Second City: First Family of Comedy

Sometimes I think Netflix instant serves my needs better than an actual living, breathing human person would. Is that weird?

I found this three-part special on the ‘flix and devoured it instantly (har!) because it gave me exactly what I wanted—the nerdy history of the birthplace of American improv, rarely-seen footage from the early Chicago and Toronto days, and talking-head interviews from my favorite comic actors. It’s everything a comedy nerd could want. With Canadian accents!

Granted, the special isn’t for everyone. It’s a little repetitive, which is only nice if you take a little time off between viewings. And some of the interviews get a little preachy. But it’s a fascinating look at an institution that really doesn’t get enough credit for preparing improvisers for a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

If you haven’t heard of Second City, shame on you! Kidding. It’s a glorious place in Chicago that essentially became a graduate school for a certain kind of performer: the improviser. Funny people from all over the country flocked to this place to hone their skills, improve their craft, and work with equally talented on-the-spotters, with the hopes of making it big someday. Many of them did; check out this this impressive list of alumni if you don’t believe me. Most Saturday Night Live performers came from SC (until UCB and the Groundlings came to LA, anyway). And when SC opened up another theater in Toronto, that second location basically doubled the amount of comedic talent and gave SC an even better reputation for readying comedic talent for the stage. Without this “comedy college,” we wouldn’t have Dan Aykroyd, Martin Short, Tina Fey, Rachel Dratch, Alan Arkin, John Candy, Eugene Levy, John Belushi, Chris Farley, and everyone else that we now rely on for laughs and feel-goodery. The special gives each of them (and many more) the chance to reveal their deepest love and truest feelings for their SC experience, which is genuinely heartwarming, and it also gives some insight into the difficulties of being this type of up-and-coming artist at a time when improvisation was not on everyone’s entertainment radar. It’s both inspirational and brutally honest, and it’ll give you a huge amount of respect for the people who make a living out of making fools out of themselves in front of complete strangers. I know I’d like to someday.

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