The WISCH LIST
By Dave Wischnowsky
Two years ago this month, the world became a little (or a lot) less funny when comedy legend Harold Ramis died at his home in Glencoe at the age of 69. But come September, the world will become a little (or a lot) funnier when a new Chicago institution named after Ramis comes to life.
On Tuesday, Chicago’s famed improv theater Second City announced plans to open “the world’s first film school dedicated to comedy” and name it after Ramis, a Second City alum who wrote (and often directed, produced or acted in) such iconic films as National Lampoon’s Animal House, Caddyshack, Stripes, Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day.
And in honor of Ramis’ well-deserved honor and contributions to comedy, I thought I’d share with you five things that you might not already know about his fellow funnymen and women spawned from Second City.
Kings & Queens of Comedy
Since opening its doors in 1959, Second City has served as the launching pad for some of the biggest names in comedy. But do you realize just how many stars first cracked wise on its famous stage?
Here are some alumni: Alan Alda (1959), Ed Asner (1959), Alan Arkin (1960), Joan Rivers (1961), Fred Willard (1965), Peter Boyle (1967), Ramis (1969), John Belushi (1971), John Candy (1973), Bill Murray (1973), Dan Aykroyd (1974), Eugene Levy (1974), Gilda Radner (1974), George Wendt (1975), Shelley Long (1976) and Jim Belushi (1978).
As well as, Dan Castellaneta (1986), Mike Myers (1988), Chris Farley (1989), Tim Meadows (1989), Bob Odenkirk (1990), Steve Carell (1991), Amy Sedaris (1992), Stephen Colbert (1993), Rachel Dratch (1995), Tina Fey (1996) and Jane Lynch (1998).
And that doesn’t even include those who participated in Second City’s training center, including Amy Poehler, Bonnie Hunt, Jon Favreau, Sean Hayes, Jack McBrayer, Dave Foley and even Halle Berry.
Wednesday Night Live
During one particularly slow Wednesday evening during the 1970s, the Second City cast looked out to find a grand total of two people in the audience. George Wendt went out to talk to couple to inform them that there would be no show.
But Wendt discovered it was their 25th wedding anniversary and that they had driven all the way down from Wisconsin and gotten a sitter. The cast felt like they couldn’t say no, so in a 500-seat theatre, they did a show for two people.
According to cast member Tim Kazurinsky, “It was one of the best shows we ever did.”
The Colbert Rapport
After gradating from Northwestern, Stephen Colbert was initially opposed to joining Second City. But, in need of a job, he found himself working in the theater box office, where he reportedly set a record for selling the most merchandise.
Eventually, Colbert also began to take classes and soon was appearing onstage as the understudy to Steve Carrell, meaning that the Late Show host is kind of the original Dwight Schrute.
Down by the River
Of all the personas played by Chris Farley on Saturday Night Live, this madcap motivational character “Matt Foley” may be the most memorable. But it was actually on stage at Second City where Foley was created – long before SNL even knew who Chris Farley was.
Chicago’s best ‘Blues’ Bar?
When they were in Chicago filming Blues Brothers during the summer of 1979, John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd opened their own private bar across the street from Second City, open to cast members only.
At “Blues Bar,” Belushi and Aykroyd jammed with The Eagles, and partied until dawn four or five nights a week during what Aykroyd has called “one of the greatest summers of my life.”
I wish that bar – and Belushi, Farley and Ramis – could all be brought back.