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Movin' on Up

Second City to unveil new space for standup

  • UP Comedy Club
UP Comedy Club (Second City )
February 16, 2012|By Georgia Garvey, RedEye

Name a comedian—any comedian—and chances are that performer either passed through the doors of the famed Second City in Old Town or worked with someone who has.

From Bill Murray to Tina Fey, the alumni list from the improv club boasts more big names than an issue of People magazine and more stars than the Oscars telecast. The Second City celebrated its 50th anniversary a couple of years ago, and the list of those who turned up included Jim Belushi, Steve Carell, Bob Odenkirk, Harold Ramis, Stephen Colbert, Catherine O'Hara, George Wendt, Martin Short—if you've seen a comedy (or a drama, really) in the past 40 years, you've probably seen someone from Second City.

Now the famed comedy powerhouse prepares to expand its expertise in Chicago, set to open UP Comedy Club in the Old Town location vacated by "Tony and Tina's Wedding." In the 285-seat space, the company will offer stand-up comedy, theatrical runs of sketch shows, kids' programming and more. It's all about bringing the Second City magic to new forms of comedy, said Andrew Alexander, Second City's owner and executive producer.

"We have a chance to kind of create something quite different. ... It's going to be kind of an eclectic mix," he said. "We've never been more vibrant."

Though it's clear Second City has unearthed a formula for success, the secret is pretty simple, Alexander said: It's just hard work.

"Obviously we hire the brightest and the best, and we give them a platform to really get better," he said. Cast members play eight shows a week for two or three years, and practice really does make perfect. "There's no theater in the world that gives people the consistency of performance that we do."

All that experience has come in handy for the famous alumni of Second City, including Chris Farley, who died in 1997 after roles in "Tommy Boy," "Billy Madison" and a famous run on "SNL." Alexander said Farley was immediately recognizable as a star, a standout on Second City's stage.

"He just had unbelievable energy on stage," Alexander remembered. "He had that certain charisma."

But Farley was just one of the dozens of future stars who honed their craft at Second City—and the legendary comic incubator wants to help many more make their names on stage and screen. After the UP Comedy Club has its sold-out grand opening Friday, Alexander and the rest of the company hope a new generation of Second City comics will walk through them.

Related: View 50 famous people who once performed at Second City

ggarvey@tribune.com | @gcgarvey

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