The Second City Unscripted: Revolution and Revelation at the World-Famous Comedy Theater

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Random House Publishing Group, Sep 29, 2009 - Performing Arts - 288 pages
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In 1959, a group of like-minded Chicagoans joined forces to open a hip new venue dedicated to coffee, cigarettes, conversation, and comedy. The result, a nightly cabaret featuring a troupe of inventive young actors skewering everything from politics to popular culture in witty, rapid-fire, improvised scenes, not only made delighted audiences laugh–it made history.

Copping its iconic name from a New York journalist’s disparaging remark, Chicago’s Second City theater brashly defied the role of runner-up and single-handedly made the Windy City North America’s cradle of comedic brilliance from which generations of household names would spring. Now, in The Second City Unscripted, a Who’s Who of the celebrated comedy camp’s alumni–including Alan Arkin, David Steinberg, Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, Eugene Levy, Amy Sedaris, and Stephen Colbert–tell it like it was in the house that hilarity built.

Here are candid tales of John Belushi’s raw ambition and chemical experimentation, Bill Murray’s heckler-pummeling and lady-killing, superstar Mel Gibson’s roof-raising appearance in Braveheart regalia, and legendary director Del Close’s shuttling between the comedic asylum he ruled over and the real one he rehabbed in.

In this unvarnished, unexpurgated, and unprecedented account, what happened onstage, backstage, and offstage at Second City isn’t staying there anymore. From the smash hits and near misses to the love affairs and the bitter feuds, from the showbiz politics and pitfalls to the inspired tomfoolery and heartbreaking tragedy, The Second City Unscripted is part memoir of a cherished era, part time capsule from a comedic renaissance, and part valentine to the exquisite art of being funny. It captures like never before the history of the men and women who caught lightning–and laughter–in a bottle.

From the Hardcover edition.

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THE SECOND CITY UNSCRIPTED: Revolution and Revelation at the World-Famous Comedy Theater

User Review  - Jane Doe - Kirkus

A Chicago Sun-Times staff writer weeds through hours of interviews to fashion an in-depth oral history of comedy's greatest talent factory, The Second City.When Bernard Sahlins, Paul Sills and Howard ... Read full review

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My favourite quotes so far-
Sheldon Patinkin: 'If you're doing satire and comedy, you have to figure out how to do it so that the audience will laugh at what you hate, rather than just get angry at
it. If you can laugh at it, you can fix it.'
Eugenie Ross-Leming: 'You were dealing with funny people who understood that there is no price too high to pay for funny, including self-humiliation. Yea, Del [Close] was a misogynist, but he took a great intellectual pride in being able to stand outside of himself and say, "Yes, I'm a drug addict misogynist, but ..." He wouldn't live the life, but he could talk the talk of an enlightened person. He just couldn't walk it.'
Dave Thomas: [To Andrew Alexander] "How can you do this to us? We're making $145 a week. Those measly checks are bouncing. And now we've got shit raining down on our heads!"
Conan O'Brien: 'People increasingly want comedy to mean something, and they want it to be relevant to what's happening in the world, and I've always believed the opposite, which is it should be irrelevant. It shouldn't mean anything. You shouldn't look for meaning in comedy. That's my religious conviction, and I'm orthodox about that. And I love that SCTV was just relentlessly silly, and it was not lecturing to me in any way... And this show came out of nowhere. It's hard to describe to young people today how unusual --and how revolutionary-- that show was. Because today all we have is revolutionary comedy. It's everywhere. All I ever hear is "edgy." And you can download the entire season onto your iPhone. I'm always being told, "Have you seen...?" I can't keep up with it all. It's diluted. It's spiralling all around you.'
Paul Dinello: [On Joyce Sloane stepping down] 'It was like having your mom there and you can go talk to her, and she was fun to hang out with. And spiritually you felt like she sort of had her arms around the whole place. But from a business angle, I didn't really know -- I was there to perform and for the free beer. So I had an emotional reaction to it, but in hindsight it's a little embarrassing just because I didn't really try to find out what the details were. I was just like, "Oh, they're letting Joyce go. I'm quitting." '


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About the author (2009)

Mike Thomas, a staff writer for the Chicago Sun-Times, has interviewed numerous renowned comics and comedic actors–several of them Second City alums–including Jerry Seinfeld, Robin Williams, Carl Reiner, Bill Cosby, Tom and Dick Smothers, Chevy Chase, Sarah Silverman, Richard Lewis, Phyllis Diller, Bob Newhart, Rodney Dangerfield, and Jon Stewart. Thomas’s national magazine work has appeared in Esquire, Smithsonian, and Playboy, and on Salon. He lives in Chicago with his wife and their two daughters.

From the Hardcover edition.

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