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The Second City is a long-running improvisational comedy enterprise which originated in Chicagomarker's Old Townmarker neighborhood.

The Second City Theatre opened on December 16, 1959 and has since expanded its presence to several other cities, including Torontomarker and Los Angelesmarker. The Second City has produced television programs in both the United States and Canada including SCTV, Second City Presents, and Next Comedy Legend, as well as being heavily involved in the creation of the satirical 1969 sci-fi film "The Monitors." Since its debut, Second City has consistently been a starting point for comedians, award winning actors, directors, and others in show business.


Second City evolved from the Compass Players, a 1950s cabaret revue show started by undergraduates at the University of Chicagomarker. The troupe chose the self-mocking name "The Second City" from the title of an article about Chicago by A. J. Liebling that appeared in The New Yorker in 1952. In 1959, the first Second City revue show premiered at 1842 North Wells Street and moved to 1616 North Wells in 1967. Co-founder Bernard Sahlins owned the theater company until 1985, before selling it to Canadian Andrew Alexander.

The style of comedy has changed with time, but the format has remained constant. Second City revues feature a mix of semi-improvised and scripted scenes with new material developed during unscripted improv sessions after the second act where scenes are created based on audience suggestions. A Second City innovation is the inclusion of live, improvised music during the performance.

A number of well-known performers began careers as part of the historic troupe and later moved to television and film. In the mid-1970s, Second City became a source of cast members for Saturday Night Live and SCTV, which borrowed many of the writing and performing techniques pioneered by Second City and other improv groups.

Along with its theaters, training centers, and television shows, Second City also produces improv and sketch shows for Norwegian Cruise Line.


Second City Television, or SCTV, was a Canadianmarker television sketch comedy show offshoot from the Toronto troupe of the Second City that ran from 1976 to 1984.

The basic premise of SCTV was modeled on a television station in the fictional city of Melonville. Rather than broadcast the usual TV rerun fare, the business, run by the greedy Guy Caballero (Joe Flaherty) sitting in a wheelchair only to gain sympathy and leverage in business and staff negotiations, operates a bizarre and humorously incompetent range of cheap local programming. The range included a soap opera called "The Days of the Week;" game shows such as "Shoot the Stars," in which celebrities literally are shot at in similar fashion to targets in a shooting gallery; and movie spoofs such as "Play it Again, Bob" in which Woody Allen (Rick Moranis) attempts to entice Bob Hope (Dave Thomas) to star in his next film. In-house media melodrama also was satirized by John Candy's vain, bloated variety star character Johnny La Rue, Thomas' acerbic critic Bill Needle and Andrea Martin's flamboyant, leopard-skin clad station manager Mrs. Edith Prickley.

The Second City Training Center

The Second City Training Center was founded in the mid-1980s to facilitate the growing demand for workshops and instruction from the world famous Second City theatre. Training Centers are located in Chicago, Toronto and Los Angeles. The Training Centers have grown substantially since the Second City Conservatory was established in the mid-1980s under the tutelage of longtime Chicago improv instructors and mentors Martin de Maat and Sheldon Patinkin. The Chicago Training Center has over 1,800 students in several disciplines, including improvisation and comedy writing. Former Training Center students include Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Mike Myers, Chris Farley, Tim Meadows, Bonnie Hunt, Stephen Colbert, Halle Berry, Sean Hayes, Amy Sedaris, Jon Favreau, Hinton Battle, Jack McBrayer, Dave Foley and Kevin McDonald. Classes are taught by working professionals, many of whom are current and former Second City performers.

The Second City Parents School

In the early days of Second City, several parents and Lincoln Park community members—including Paul and Carol Sills and Dennis and Mona Cunningham—started a progressive school for their children, based on Viola Spolin's play therapy philosophy with her son Paul Sills' theater games refinements to it. Early Second City staff, and Old Town and Lincoln Park community members, were deeply involved in the school, including the Sillses and Cunninghams, Viola Spolin, John Schultz, Mel Spiegel, and Beverly Gold. The progressive curriculum included daily theater games, and many students went on to careers in entertainment. Briefly at the original Old Town theater site at the intersection of Clark, Wells, and Lincoln Avenue, the school had several locations in Lincoln Park until it closed in the mid-1970s.

Andrew Alexander

Andrew Alexander took the reins of Second City Toronto, Canada, in 1974 and formed a partnership with Len Stuart in 1976, starting The Second City Entertainment Company. Its first television production was SCTV. Alexander co-developed and executive produced over 185 half-hour shows for the award-winning comedy series, and produced over 150 hours of award-winning television comedy. Alexander has had co-production deals with MGM Television, Imagine Films, Disney Studios and United Artists, and has developed television programming for CBC, NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, Comedy Central, HBO, Showtime, and A&E. He has produced movies and television with such notable talents as John Candy, Dan Aykroyd, Bonnie Hunt, Mike Myers, Chris Farley, Rick Moranis, Catherine O'Hara, Martin Short, Harold Ramis, Dave Thomas, Jim Belushi, George Wendt, Edward Asner, Andrea Martin, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert and Tina Fey

In 1985, Alexander and Stuart became owners of Chicago's Second City. He has produced or executive produced over 200 Second City revues in Canada and the United States. Most recently, Alexander has expanded The Second City TV & Film Division with offices in Los Angeles and Toronto and was executive producer on the recently released feature film Intern's Academy.

He serves on the Columbia Collegemarker Board of Trustees, is Chair of the Gilda's Club Honorary Board (Toronto), and is also an Honorary Member of the Chicago Gilda's Club Board.


The Second City has twice been awarded an Equity Joseph Jefferson Award, once in 1997 as an ensemble in the "New Work" category for Paradigm Lost. The show featured Tina Fey, Scott Adsit, Kevin Dorff, Rachel Dratch, Jenna Jolovitz, Jim Zulevic and was directed by Mick Napier. Stephnie Weir received the "Actress in a Revue" Jeff Award for Second City 4.0 in 2000.

Toronto's Second City mainstage troupe has won four Canadian Comedy Awards: "Best Improv Troupe" (2001), "Best Sketch Troupe" (2001) and "Best Comedic Play" winners Family Circus Maximus (2002) and Psychedelicatessen (2003).


Notable alumni of the Second City

See also



External links

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