was my first job and I was blessed with the opportunity to get an introduction to a whole new way of lilfe and culture (something that had me constantly in trouble when I finally sold out to MBA school until I figured out that PC meant politically correct and no other office acted like mine ;P). I travelled around the country doing tradeshows and events and hanging out some really great guys. I suspect Stephen Colbert of being someone I worked with on an extensive project at N+I in May 1999, he used to have a heavy beard but those eyes, that voice, that sense of deadpan humour... )

It taught me confidence and poise in public speaking, gave me presence I would be thankful for over and over in the years since... Rest in peace, Martin de Maat, who held me when I broke down and cried as a simple beginner's exercise required me to learn a whole new way of expressing myself and being open to the give and take of energy needed for a successful skit. Improvisation requires intelligence, wit, split second responses and a willingness to fail. "Yes, and..." is the most powerful phrase in the english language.

Those were two wonderful wonderful years of my life until we shut down the Pittsburgh office. Thank you for the opportunity to write this out and share it somewhere.

ps. this was my telephone spiel when drumming up new business note the font ;p :

"Second City Communications, we're the corporate comedy arm of The Second City, the university of Improv, you know, alan alda, john candy, chris farley, mike myers ... and that guy, Ben Shiller's father etc"
posted by infini at 12:57 PM on December 12, 2009 [10 favorites]

oh and THANK YOU twoleftfeet for the FPP from a funny person in helsinki
posted by infini at 12:59 PM on December 12, 2009

infini, since you spilled, so will I. I was part of a consulting and design team in 1999-2000 from a large Chicago consulting firm who worked on a video with Second City Communications. We were writing and producing a video about business acumen. Getting to attend meetings in the smaller of the two Wells Street theaters. Watching our script (co-written with the Second City Communications team) brought to life...hilarious. A year later, I was asked to produce a custom show for this enormous consulting firm and ran straight for Second City Communications. Jow Keefe, bless his heart, submitted a generic corporate script that I didn't think would fly and he graciously stepped aside and let me team up with one of their senior writers (I believe that he was around since the 60's? The 70's?) Completely awesome guy and I put the thing together across a board room table. I fed him the cultural quirks of the firm that would work in sketches and an explanation of why they would be funny to this audience. Not knowing the culture but trusting me, he wove them into sketch templates and games that the actors were experienced with. I'll never forget how delighted we both were when the actors gamely tackled the obscure corporate cultural references (I'm sure it was as nerve-wracking as an American trying to make jokes in German in front of a German audience) and it KILLED. These normally serious consultants laughed until tears rolled down their faces. The actors were brilliant, and it is still talked about nine years later. Then the improv games where we connected the rules of improv to being a better consultant ("yes, and..." was the cornerstone of that) were fun and educational and got these consultants to really enjoy themselves. So, if you ever do get the chance to work with SCC, please do. They not only put together an awesome show, the whole experience of working with them was fun from beginning to end.
posted by jeanmari at 1:18 PM on December 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

jeanmari - (note I joined MeFi just 9 days after you ;p )

grazie. words cannot express how much your comment means to me etc

and yes, it was the job you did that I would do - helping to identify and communicate the quirks of a business into tradeshow presentations and stand up routines. worst was the network packet data tracker software launch - make that funny?

we did it. I have the script somewhere of Packetboy, the Ghost in the Machine, who talked back to Bret Scott from the powerpoint slides onstage ;p
posted by infini at 1:27 PM on December 12, 2009

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