The Windy City may be more widely known for its loaded hotdogs, deep-dish pizza (the only way it should ever be served), and less than flattering accents, but few people realize that thanks to infamous comedy club Second City, Chicago has become the breeding ground for A-list comics and actors since the club opened in 1959. Countless celebs have earned their stripes on the Second City stage, including Dan Akroyd, John Candy, Mike Myers, Rachel Dratch, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert and Jason Sudeikis. Throw in Joan Rivers, Chris Farley and Tina Fey and you have a pretty stellar list of comedians who have graced the stage throughout the decades.
On Feb. 16, Second City's Laugh Out Loud Tour makes its way to the Pantages Theater, where the troupe will perform some of the best sketches, songs and improvisations from the archives, ranging from classic pieces that may have been written and performed decades ago by comedic greats, to ever-so-relevant election year material.
"We always try to keep our shows fresh, even though some of the material may be 20 to 30 years old," Production Coordinator Joe Ruffner said.
Although many sketches may require an element of audience participation, the majority of the material is not exactly improvised. "We are first and foremost a theater company," Ruffner added. "We write our scripts based on improv, but it's a process that allows us to take audience suggestions while grounding our scripts in the here and now."
Second City's improvisational roots stem from Viola Spolin, who developed a method of improv exercises to use with children to unleash their creativity. Spolin's son, Paul Sills, founded Second City using her techniques to present satirical, improvisational theater based on topical social and political issues.
With the debut of "Saturday Night Live" in 1975, cast with three Second City alumni, the group gained even more attention as an aspiring comedian's first step toward stardom. This still remains true to this day. "The tradition here is still very strong," Ruffner said. "People realize they need to sort of pass through Second City if they want to make it as a comedian."
Second City training centers teach thousands of up-and-coming improv all stars each week in a program that has become the largest of its kind in North America with 13,000 students per year enrolled in programs in Los Angeles, Chicago and Toronto. Four Second City international touring companies travel around the country and world, as well.
Tickets for Second City's Laugh Out Loud Tour are on sale now for $29-$42, available at www.broadwaycenter.org. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. at the Pantages Theater, located at 901 Broadway.