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Happy 60th Birthday, Second City!

The Second City in Chicago turned 60 this week. Though I was never on the Main Stage or even in the touring company, Second City has always had a special place in my heart. I taught at the training center, worked in the business theater and have done plenty of shows there. And the best part of my time there has been all of the friends I have made, going all the way back to when I first started taking classes there back in the ’80s.

Although Second City has expanded and changed a lot recently, especially in the last five years, it’s still an amazing institution. So in honor of Second City’s 60th birthday, here are my top eight memories from Second City.

  1. Improv Nerd with Rachel Dratch in The Main Stage
    I recorded this live version of Improv Nerd in front of a sold out crowd in the Main Stage. I joked at the top of the show that “I always dreamed of being on Main Stage; I just didn’t think it would only last an hour.” Rachel gave an honest and hilarious interview, and it was so easy and such a joy to improvise a scene with her again. When Rachel was on the Main Stage in ’90s, she was beloved, and after that show, you could see why.
  2. “God Show”
    I loved being part of “God Show,” a beautiful and funny story that Tim O’Malley wrote about his life. It had the feel of a Second City revue. It was directed by Norm Holly, and I loved working with him and the talented cast, which included Michael Gellman, who was returning to performing. I did two runs of the shows on Tuesday nights at the ETC and we sold out immediately and always got standing ovations.One of the high points of the show for me was the number of characters I got to play. I had always been someone who had resisted playing characters, and it was fun to not only challenge myself to do them, but also to succeed. And I loved playing one of my favorite improv teachers, Martin DeMaat, in the show.
  3. The People
    It doesn’t matter if you are an alumni of the Training Center or a teacher there or you worked in the box office – there is something about working in that building that connects people forever. It was such a fun place to work. Some of the best times I had were when I would be talking to people near the front bar or chatting with Joyce Sloan in her office about the Cubs or politics. When two or more people gather who have worked at Second City, it’s very rare that it’s not brought up and/or gossiped about.
  4. Teaching at The Training Center
    I first started teaching improv at the Annoyance and iO and didn’t start teaching at Second City until I was in my mid-30s. It was really exciting to be teaching there because they had just built new classrooms and the faculty included some of the most respected teachers in the country at the time. I got a lot of help and mentoring there, which made me a better teacher, and most importantly, I felt like I was part of a community. I saw Nick Johne the other day, and he reminded me of a very found memory when Michael Gellman, Nick and I would go eat at Boston Market together on the day we taught and talk about improv.
  5. The Community
    The one complaint I hear people say about the place is that “it used to be a like a family,” and today it’s more corporate. I think there is something to that, but I think the sense of community is still there. I have attended several memorial services over the last decade at The Second City, and I have to say, it’s such a touching thing to witness people coming together, and I always leave proud to be part of the community.
  6. Business Theater
    The early to mid-’90s was a hard time in my life when all of my friends were getting hired to be part of Second City’s touring company or were getting cast in the resident companies. I was jealous and scared. Then Dave Koechner put in a good word in for me, and I got hired to be part of Second City’s Business Theater, where I did shows and taught improv workshops for corporations. Joe Keefe, Scott Altman and Mark Belden took me under me under their wing and showed me the ropes and taught me a lot. I was raw and very unprofessional, and a bit arrogant at the time, and I made a lot of mistakes, but they had patience and faith in me. I was fortunate to do a lot of fun projects, and I had the opportunity to travel and make some good money, which was especially nice for an improviser who had been doing shows for free.
  7. “Living in a Dwarf’s House” and “World’s Greatest Dad”
    I have been lucky enough to put up two one-person shows at Second City — 18 years apart. The first was “Living in a Dwarf’s House,” and the second was “World’s Greatest Dad(?),” which I just put up this year for two separate runs in Judy’s Beat Lounge. Both shows did extremely well critically and had great audiences. So why don’t I do one every year?
  8. Second City’s 50th Anniversary Party
    Ten years ago when Second City was celebrating their half-century anniversary, they had a big party and all the famous alumni came in. I was teaching there at the time and did not want to go the party because I felt slighted by Second City and because I felt shame that I wasn’t famous. Again, Koechner helped me out. He invited me and my then-girlfriend, Lauren, and a bunch of other people out to dinner beforehand and made me go the party. The non-famous people out-numbered the famous people there, and everyone I saw was so happy to see me. I am so glad I went.

211: Laura Krafft

Laura Kraft is a comedic writer and actress, an iO Chicago and Second City alum and former staff writer for the Colbert Report. Jimmy talks to her about how improv helps her write for television, how she seems to find herself in the right place at the right time, and lessons she’s learned from her dad.

208: Micah Philbrook

Micah Philbrook is one of Chicago’s most thoughtful and innovative improvisers and teachers.  He teaches at The Second City Training Center, he’s a founder of pH Productions, and he performs in the Tim and Micah Project.  Jimmy sat down to talk to him about joining a cult-like improv group when he first moved to Chicago, the importance of hanging out in the improv community, and what he likes most about improv.

202: Joe Bill

Joe Bill is an international improv teacher and performer. He is a co-founder of the Annoyance Theater and tours with Mark Sutton in Bassprov. He has taught at Second City, The Annoyance and iO Chicago and continues to teach around the world. Jimmy sat down with him in this live episode to talk about The Annoyance, the day he quit stand-up, and his unique psychological approach to improv.

199: Matt Dwyer

Matt Dwyer is a writer, stand-up and podcaster. He was one of the youngest people to be hired for the Second City Touring Company at the age of 21. He has written for Funny or Die and Jonah Ray’s Hidden America on Netflix. We talked to him about hanging out at Second City when he was high school, how getting fired at Second City led him to stand up, and the importance of writing for improvisers.

197: Peter Grosz

Peter Grosz is best known as one of the two guys in the Sonic commercials, but he has also written for The Colbert Report and Late Night with Seth Meyers. He has performed at The Second City etc., the UCB, Boom Chicago, and iO Chicago. Jimmy talks to him about why he still loves improvising, getting hired to write for Colbert and why he likes to play the unlikable Sidney Purcell in HBO’s VEEP.

184: Tim Kazurinsky

Tim Kazurinsky is an actor who was on Saturday Night Live from 1980-84 and is best remembered as Carl Sweetchuck in the Police Academy films. He is also a screenwriter who co-wrote About Last Night. Jimmy sat down with Tim to talk about why he started taking improv classes at The Second City, how he got on SNL and making his Broadway debut last year in An Act of God with Jim Parsons.

175: The Defiant Thomas Brothers

The Defiant Thomas Brothers (Paul Thomas and Seth Thomas) is a brilliant two-person sketch group out of Chicago. After splitting up 9 years ago, they have gotten back together and now have an open run at The Second City Training Center. Jimmy sat down with The Defiant Thomas Brothers at this year’s Chicago’s Skectchfest and talked to them about getting back together, how audiences have changed, and race in comedy. You are going to love this episode!

174: Mick Napier

Mick Napier is the founder and artistic director of the acclaimed Annoyance Theater in Chicago, an artistic consultant at Second City and the author of the new book, Behind The Scenes: Improvising Long Form. Jimmy sat down with him to talk about some of the concepts in the book such as giving yourself permission to be funny, how to appeal to a non-improv audience and how to get in the right frame of mind when improvising.

166: Mike O’Brien

Mike O’Brien has been a writer and featured player on Saturday Night Live. He is an alumni of The Second City Main Stage in Chicago and was a member of the legendary Harold team The Reckoning at iO Chicago. Jimmy sat down and talked to Mike about his love for uncomfortable comedy, his journey from writer to performer on SNL, and his new comedy album, Tasty Radio.

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