10 Women Who Slayed The Second City Before (And After) 'SNL'

By The Second City | Feb 22, 2018

These unfathomably talented 10 women are the female force behind some of SNL’s most memorable and funniest moments of all time. They also just happen to all be members of our Second City family.  

1. Gilda Radner

Gilda Radner joined The Second City Toronto when it opened in 1973 for three revues before becobming the very first cast member Lorne Michaels hired for Saturday Night Live, then called NBC’S Saturday Night. She earned critical success for her portrayals of gutsy female characters and oddball commentators, winning an Emmy for her performances in 1978.

When Radner left Second City, the understudy who stepped in to replace her was a former server at the theater, Catherine O’Hara. O’Hara was hired by SNL in 1981, but quit after a week before appearing in a single show in order to go back to work on SCTV. (She did go on to host the show twice, though.)

2. Mary Gross

Mary Gross came to The Second City in 1979 and won a Joseph Jefferson Award in 1981 for her performance in Second City’s 60th revue, “Well, I’m Off to the Thirty Years’ War.” Gross was soon hired by Saturday Night Live for the 7th season, where in addition to co-anchoring “Weekend Update” (the segment was called “SNL Newsbreak” then), her celebrity impressions included Mary Tyler Moore, Pee-Wee Herman and Geraldine Ferraro.

3. Julia Louis-Dreyfus


Julia Louis-Dreyfus was a member of The Second City Touring Company before she joined the cast of SNL at just 21 years old, becoming the youngest female cast member in the history of the program at that time. There, she met writer Larry David, who would go on to co-create Seinfeld.

4. Nancy Carell

Nancy (Walls) Carell toured with The Second City Touring Company before being hired by Second City Northwest, our former suburban stomping grounds in Rolling Meadows, IL.  SNL cast her in 1995, where she spent one one season and was best known for her impersonation of CNN anchor Bobbie Battista. The next year, Carell came back to Second City when the company took its critically acclaimed (and format-smashing) revue “Pinata Full of Bees” to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

5. Julia Sweeney

Julia Sweeney ruled as a comedic force of nature on SNL from 1990 to 1994, solidifying her place in pop culture history with her lovably androgynous character “It’s Pat.” We were over the moon when she dipped her toes into the Second City water to roast the hell out of George Wendt during last year’s epic four-hour, all-star benefit, and Sweeney continues to grace the building with her indelible, indestructible voice in her very first stand-up show. Julia Sweeney: Older and Wider is workshopping now in Judy’s Beat Lounge at The  Second City.

6. Rachel Dratch

Rachel Dratch honed her comedy skills in The Second Touring Company before becoming a member of the Mainstage ensemble, where her work earned her two Joseph Jefferson Awards. Hired by SNL in 1999, Dratch created and performed a host of fan favorite characters, including the iconic Debbie Downer, Sheldon, and Will Ferrell’s “Lovah.” An early incarnation of Denise, the Boston Teen first appeared in Second City’s “Paradigm Lost,” where Dratch is a young Bostonian shopping with her mother, played by co-star Tina Fey.

7. Tina Fey

Tina Fey

Tina Fey auditioned for The Second City Touring Company in August of 1994, just hours apart from fellow future SNL star Amy Poehler. (They both got the gig.) She soon joined the Mainstage company, co-writing and performing in revues like “Citizen Gates” with Rachel Dratch, Second City’s first gender-equal cast. Fey was hired as a writer for Saturday Night Live in 1997 and became the show’s first female head writer. She began performing on the show in 2000, co-anchoring “Weekend Update” with Poehler and then Jimmy Fallon until she left the program and started working on 30 Rock. Fey has returned to SNL several times to host, be Sarah Palin, and controversially eat sheet cake.

8. Vanessa Bayer

Vanessa Bayer

Vanessa Bayer is a graduate of The Second City Training Center Conservatory Program and an alum of The Second City Touring Company and Second City Theatricals. She joined SNL in 2010 and quickly became a popular and prominent fixture on the show thanks to memorable impersonations and characters ranging from Miley Cyrus to Jacob, the Bar Mitzvah boy. We bow down to Bayer for managing to work makeouts into many of her sketches with show’s hottest hosts, including Ryan Gosling, Chris Pratt and Kristen Stewart.

9. Cecily Strong

Before she was The Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With At a Party. Cecily Strong was a member of The Second City Touring Company fter co-hosting “Weekend Update” for a season, Strong has embedded herself in SNL history with her characters like Cathy Ann and her masterful portrayal of Melania Trump, an impression she recently told Andy Cohen even the First Lady gets a kick out of.

10. Aidy Bryant

Aidy Bryant has been fully immersed in the comedy world since graduating from the Comedy Studies program at Columbia College After graduation, she toured nationally with The Second City Touring Company before being hired to co-write and perform in two Second City e.t.c. revues. In 2012, Bryant joined the cast of Saturday Night Live at just 25 years old. While her portrayal of White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders is getting her plenty of airtime this season and that epic “Do It On My Twin Bed” song earned her an Emmy nomination, we’re just eagerly waiting for the return of Tonkerbell.

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