Over
50 Years of Funny

It all started with children’s games. Rooted in the groundbreaking improvisational games of Viola Spolin, The Second City opened its doors on a snowy Chicago night in December of 1959, and a comedy revolution began. Co-founded by Bernie Sahlins, Howard Alk, and Spolin’s son Paul Sills, the small cabaret theater grew to become the most influential and prolific comedy empire in the world, developing an entirely unique way of creating art and fostering generation after generation of superstars.

1950s

A Comedy Revolution Begins

On a freezing cold Chicago night, The Second City opens its doors at 1942 N. Wells Street.

1959

Bernie Sahlins, Paul Sills & Howard Alk Open The Second City

Opening night on December 16th begins with Barbara Harris in a spotlight singing “Everybody’s in the Know.” Admission was $1.50. Sahlins and Sills flip burgers in the kitchen.

Paul Sills

Son of Viola Spolin and considered by many to be the founding father of improvisational theater, Paul Sills was was a firm believer that improv yielded best results when players stayed true to the possibility of spontaneity.

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1960s

First Public Workshops Are Taught

Improvisation is introduced to the masses, thanks to public workshops taught by Viola Spolin and Paul Sills.

1960

Alan Arkin Comes to Chicago

Out-of-work actor Alan Arkin moves to Chicago at Paul Sills’ invitation and begins improvising at Second City.

1961

Joan Rivers Makes Her Debut

After flinging an ashtray in fury during her audition, Joan Rivers makes her debut in the 7th revue.

1962

First London Appearance

The Second City swaps stages with London's The Establishment, marking the troupe's first UK run.

1963

The Second City Goes North!

The company makes the first annual trek to Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre.

1964

'Second City Reports’ Airs in the UK

Bernie Sahlins produces a TV series in Manchester called 'Second City Reports,' which airs in the UK.

1965

Two Times the Fred

Fred Willard and Musical Director Fred Kaz perform together in 'Off the Road,' Chicago's 18th revue.

1966

Bob Curry Makes History

'Enter, from Above' opens with ensemble member Bob Curry, Second City’s first African American actor.

1967

Second City visits the UK 1967

Sweet Home, Chicago! The Second City moves two blocks south to its new home at 1616 North Wells, still its current address.

1967

The Touring Company Hits the Road

Joyce Sloane launches The Second City Touring Company with the aim of training talent and bringing comedy to audiences across the globe.

1968

A Plague on Both Your Houses

On the heels of the Democratic National Convention, the 28th Mainstage revue 'A Plague on Both Your Houses' runs just blocks from where police, the National Guard, and anti-war protesters clashed.

1969

Abbie Hoffman’s Alibi

Political and social activist Abbie Hoffman spends his days at the Chicago Seven conspiracy trial...and his nights performing at Second City.

1969

Harold Ramis Joins the Cast

The addition of Ramis was just the beginning of how the Chicago cast would set the tone for an entire generation of comic performers who were as hilarious as they were radical.

1969

Second City's First Decade

The Second City hits double digits, celebrating its 10th anniversary.

1970s

A New Generation of Powerful Voices

Belushi. Radner. Candy. Aykroyd. O'Hara. Levy. Murray...

1971

John Belushi Makes a Splash

A 22-year-old John Belushi makes his Second City debut in 'No, No, Wilmette,' the 41st Mainstage revue.

1972

Future Stars Cast a ‘Spell’ on Toronto

The Toronto production of Godspell opens, featuring future Second City and 'SCTV' alums Gilda Radner, Martin Short, Andrea Martin, Dave Thomas, and Eugene Levy.

1972

The Second City Toronto Opens

The Second City goes international, opening a theatre in Toronto on Adelaide Street. There’s no air conditioning, no liquor license, and almost no audience.

1973

Legends in the Making

Bill Murray, John Candy, and Betty Thomas debut in 'Phase 46 or Watergate Tomorrow, Comedy Tonight,' Chicago’s 46th Mainstage revue.

1974

The Old Fire Hall

Second City Toronto makes a new home at 110 Lombard Street in a 19th-century firehouse called The Old Fire Hall.

1974

Canada Comes to Play

'The Canadian Show or Upper U.S.A.' opens with a cast that includes borrowed Toronto players Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, John Candy, and Eugene Levy.

1975

‘SNL’ Rocks the Comedy World

'Saturday Night Live' premieres on NBC with Second City alums John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, and Gilda Radner, with Bill Murray joining the cast in its second season.

1976

Second City visits the UK 1976

‘SCTV’ Hits the Canadian Airways: The iconic sketch show would go on to earn 7 Emmy nominations, 2 Emmy Awards, and a significant spot in TV history.

1977

Meet Martin Short

Martin Short joins Second City, taking over for John Candy in 'The Wizard of Ossington,' Toronto’s 9th revue.

1977

A syndication deal for 'SCTV' means American hosers from coast to coast are delighted, eh?

1978

‘Something Wonderful’ Happens

'Something Wonderful Right Away' is published, Jeffrey Sweet's oral history of The Second City and The Compass Players.

1979

Second City Turns 20

Two decades in, there’s no doubt that Second City is a nationally known comedy institution.

1980s

A Time of Conservatism and Consumption...

..Just like when Second City got its start.

1980

The Blues Brothers

John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd’s hit movie 'The Blue Brothers' is released, spawning a best-selling album and a concert tour.

1981

‘SCTV’ Comes to NBC

NBC airs 'SCTV' as a late night 90-minute program called 'SCTV Network 90' on Fridays from 12:30-2:00 a.m.

1981

‘The Great White North’ Hits the Top 10

Rick Moranis & Dave Thomas release an LP based on their 'SCTV' characters called 'The Great White North: Bob and Doug McKenzie.'

1982

The e.t.c. Opens in Chicago

The Second City e.t.c. debuts next door to Chicago’s Mainstage in Piper’s Alley.

1982

Second City visits the UK 1982

'SCTV' wins its first Emmy for for Outstanding Writing in a Variety or Music Program.

1983

Déjà Vu at the Emmys

One year after its first, 'SCTV' takes home a second Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Variety or Music Program.

1984

The Second City’s 25th Anniversary

The Second City’s 25th Anniversary tapes at at Chicago’s Vic Theatre, an HBO special that airs in March the next year.

1985

Under New Ownership

Andrew Alexander and Len Stuart acquire Bernie Sahlins’ interest in The Second City.

1986

Wayne’s World

Mike Myers performs a character named “Wayne” in the Toronto Mainstage revue 'Not Based on Anything by Stephen King.'

1987

Stephen Colbert Gets a Job

Stephen Colbert takes a job at Second City answering phones in the box office and selling t-shirts in exchange for free classes.

1988

Betty Thomas Returns to Direct

Betty Thomas leads a cast that includes Mike Myers, Bonnie Hunt and Richard Kind for 'Kuwait Until Dark or Bright Lights, Night Baseball.'

1988

Second City Toronto Turns 15

A one-hour CBC/Showtime special featuring clips of the 15th anniversary reunion show at Toronto's Second City.

1989

Second City Santa Monica

Second City’s new West Coast outpost opens in Santa Monica's refurbished Mayfair Theater. Before closing in 1992, Robin Williams makes a legendary guest appearance.

1989

The World Loses Gilda Radner

Gilda Radner passes away of ovarian cancer on May 20th, 1989 at age 42.

Gilda's Club

Cancer support organization Gilda’s Club opens in 2005 with the mission of ensuring that all people impacted by cancer are empowered by knowledge, strengthened by action and sustained by community.

Donate to Gilda's Club

1989

Second City Turns 30

Chicago's 30th Anniversary show was appropriately titled 'It Was 30 Years Ago Today.'

1990s

Second to None

This decade shook up everything, on stage and off.

1990

Steve Carell Plays the e.t.c.

After a stint in the Touring Company and Second City Northwest, Steve Carell opens 'Northwest by North Wells.'

1991

Stephen Colbert and Nia Vardalos Hit the ‘Burbs

Both former box office employees, Stephen Colbert and Nia Vardalos appear together in 'Ku Klux Klambake' at Second City Northwest.

1992

The Outreach Program Launches

The Second City’s Outreach Program launches as a part of The Second City Training Center with the mission of providing new voices of color to the community, as well as an opportunity to learn at The Second City.

Second City Diversity & Inclusion

As a result of the initiative led by Frances Callier, pioneering improv groups in the LGBTQI, Asian American, African American, and Latinx communities formed. The program is now run by Dionna Griffin-Irons, and every year 16 qualified actors and improvisers enter the program through the Bob Curry Fellowship.

Learn More

1993

Second City Detroit Opens

Detroit stages 25 revues over its 14-year run, with talent that includes Keegan-Michael Key and Angela V. Shelton, the only Second City actor who has been a member of all four resident stage companies in Detroit, Toronto & Chicago.

1994

Tina & Amy Get Hired

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler both audition for The Second City Touring Company. They both get hired.

1995

Piñata Full of Bees

Chicago’s 'Piñata Full of Bees' opens, shaking up Second City’s format and challenging the structure and content of all the revues that came before or after it.

1996

3 + 3 = 6

'Citizen Gates' features Chicago’s first gender equal cast, directed by Mick Napier and featuring Tina Fey, Jenna Jolovitz, and Rachel Dratch.

1997

Second City visits the UK 1997

Welcome to Blue Jays Way: Second City Toronto moves from to a new facility in advance of its 25th anniversary.

1998

Second City Toronto Turns 25

Canada’s comedy giants return for the 25th anniversary celebration, which is aired as a one-hour special on CBC.

1999

R.I.P. Del Close

Del Close passes away on March 14th, 1999, after holding a “living wake.”

1999

Second to None

The Second City Chicago celebrates its 40th anniversary with an alumni-filled weekend of celebration.

2000s

New Millennium, New Generation

Same mission to inspire thought through laughter.

2000

Hamlet! The Musical

In partnership with Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Second City Theatricals debuts 'Hamlet! The Musical.'

2001

The Second City Gets Lucky in Las Vegas

The Second City opens its six-year run at The Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel & Casino.

2002

Outreach & Diversity

The Second City Outreach & Diversity division expands to a full-year program.

2002

My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Based on the real-life wedding of Second City alums Nia Vardalos and Ian Gomez, 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding' becomes the highest-grossing independent film of all time.

2003

The Second City's Annual All-Nighter

The New York Times features the 24-hour improv and music marathon, then in its 2nd year of raising money for disadvantaged Chicago families.

'Twenty-four hours is torturous.''

Read David Bernstein's 'Times' feature on Second City's now-legendary annual tradition.

Read Now

2004

The Second City's Romeo and Juliet Musical

Keegan-Michael Key and Nicole Parker Redford lead the production at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

2005

The Second City Goes to Sea

Second City takes to the high seas with Norwegian Cruise Line in an exclusive partnership.

2006

The First Family of Comedy

The three-part behind-the-scenes TV documentary by Sharon Bartlett and alum Dave Thomas airs.

2007

Comedy Studies Launches

The Second City Training Center and Columbia College Chicago offer students college credit and a "semester abroad" immersed in the world of comedy.

2007

Mr. Obama Goes to Second City

The future president makes a visit to The Second City to see the 94th Mainstage revue, 'Between Barack and a Hard Place.'

2008

The Second City Alumni Fund Is Established

The Second City Alumni Fund came into existence during a one-night event at Second City Toronto. Catherine O'Hara, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Joe Flaherty and Martin Short came together to raise money for a former 'SCTV' crew member facing serious hardships.

$750,000 And Counting

10 years after its creation, the Fund has raised over $750,000 and has aided dozens of veteran performers and staff from the 'SCTV' and Second City families facing serious health or financial challenges.

2009

Rod Blagojevich Superstar!

The former governor takes in a performance of Second City’s musical based on his rise and fall...long before beginning his 14-year prison sentence for corruption.

2009

Second City visits the UK 2009

Happy 50th Birthday! The Second City celebrates 50 years with a star-studded weekend of performances.

2010

Second City on Fire

The company burns as brightly as the extra-alarm fire that almost destroyed it.

2010

Just for Laughs Lifetime Achievement Award

The Second City is presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal.

2010

Second City Hollywood’s Grand Re-Opening

The Second City Hollywood celebrates its newly renovated Training Center facilities with an open house and shows.

2011

Cleaning up at the Jeff Awards

The e.t.c.’s 35th revue 'Sky’s the Limit (Weather Permitting)' brings home 3 Joseph Jefferson Awards.

Jeff Award Wins

As of 2014, Second City has been awarded 37 Jeff Awards in total, including recognition for the work of Bernie Sahlins, Mick Napier, Rachel Dratch, Shelley Long, Jackie Hoffman, David Pasquesi, Nia Vardalos, and Keegan-Michael Key.

2012

UP Comedy Club Opens

UP Comedy Club opens on the third floor of Piper’s Alley as a new space to incubate theatrical works and feature stand-up performers.

Booth One

The 285-seat classic cabaret-style theater becomes the new home of Chicago’s most storied seat. Originally a fixture at old Hollywood hotspot The Pump Room, Booth One has sat the likes of Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, David Bowie, Josephine Baker, Audrey Hepburn, and Ronald Reagan. Second City bought it on eBay.

2012

The Second City in Japan

The Second City announces a partnership with Yoshimoto Kogyo Co., Ltd to bring improv training and performances to Japan.

2012

Martin Short Goes Home

'I, Martin Short, Goes Home' airs as a special on CBC, co-executive produced by Andrew Alexander.

2013

Bravo for 'The Second City’s Guide to the Opera'

A partnership with Lyric Opera of Chicago produces 'The Second City’s Guide to the Opera,' featuring renowned soprano Renée Fleming and Sir Patrick Stewart.

2013

Remembering Bernie

The Second City, including Bill Murray and Colin Mochrie, celebrates Bernie Sahlins at a memorial held in the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

2014

The Inaugural Bob Curry Fellowship

The first sixteen recipients of the inaugural Bob Curry Fellowship are announced.

Bob Curry Fellowship

The program is offered to qualifying actors and improvisers from diverse multicultural backgrounds to train and study at The Second City in Chicago and Toronto. This unique fellowship boasts a rigorous master program for serious minded talent seeking a career in sketch comedy.

Apply Now

2014

The Second City All-Star Benefit

Second City alumni and friends return for one legendary night, with proceeds going to Gilda’s Club Chicago and The Second City Alumni Fund.

2014

Audiences Fall for 'The Art of Falling'

In a collaboration with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, The Second City presents 'The Art of Falling,' a groundbreaking show that earns rave reviews.

2015

Introducing Second City Works

The business arm of the company gets a brand new name, but keeps the same mission: bringing Second City’s award-winning improv and comedy techniques to hundreds of global clients.

2015

‘Yes, And’ Published

The book becomes an essential read for those seeking to become better leaders and more collaborative followers by employing the 7 elements of improv.

Getting to Yes, And

In addition to writing 'Yes, And,' Kelly Leonard hosts a highly successful podcast called 'Getting to Yes, And,' which features interviews with visionaries, authors, and leaders who operate at the intersection of creativity and commerce.

Listen Now

2015

Fire at The Second City

An extra-alarm fire tears through Second City Chicago, destroying offices but sparing the theaters. The following month, Second City holds a special performance to thank the CFD.

2015

The Diversity & Inclusion Program

Over
50 Years of Funny

It all started with children’s games. Rooted in the groundbreaking improvisational games of Viola Spolin, The Second City opened its doors on a snowy Chicago night in December of 1959, and a comedy revolution began. Co-founded by Bernie Sahlins, Howard Alk, and Spolin’s son Paul Sills, the small cabaret theater grew to become the most influential and prolific comedy empire in the world, developing an entirely unique way of creating art and fostering generation after generation of superstars.