Second City

Season: One

Episode: Nine

Date: August 2016

The reason so many Second City people have been successful is really fairly simple. There are names that by mere mention elicit laughter, nostalgia and the very definition of comedy. John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, John Candy, Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, Chris Farley, Eugene Levy, Tim Meadows, Mike Myers, Catherine O’Hara, Harold Ramis, Amy Sedaris and so many more started their careers at The Second City and acknowledge the training there as instrumental in their success. In an interview with Roger Ebert, Bill Murray noted:

The reason so many Second City people have been successful is really fairly simple. At the heart of it is the idea that if you make the other actors look good, you’ll look good. It works sort of like the idea of life after death. If you live an exemplary life, trying to make someone else look good, you’ll look good too. It’s true. It really does work. It braces you up, when you’re out there with that fear of death, which is really the difference between the Second City actors and the others. (Bill Murray, “Quick Change” Artist).

The Second City first opened its doors in Chicago on a snowy night in December 1959 and has grown into the world’s most iconic comedy club and school of improvisation. The organization boasts five theaters, nightly shows, a touring company, a world-class training center with dozens of courses for kids and adults, the first film school dedicated exclusively to comedy (The Harold Ramis Film School), and the comedic marketing acumen of the Second City Works. From its humble beginnings, The Second City has grown into the most renowned improvisational comedy enterprise on the planet, and with locations in Chicago, Hollywood and Toronto—they’re just getting started.

Founded by Bernard Sahlins, Howard Alk and Paul Sills as a theater where scenes and stories are created improvisationally, The Second City has spent nearly sixty years honing and refining the innovative techniques developed by legendary acting teacher, Viola Spolin. “Everyone can act. Everyone can improvise. Anyone who wishes to can play in the theater and learn to become ‘stage-worthy,’” said Spolin, typifying her open and playful breed of pedagogy responsible for inspiring so many performers and audiences over the years.

For nearly four decades, Andrew Alexander and the recently-passed Len Stuart have led the organization into an extraordinary period of growth and exploration. Borrowing from a basic tenet of improv, the two translated the philosophy of “Yes, and…” into a hugely successful business model. “I am always thinking forward and not as much backward,” Alexander said in a 2009 A Drink With interview, and considering his and Stuart’s trailblazing attitude, that’s not difficult to believe.

Like the greatest names in comedy, 12 for 12‘s host, Adam Voss, also started telling stories at The Second City. In this month’s episode, Adam returns to his past to revisit what makes being in the present, listening, and taking risks so important to building successful brands—and to making every moment matter.