The Second City

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The Second City
The Second City (logo).png
Genre Sketch comedy
Date of premiere 1959
Location Chicago, Illinois, United States
Official website

The Second City is an improvisational comedy enterprise, best known as the first ever on-going improvisational theater troupe based in Chicago. It also has programs that run out of Toronto and Los Angeles. The Second City Theatre opened on December 16, 1959 and has since become one of the most influential and prolific comedy theatres in the world.[1]

The Second City has produced television programs in both the United States and Canada including SCTV, Second City Presents, and Next Comedy Legend. Since its debut, the Second City has consistently been a starting point for comedians, award winning actors, directors, and others in show business such as Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Cecily Strong and John Candy among many others.[2]


Current location at 1616 North Wells Street in Chicago

The Second City chose its self-mocking name from the title of an article about Chicago by A. J. Liebling that appeared in The New Yorker in 1952.[1] In 1959, the first Second City revue show premiered at 1842 North Wells Street, and the company moved a few blocks south, to 1616 North Wells, in 1967.[1] Bernard Sahlins, Howard Alk and Paul Sills, son of teacher Viola Spolin, founded the theater as a place where scenes and story were created improvisationally, using techniques that grew out of the innovative techniques Spolin developed and taught, later known as Theater Games, with Sills as its director.[3] The cabaret theater, comedy style of the Second City tended towards satire and commentary of current social norms and political figures and events.

In 1961, the theater sent a cast to Broadway with the musical revue, From the Second City, directed by Sills and earning a Tony nomination for ensemble member Severn Darden.[4] Eventually, the theater expanded to include three touring companies and a second resident company, and now fosters a company devoted to outreach and diversity. 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 number of well-known performers began careers as part of the historic troupe and later moved to television and film. In 1973, Second City opened a theater in Toronto. By the mid-1970s, both venues 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. In 1983, the adjoining e.t.c. theater became the second resident stage in Old Town, Chicago location, handling overflow crowds and increasing the number of resident company members. Co-founder Bernard Sahlins owned the theater company until 1985, before selling it to Andrew Alexander and Len Stuart.[1]

Along with its theaters, training centers, and television shows, Second City also produces improv and sketch shows for Norwegian Cruise Line. In the 2000s, Second City began producing "theatrical" shows, bringing their brand of social and political satire to regional theaters around the country in revues that featured sketches written for and about each location, including Phoenix,[5] Boston,[6] Baltimore,[7] Dallas,[8] and Louisville.[9]


Second City Television, or SCTV, was a Canadian television sketch comedy show offshoot from the Toronto troupe of the Second City and 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 at 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's acerbic critic Bill Needle and Andrea Martin's flamboyant, leopard-skin clad station manager Mrs. Edith Prickley, Catherine O'Hara's washed-up, alcoholic, narcissist former leading-lady Lola Heatherton, and Flaherty's overly effusive talk show host, Sammy Maudlin. Martin Short originated his dorky Ed Grimley character here, which he later brought to Saturday Night Live.

Andrew Alexander[edit]

Andrew Alexander and Len Stuart

Andrew Alexander took the reins of Second City Toronto 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, James 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 Academy.

He serves on the Columbia College 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.

Alexander has received numerous awards including The Canadian Comedy Awards’ Chairman’s Award, Gilda’s Magic Award from Gilda’s Club, The League of Chicago Theater’s 2009 Artistic Leadership Award and named 2009 Chicagoan of the Year by Chicago Tribune.


As of 2014, the Second City has been awarded thirty-seven Equity Joseph Jefferson Awards, which have recognized them for Best Revue five times, the first being Paradigm Lost (1997). The revue’s director, Mick Napier, is one of several directors recognized by the Jeffs, a list that includes founder Bernard Sahlins (for 1983’s Exit, Pursued by a Bear) and improv guru Del Close (1981’s Miro, Miro on the Wall). Sixteen alumni have received Jeff Awards for their performances in Second City revues, including David Pasquesi (The Gods Must Be Lazy, 1989), Scott Adsit (Paradigm Lost, 1997), Jackie Hoffman (Disgruntled Employee Picnic, 1993), Shelley Long (Wellsapoppin, 1977), and Nia Vardalos (Whitewater for Chocolate, 1994), with Rachel Dratch and Keegan-Michael Key each being honored twice.[10]

In 2009, as the company was celebrating its 50th year, the Second City was awarded an honorary Jeff for the milestone, as well as three awards for the e.t.c.' s 33rd revue Studs Terkel's Not Working, recognizing director Matt Hovde and actress Amanda Blake Davis and naming it Best Revue.[11] In 2011, the e.t.c.'s 35th revue Sky's the Limit (Weather Permitting) won the Jeff for Best New Work (Musical or Revue), as well Best Revue and Best Actor, for ensemble member Tim Baltz.[12] The following year, the e.t.c.'s 36th revue We're All In This (Room) Together won for Best Revue and Best Director of a Revue (Ryan Bernier), while ensemble member Edgar Blackman took home the Jeff for Best Actor/Actress in a Revue for his work in Who Do We Think We Are? on the Second City mainstage.[13] In 2013, the Jeff Awards awarded Best Production: Revue to a Second City show not housed at the venue on Wells Street, The Second City Guide to Opera, a collaboration with the Lyric Opera of Chicago that had been initiated by soprano and Lyric creative consultant Renée Fleming, with Best Director: Revue going to Billy Bungeroth.[14]

Toronto's Second City mainstage troupe has won ten Canadian Comedy Awards: Best Improv Troupe (2001), Best Sketch Troupe (2001, 2006 and 2009), and Best Comedic Play winners Family Circus Maximus (2002), Psychedelicatessen (2003), Facebook of Revelations, Barack to the Future (2009), 0% Down, 100% Screwed (2010) and Something Wicked Awesome This Way Comes (2011).

The Second City on film[edit]

Resident stage alumni[edit]



Chicago E.T.C.[edit]

  • 1983Bill Applebaum, Rob Bronstein, Don DePollo, Jim Fay, Susan Gauthier, Carey Goldenberg, Jeff Michalski, Jane Morris, Bernard Sahlins, Joyce Sloane, Ruby Streak
  • 1984 – Steve Assad, Dan Castellaneta, Isabella Hofmann, Maureen Kelly, Harry Murphy
  • 1985Andrew Alexander, Len Stuart
  • 1986 – Mark Belden, Mindy Bell, Kevin Crowley, Kevin Doyle, Joe Keefe, Barbara Wallace
  • 1987 – Chris Barnes, Madeline Belden, Joe Liss, Ron West
  • 1988Laura Hall, Judith Scott, Jill Talley, Holly Wortell
  • 1989 – Mark Beltzman, Dan Gillogly, Nate Herman, Michael McCarthy, Ruth Rudnick
  • 1990 – Fran Adams, Steve Carell, Tom Gianas, John Rubano
  • 1991Rose Abdoo, Megan Moore Burns, Peter Burns, Ken Hudson Campbell, David Razowsky
  • 1992 – Scott Allman, Stephen Colbert, Ian Gomez, Jackie Hoffman, Jenna Jolovitz, Kelly Leonard
  • 1993Scott Adsit, Michael Broh, Jimmy Doyle, Norm Holly, Nia Vardalos
  • 1994 – John Hildreth
  • 1995Adam McKay, Jeff Richmond, Aaron Rhodes, Dee Ryan, Brian Stack, Miriam Tolan, Jim Zulevic
  • 1996Neil Flynn, Laura Krafft, Jerry C. Minor, Horatio Sanz, Peter Zahradnick
  • 1997 – Aaron Carney, Matt Dwyer, Rachel Hamilton, Mick Napier, Rebecca Sohn, Rich Talarico
  • 1998 – Craig Cackowski, Kristin Ford, Noah Gregoropoulos, Tami Sagher
  • 1999 – Ali Farahnakian, Martin Garcia, Sue Gillan, Beth Kligerman, Jack McBrayer, David Pompeii, Lyn Pusztai, Klaus Peter Schuller, Angela V. Shelton, Trey Stone, Michael Thomas
  • 2000 – Andy Cobb, Debra Downing, Abby Sher
  • 2001 – Sam Albert, Joshua Funk, T. J. Jagodowski, Keegan-Michael Key
  • 2002Peter Grosz, Nyima Funk
  • 2003 – Jeremy Wilcox
  • 2004 – Lee Brackett, Jen Bills, Rebecca Drysdale, Ithamar Enriquez, Robin Hammond, Frank Caeti, Matt Craig, Alison Riley
  • 2005 – Rebecca Sage Allen, Jim Carlson, Alex Fendrich, Robert Janas, Chad Krueger, Niki Lindgren, Nicky Margolis
  • 2006 – Amanda Blake Davis, Kirk Hanley, Andy St. Clair
  • 2007 – W. Shane Oman, Marc Warzecha
  • 2008 – Christina Anthony, Michael Descoteaux, Tom Flanigan, Megan Grano, Laura Grey, Matt Hovde, Tim Mason, Bruce Pirrie, Joseph Ruffner
  • 2009Beth Melewski
  • 2010Tim Baltz, Billy Bungeroth, Jesse Case, Brendan Jennings, Mary Sohn, Monica Wilson
  • 2011 – Kyle Anderson, Aidy Bryant, Jessica Joy, Michael Lehrer, Jeremy Smith
  • 2012 – Ryan Bernier, Mike Kosinski, Tawny Newsome, Andĕl Sudik, Chris Witaske
  • 2013 – Carisa Barreca, Brooke Breit, Alex Kliner, Punam Patel
  • 2014 – Jen Ellison, Eddie Mujica, Asher Perlman, Tim Ryder
  • 2015 – Lisa Beasley, Anthony LeBlanc, Scott Morehead, Rashawn Nadine Scott
  • 2016 – Aasia Lashay Bullock, Laura Hum, Peter Kim, Katie Klein, Julie Marchiano
  • 2017 – Sayjal Joshi, Andrew Knox, Alan Linic, Jasbir Singh, Jacob Shuda, Lesley Stone, Tien Tran

Northwest Chicago (1988-1995)[edit]

Detroit (1993-2007)[edit]

  • 1993 - Andrew Alexander, Robin Bucci, Colin Ferguson, John Holston, Mark Levenson, Jerry C. Minor, Suzy Nakamura, Andrew Newberg, Lyn Okkerse, Tim Pryor, Jackie Purtan, Angela Shelton, Len Stuart
  • 1994 - Tom Gianas, Nancy Hayden, Todd Stashwick
  • 1995 - Peter Burns, John Farley, Joshua Funk, Dionna Griffin, Grant Krause, Emily Rose Merrell, Edd Smarron, Chris Smith, Rico Bruce Wade
  • 1996 - Larry Campbell, Kim Greene, John Hildreth, Crad Krueger, Anne Libera, Trey Stone
  • 1997 - Eric Black, Margaret Exner, Andrew Graham, Brandon Johnson, Keegan-Michael Key, Joe Latessa, Catherine Worth
  • 1998 - Joshua Funk, Michael J. Gellman, Elaine Hendricks, Marc Evan Jackson, Mary Jane Pories, Ron West, Nyima Woods
  • 1999 - John Edwartowski, Shatha Faraj, Joe Janes, Antoine McKay, Maribeth Monroe, Mary Vinette, Marc Warzecha
  • 2000 - Dexter Bullard, Jeff Fritz, Kirk Hanley, Cheri Lynne, David Razowsky
  • 2001 - Rob Chambers, Kiff Vanden Heuvel
  • 2002 - Scott Allman, Suzan Gouine, Lisa Maxine Melinn, Topher Owen
  • 2003 - Jelly, PJ Jacokes, Shawn Handlon
  • 2005 - Ken Faulk, Jenny Hagel, Quintin Hicks, Matt Hovde, Tiffany Jones, Caroline Syran Rauch
  • 2006 - Jim Carlson, Amy Duffy, Nate DuFort, Brett Guennel, Shari Hollett, Tara Nida, Tim Robinson, Megan Hovde Wilkins
  • 2007 - Jaime Moyer

Las Vegas (2001-2007)[edit]

  • 2001 - Jean Augustyn, Dan Bakkedahl, Frank Caeti, Kay Cannon, Joshua Diamond, Matt Dwyer, Jennifer Estlin, Mary Pat Farrell, Sarah Gee, Karen Graci, Kelly Haran, Fred Hemmiger, Joe Janes, Robin Johnson, Mike Lukas, Seamus McCarthy, Mick Napier, Phil Randall, Jason Sudeikis, Marc Warzecha, Mike Watkins
  • 2002 - Scott Allman, Ed Goodman, Brooke Schoening, Holly Walker
  • 2003 - Joe Kelly, Brian Shortall, Amy Rowell
  • 2004 - Ithamar Enriquez, Martin Garcia, Lauren Dowden, Bridget Kloss, Shatha Hicks
  • 2005 - Amanda Blake Davis, Paul Mattingly, David Novich, Craig Uhlir
  • 2006 - Ryan Archibald, Jim Carlson, Shelly Gossman, Katie Neff, David Novich, Andy St. Clair
  • 2007 - Rob Belushi, Michael Lehrer, Robin Lynn Norris, Bruce Pirrie, Anne Marie Saviano

Cleveland (2002-2004)[edit]

  • 2002 - Andrew Alexander, George Pete Caleodis, Maria Corell, Cody Dove, Colleen Doyle, Joshua Funk, Jack Hourigan, Kelly Leonard, Tommy LeRoy, Quinn Patterson, Dana Quercioli, David Schmoll, Ron West
  • 2003 - Katie Caussin, Lauren Dowden, Randall Harr, Chad Krueger, Kiff Vanden Heuvel, Joe Ruffner

The Second City Touring Company[edit]

Created in 1967 as a way to increase the talent pool, the initial Touring Company, featuring Ramis, Doyle-Murray and Flaherty, was tested on the road for two years before taking the stage as The Next Generation after the mainstage ensemble was sent to perform in New York. The Touring Company continued to perform greatest hit shows on the road, and in 1982, with the assistance of producer Joyce Sloane (and without Sahlins's knowledge) they staged an original revue in what would become the theater's second stage, the Second City e.t.c.[18]

Fiftieth anniversary[edit]

In December 2009, the theater celebrated its fiftieth anniversary with a weekend of panels and performance which featured many prominent alumni, including an SCTV reunion show starring Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Catherine O'Hara, Harold Ramis, Martin Short, and Dave Thomas.[19] Other notable alumni returning to participate included Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Jeff Garlin, Jack McBrayer, James Belushi, Dan Castellaneta, Amy Sedaris, Ian Gomez, Richard Kind, Robert Klein, Fred Willard, David Rasche, Betty Thomas, and George Wendt,[20] as well as original cast member Mina Kolb, Compass Player Shelley Berman, and founders Bernard Sahlins and Sheldon Patinkin.[21]

Notable alumni of the Second City[edit]

The Second City Training Center[edit]

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 5,000 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. In 2007, the Comedy Studies program was created, as a collaboration with Chicago's Columbia College, which provides students with an immersion in "all aspects of the study of comedy and improvisation" [22] The Second City Training Centers currently operate under the leadership of Kerry Sheehan, President, The Second City Training Centers and Education Programs.

The Parents School[edit]

In the early years of the Second City and Game Theater, several parents and Lincoln Park community members—including Carol and Paul Sills and Mona and Dennis Cunningham—started a progressive school for their children, based on Viola Spolin's Theater Games techniques and philosophy with her son Paul Sills' refinements. Theater Games were gaining recognition and are now incorporated in Drama Therapy, Play Therapy and are used as an educational tool. Early Second City and Game Theater members, as well as some Old Town and Lincoln Park community members, were closely involved, including the Sillses and Cunninghams, Viola Spolin, Joyce and Byrne Piven, John Schultz, Mel Spiegel, and Beverly Gold. The highly progressive curriculum included daily theater games, and some 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 moved to several locations in Lincoln Park before it closed in the mid-1970s.[23]

Other influences[edit]

In 1971, The Players Workshop was Chicago's only official school of Improvisation for over a decade. Although it was never officially a part of The Second City cabaret theater, The Players Workshop was often referred to as Players Workshop Of The Second City, due to the school's close affiliation with the famous sketch comedy stage.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Christiansen, Richard (2004). Grossman, James R.; Keating, Ann Durkin; Reiff, Janice L., eds. Second City Theatre. The Electronic Encyclopedia of Chicago. Chicago Historical Society. p. 744. ISBN 0-226-31015-9. Retrieved March 7, 2008. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Robertson, Campbell (June 4, 2008). "Paul Sills, a Guru of Improv Theater, Dies at 80". New York Times. Retrieved September 3, 2010. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Robrt L. Pela. "The Second City Does Arizona, Or Close But No Saguaro Proves There's Plenty of AZ to Poke Fun at Outside of SB 1070". Phoenix New Times. 
  6. ^ Anderman, Joan (April 19, 2010). "From Chicago, joke's on Hub". The Boston Globe. 
  7. ^ Smith, Tim. "Charm City gets Second City treatment". Baltimore Sun. 
  8. ^ "The Second City Does Dallas: outsiders making astute observations". Star-Telegram. September 14, 2012. 
  9. ^ Keane, Erin (January 2, 2011). "Second City seeks coup with Ville!'". The Courier-Journal. 
  10. ^ "Jeff Awards List of Nominees and Recipients". 
  11. ^ "Second City takes home Jeff Awards and announces complete 50th anniversary lineup". Time Out Chicago. 2009. Retrieved September 3, 2010. 
  12. ^ "Chinglish, Chicago Shakes, Candide, Porgy and Bess, Mike Nussbaum Among Jeff Award Winners". 2011. Retrieved November 8, 2011. 
  13. ^ "'Iceman Cometh,' 'Follies' big Jeff Award winners". The Chicago Tribune. 2012. 
  14. ^ "'Lyric Opera of Chicago & The Second City Take Home Two Jeff Awards for THE SECOND CITY GUIDE TO THE OPERA". Broadway World. 2013. 
  15. ^ Doll, Susan. "Turner Class Movies Film Article: Goldstein". 
  16. ^ Murray, Noel. "Goldstein/DVD". A.V. Club. 
  17. ^ "Inside the Improv Process at Second City". The Chicago Sun Times. 
  18. ^ Thomas, Mike (2009). The Second City Unscripted. Villard Books. pp. 34,41,146–150. ISBN 978-0-345-51422-6. 
  19. ^ "Second City 50th Anniversary, SCTV Reunion: Live review". Time Out NY. Retrieved September 3, 2010. 
  20. ^ "What's in a Ticket". Retrieved September 3, 2010. 
  21. ^ "The Second City Announces Complete 50th Anniversary Schedule". The Onion AV Club. Retrieved September 3, 2010. 
  22. ^ Winchell, Stephen. "Inside the Second City's Comedy Studies Program". Splitsider. 
  23. ^

External links[edit]