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Second City's famous alumni

Bill Murray
Tina Fey
Mike Nichols
Elaine May
Steve Carell
Stephen Colbert
Dan Aykroyd
John Belushi
John Candy
Chris Farley
Robert Klein
Jack McBrayer
Mike Myers
Amy Poehler
Gilda Radner
Joan Rivers
Martin Short


As the legendary Chicago improv troupe Second City turns 50, CEO Andrew Alexander tells us what he has learned working with some of the funniest people alive.

Nurture new talent.
"Chris Farley's motivational speaker Matt Foley, Martin Short's Ed Grimley, Mike Myers' Wayne Campbell -- all of these characters were born at the Second City. My favorite was invented by Scott Adsit in a scene with Tina Fey (both of whom now star on "30 Rock"). He played a 5-year-old gargoyle in his first day of kindergarten. It was physical, edgy and hilarious. My son, who was about 9, sometimes came to the theater; he loved to wash the dishes. Each night when the gargoyle scene began, he'd stop and come watch Scott's brilliance. I think my son responded to Scott's total commitment. Or else he wanted a little brother ... a strange little brother."

Keep the performers sober.
"One night, the great British comedians Dudley Moore and Peter Cook came to do improv after the show. They were so intimidated that they each consumed a bottle of wine before performing. Dan Aykroyd produced the most brilliant improv performance I've ever seen on a Second City stage. Dudley and Peter, well, not so much."

And the help, too.
"Improv guru Del Close directed a show at Second City in 1977. He had abused a variety of substances over the years but swore to me he wouldn't use while on the job. He even hired a 7-foot bouncer named Tiny to forcibly keep him sober. So imagine my surprise when I found Del draped over the bar. 'Where's Tiny?' I yelled. 'I gave him the night off,' Del mumbled."

Test the equipment.
"In December 2007, we held a fundraising performance of our Chicago hit "Between Barack and a Hard Place for Obama." Barack spoke afterward, but the microphone crackled and popped and occasionally failed. I wanted to leap on the stage with a new mike, but I figured getting shot by the Secret Service would only make me feel worse. I still don't know what he said. 'Yes, we ...' some?thing. Guess we'll never know."

Don't serve shellfish.
"In the early days of Second City Toronto, we tried every plausible marketing strategy, including a dinner-show package. I came up with the Oyster Moister, which was red wine and ground beef with an oyster in the center. After dinner, the patrons traipsed downstairs for the show. About 15 minutes after the curtain went up, there was, almost in unison, the sound of retching. Soon it was bedlam; we had to stop the show. I'll never forget the sight of paramedics wheeling green customers past the horrified patrons waiting for the second seating."

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