By: Maggie Donahue
What do Robin Williams, Joan Cusack, Seth Meyers, Betty White, Cecily Strong and John
Mulaney have in common?
They all hail from our Windy City.
When non-residents think of Chicago, they think of its politics, its industry, and its pizza. And when they think arts, they think New York City. But we know that Chicago has been on the forefront of some of the biggest movements in art history. Think Frank Lloyd Wright. Think Chicago blues. Think Kanye (or don’t, if you’d prefer) and Chance the Rapper.
Think comedy. Chicago, one way or another, has turned out some of the world’s greatest comics over the years. And the pinnacle of comedy in Chicago is The Second City. The little comedy club, a small Old Town theatre, puts on world-class improv and sketch comedy performances and offers workshops taught by working professionals at its training centers. More than that, it has pioneered the writing and acting style of comedy troupes around the world—including Saturday Night Live.
The troupe may call itself The Second City, but it’s the place where some of the world’s best comedians got their start. It practically feeds right into SNL, so that scanning through the troupe’s alumni list feels a bit like revisiting your own high school yearbook. There’s Amy Poeler, Chris Farley, Tina Fey, John Belushi, Mike Myers, Cecily Strong, Tim Meadow, Chris Farley, Aidy Bryant, Martin Short, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Vanessa Bayer… the list goes on, familiar face after familiar face.
And that’s just the alumni who went on to SNL. Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Joan Rivers, Amy Sedaris, Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara, and Jane Lynch forged their own equally impressive paths after graduating The Second City.
What can you expect from a visit to Second City? Exposed brick. Framed black and white photos of its famous alumni. First-come, first-served seating. Drink service. Two acts of fluidly orchestrated sketch comedy, and one of improv. Expect biting social commentary, expect utter nonsense, expect musical numbers, and expect to laugh. A lot. These people are the best of the best, because this is the breeding ground for American comedy at its finest.
The last time I visited, I brought a friend from college. It was his first time in Chicago, his very first night in the city. Near the end of the show, as part of its improv act, we witnessed one troupe member’s live, taped SNL audition. My friend, a New Yorker, was blown away.