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History of

The Second City

The Second City opened its doors on a snowy Chicago night in December of 1959. No one could have guessed that this small cabaret theatre would become the most influential and prolific comedy theatre in the world.

With its roots in the improvisational games of Viola Spolin, The Second City developed an entirely unique way of creating and performing comedy. Founded by Spolin's son, Paul Sills, along with Howard Alk and Bernie Sahlins, The Second City was experimental and unconventional in its approach to both theatre and comedy. At a time when mother-in-law jokes were more the fashion, The Second City railed against the conformist culture with scenes that spoke to a younger generation.

The Broadway success of Mike Nichols and Elaine May – members of The Second City's predecessor, The Compass Players – put attention on the fledgling company. Soon, alumni of The Second City – such as Alan Arkin, Barbara Harris, Robert Klein, David Steinberg and Fred Willard – began to cement the theatre's reputation for developing the finest comedic voices of each and every generation. With the debut of NBC's Saturday Night Live, populated by Second City Alums John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and Gilda Radner, the theatre became internationally known for its ever increasing roster of comedy superstars.

Soon, Second City's sister-theatre in Canada developed its own sketch comedy series, SCTV, hailed as one of the greatest comedy series of all time and featuring an all-star cast that included Martin Short, Andrea Martin, Catherine O'Hara, John Candy, Eugene Levy, Dave Thomas, Joe Flaherty and Rick Moranis.

By the 1980's, The Second City had become much more than a small cabaret theatre on Chicago's north side. In the middle of the decade, The Second City would begin a new era as Second City Toronto proprietors Andrew Alexander and Len Stuart would buy out Bernie Sahlins' interest in The Second City Chicago and set in motion a new era of innovation for the company.

Today, The Second City continues to produce the premiere comic talent in the industry. From Mike Myers to Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert to Tina Fey – The Second City imprint is felt across every entertainment medium. Additionally, The Second City has grown well beyond a single stage to become a diversified entertainment company. Second City Training Centers in Chicago, Toronto and Los Angeles teach thousands of students every week; four touring companies perform Second City revues all over North America and abroad; Second City Communications has become an industry leader in bringing improv-based methodologies to the corporate sector; and Second City continues to create unique media in television, film and the digital realm.


Second City Facts

  • Legendary comedy theatre with resident stages in Chicago, Toronto, and Touring Ensembles entertaining over 1,000,000 guests each year.
  • Training ground for a host of famous alumni including John Belushi, Mike Myers, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, John Candy, Catherine O’Hara, Tina Fey, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, and over 500 more.
  • Winner of over 30 Joseph Jefferson Award nominations in Chicago and over 35 Dora Award nominations in Toronto honoring excellence in professional theatre.
  • Four International Touring Companies traveling around the country and world including Austria, The Netherlands, United Arab Emirates, Singapore and Iraq.
  • The largest training center for improvisation and acting in the country with 13,000 students a year at schools in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Toronto.
  • Presents over 400 corporate engagements a year through Second City Communications, with a focus on live event support and entertainment as well as designing and facilitating workshops on team building, communication and presentation skills.
  • Produced 185 television episodes of "SCTV" garnering an ACTRA award, two Emmy awards and over 13 Emmy Award nominations
  • The exclusive provider of improvisational comedy revues for Norwegian Cruise Line, with six ships currently hosting Second City companies – performing to 14,000 passengers per week.
  • Over $100,000 given each year in charitable donations to community and social programs.
  • Second City Education provides professional development training, in-class workshops and residencies, and performances to thousands of K-12 students, teachers and staff members each year.