1960s & 1970s: The Early Years

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The Second City: The First Name in Comedy/1960s & 1970s: The Early Years
The Second City
Written By The Second City

We began as a small comedy theater, and have grown to become today’s leading brand in improv-based sketch comedy. With a variety of theaters, training centers and full-time, touring ensembles, you can find us all over the world. And we have more than a handful of successful Second City alum that we aren’t too modest to mention, like Tina Fey, Chris Farley, Bill Murray, and Keegan-Michael Key.

Growing Strong

As The Second City continued to grow throughout the 1960s, Sills and Spolin taught workshops on improv techniques and exercises. Their influence is still profoundly felt today by the 11,000 students who study every year at The Second City Training Centers in Chicago, Toronto and Hollywood. As the late artistic director Sheldon Patinkin wrote in his book, The Second City: Backstage at the World’s Greatest Comedy Theatre:

“…He insisted improvisers had to stay in the moment, never going into their heads to find what to say and do, but, by bypassing the intellect, keeping themselves free to react to just what’s happening between them there and then…He was the first, and he was the best.”

The company soon ventured beyond the Mainstage. In 1961, cast members from The Second City performed a Tony-nominated revue directed by Sills on Broadway, called 'From The Second City.' Joan Rivers also made her debut that year, even after flinging an ashtray in anger during her audition.

The Second City also extended its reach internationally. In the early 1960s, the troupe trekked to London’s The Establishment and Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre, a city that would eventually become the company's second home. The Second City Toronto opened in 1973.

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The 1970s saw many other milestones, the most thrilling of which was the launch of SCTV. Premiering in 1976 on the Global Television Network, the iconic sketch show would go on to earn 7 Emmy nominations, 2 Emmy Awards, and a significant spot in TV history. One of the most beloved comedians in American history, John Belushi, made his Mainstage debut in 1971 at just 22 years old. Belushi later joined fellow Second City alumni Dan Aykroyd and Gilda Radner (and for season two, Bill Murray) in the first cast of NBC’s new show “Saturday Night,” which was eventually renamed 'Saturday Night Live.'

The Second City continues to offer workshops across the country
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Cover photo by @mouthtomouthpod via Instagram.

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