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Improvisation & Second City

Comedy comes in many different forms, and in recent years standup comedy has come into its own with the growth in comedy clubs across the nation and with the creation of new outlets on cable television to give comedians more exposure. Improvisational comedy is a unique form of theater that has also enjoyed a certain cachet in recent years because so many important performers have come from improvisational troupes, performers who have gone on to careers in television and film. A good proportion of these new performers honed their craft and developed their styles as part of one particular improvisational troupe, Second City in Chicago, perhaps the most successful such troupe in the nation and one that has become well-known in its own right as well as because of its many alumni. A discussion of the history of Second City and its influence will lead to a consideration of the nature of improvisational comedy and its value as an enhancement to our quality of life today.

The roots of the Second City troupe extend back to the 1950s. At the University of Chicago, considered a unique and uniquely bohemian institution of higher learning, high academic achievement was expected. A group of students from the University and sojourners in the region found agreement among themselves and were drawn together by an affinity for theater on a campus that had no formal drama department. Among them were future Fulbright scholars Paul Sills and David Shepherd as well as Mike Nichols, Edward Asner, Eubene Troobnick, Zohra Lampert, Bill Alton, Andrew Duncan, Barbara Harris, Elaine May, Anthony Holland, Sheldon Patinkin, Bernie Sahlins, and others. Chicago at the time had a theater that centered primarily around traveling companies of New York shows, a few amateur theatricals, and some college repertory offerings. The University of Chicago also had the University Theatre and a less formal group called "Tonight at 8:30" (McCrohan 19).

The theater ...

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Improvisation & Second City. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 16:28, August 03, 2020, from