Clockwise from top: (From l to r) Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Dave Thomas, Andrea Martin and John Candy; (From l to r) Andrea Martin, Eugene Levy, Dan Ackroyd, Catherine O’Hara and John Candy; (From l to r) Eugene Levy, Dan Ackroyd, Gilda Radner and Rosemary Radcliffe
Second City may have started in Chicago back in 1959, making it the first ongoing improvisational theatre troupe in America, but we consider it Canadian. Is that so wrong?
The club first opened in the Old Town neighbourhood of the Windy City and was a success right out of the gate.
Names such as Alan Arkin, John Belushi, Joan Rivers and Fred Willard got their starts on that stage, and it wasn’t long before funny men and women from north of the border in Canada found out about it. John Candy was one of the first Toronto comedians to head to Chicago, sharing a stage with Bill Murray, no less, before heading back home to anchor the local lineup.
Second City’s Bernard Salins must have liked the Canuck sense of humour because in 1973 he opened Second City improvisational operations in Hogtown.
Andrew Alexander, who came to Canada in 1951 from the U.K., headed Toronto operations, and some years later, he purchased the enitire company, including the Chicago business. It wasn’t long before he expanded Second City onto TV with the now-legendary sketch comedy show SCTV.
The show was a huge success, and Alexander managed to squeeze out a whopping 185 half-hour episodes between 1976 and 1984, starring, well, you name it: Eugene Levy, Joe Flaherty, Andrea Martin, John Candy, Catherine O’Hara, Harold Ramis, Martin Short and Dave Thomas, and even Gilda Radner (eventually of SNL fame).
Although this remains the heyday of Toronto’s Second City, it isn’t as though the theatre shut down after the greats left the building. Over the past decade or two, Second City has helped launch the careers of Ron James, Mike Myers, Patrick McKenna, Teresa Pavlinek, Gavin Crawford and Geri Hall, to name a few.
Currently, there are clubs in Chicago, Toronto and Los Angeles, in addition to a touring company. This year marks the 52nd anniversary of this amazing American/sorta-Canadian laugh factory.