The Second City

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The Second City is a long-running improvisational theatre based in Chicago's Old Town neighborhood. The Second City Theatre opened on December 16, 1959 and has since expanded its presence to several other cities, including Toronto, metro-Detroit, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and New York.


Second City evolved from the Compass Players, a 1950s cabaret revue show started by undergraduates at the University of Chicago. 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 Lines.

Notable Alumni

Chicago Alumni

1960 Alan Arkin

1961 Del Close, Joan Rivers

1965 Robert Klein, Fred Willard

1967 Peter Boyle

1969 Joe Flaherty, Brian Doyle Murray, Harold Ramis

1971 John Belushi

1972 Ann Ryerson

1973 John Candy, Bill Murray

1975 George Wendt

1976 Shelley Long

1978 Jim Belushi

1986 Dan Castellaneta, Bonnie Hunt

1988 Mike Myers

1989 Chris Farley, Tim Meadows, David Pasquesi

1990 Bob Odenkirk

1991 Steve Carell

1992 Amy Sedaris

1993 Stephen Colbert

1994 Scott Adsit

1995 Rachel Dratch, Adam McKay

1996 Kevin Dorff, Tina Fey, Mick Napier

1998 T.J. Jagodowski, Stephnie Weir

2003 Dan Bakkedahl, Liz Cackowski