Chicago’s Second City returns to NIU

By Lynn Hammarstrom

Chicago’s Second City, the comedy troupe that spawned such stars as Chevy Chase, John and Jim Belushi and Joan Rivers, will perform their latest material at NIU this month.

Probably now the best known group of comics in the country, Second City originated in 1959 when two University of Chicago alumni, Bernard Sahlins and Paul Sills, began staging comic improvisations in a converted laundry on North Wells Street.

The troupe quickly gained fame for their unique brand of comedy. Indeed, a number of today’s best known comedians can claim Second City as their launching pad to fame and fortune.

But the best-known aspect of Second City’s accomplishments is a television program that grew to enormous fame in the mid-70s and continues to be aired today. Saturday Night Live is still one of the country’s most popular comedy programs.

Another popular television program, SCTV, still is being shown as reruns.

The troupe which will perform at NIU is one of Second City’s touring companies, said Second City Associate Producer Lenette Collias. “There are generally eight or nine people in the group, including the pianist and the stage manager,” Collias said.

All of the performers are graduates of the Second City Training Company, a two-year instruction program which develops in the performers the singular style of Second City.

“The shows generally run two hours and include some improvisation with the audience,” Collias said. “The skits include some of the best of the 27 years of Second City.”

Some of the old favorites sure to be included are “I Hate Liver” and the funeral for a man who got his head stuck in a gallon can of Van Camps beans.

A few times during the show the troupe will do on-the-spot improvisations. They will use audience suggestions to create new sketches and test their skills in spontaneity, warning, “Please don’t try this at home. We are professionals.”

The players also are talented in slipping in local references into their routines. Many of their skits appeal to the college audience by ribbing today’s conservative youth and the growing generation gap.

They use very few props, other than a few chairs and a piano. But what they lack in visuals they more than make up for with their voice inflections, facial expressions, body language and, of course, humor.

Second City is being brought to NIU by the Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity. “We wanted to have Second City come here because we know a lot of people will want to see them,” Phi Kappa Sigma member John Drabik said. “Making the trip to see them in Chicago is too expensive for a lot of university students.”

Drabik said, “There also will be a Greek skit where the performers will be wearing letters and comically stereotyping each house.”

The Nov. 17 show will begin at 9 p.m. Tickets are $4 for NIU students and can be purchased in the lower levels of the DuSable and Wirtz buildings, at Cole Hall and in the Pow Wow Room from 9 a.m. till 4 p.m. daily.

Tickets can also be obtained by calling the Phi Kappa Sigma house.

Proceeds from the show will go to the Campus Child Care Center, the organization which provides day care to the children of NIU students, faculty and employees. Proceeds also will go to the Special Physical Education Teaching Research Clinic (SPEC), a university-based community service program that serves the needs of the mentally and physically handicapped.

“We feel really good about the fact that the proceeds of this event will go directly to a service of the university,” Drabik said.

“We wouldn’t want the profits going toward paying someone’s salary or toward the purchase of office supplies. The difference we are making we can actually see,” he said.