A Lesson on
Being Second



A few weeks ago, I traveled nearly halfway across the country from Manhattan to the great city of Chicago. I grew up there and had plans to visit family and friends for Thanksgiving, but the trip also served as a great excuse for me to get out and get inspired.

Besides the fact that I’m from there, Chicago is known for lots of things, including:
• Lake Michigan, where I actually have seen people surfing.
• It’s the biggest city in the Midwest and the third-biggest in the U.S.
• Michael Jordan.
• The Sears Tower, now called the Willis Tower, was for 25 years the tallest building in the world.
• President Barack Obama.
• The ivy-covered walls of Wrigley Field, home to the Chicago Cubs, 1918 and 2016 World Series winners. (We’ll just skim over those 98 years in between…)
• Deep dish pizza. (Don’t knock it ‘til you try it!)
• Chance the Rapper.

Much has been written about this incredible city, but it was AJ Liebling’s 1952 book, “The Second City,” that gave Chicago one of its most popular nicknames. “Seen from the taxi, on the long ride in from the airport, the place looked slower, shabbier and, in defiance of all chronology, older than New York,” wrote Liebling. He chose the book’s title because, in his opinion, Chicago was in all ways and even at its very best, second to New York City.

Rather than rejecting the idea of being second best, three men in particular decided to embrace the city’s new nickname. In 1959, Bernard Sahlins, Howard Alk and Paul Sills opened a theater in Chicago as a place to collaboratively create innovative stories and scenes. They named their performing group “The Second City.”


The Second City

Since then, The Second City has become a leader in the world of sketch comedy and improvisational acting, has expanded to several stages and now offers classes in writing, acting, directing, film, music and more. The Second City has also been the starting point for many famous actors and comedians, many of whom you’ve probably seen on “Saturday Night Live,” including Alan Arkin, Joan Rivers, Bill Murray, Eugene Levy, Catherine Ohara, Mike Meyers, Chris Farley, Amy Poehler, Steve Carrell, Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey and Keegan Michael Key – just to name a few.

And if that isn’t admirable enough, The Second City also has a strong focus on philanthropy and volunteerism in the Chicago community.  The company makes huge efforts to support diversity and inclusion, and to expand outreach to “new voices of color to the community.” This same mission has now extended to the LGBTQ community, as well.

While home, I was lucky enough to see the company’s current main stage show, “Dream Freaks Fall from Space,” a two-hour-long show made up of short comedy sketches. It was performed by six actors who played musical instruments throughout and who also wrote the show in its entirety in just two months.


The Second City
The Second City

“Dream Freaks Fall from Space” had a loose theme of the not-too-distant future, so political themes and issues were present but didn’t dominate the show. While there were tangential skits like Waldo from “Where’s Waldo?” breaking up with his girlfriend, or a sewer-themed high school prom, current cultural and social issues were the themes of most skits.

For instance:
• A Type A housewife who gets everything done because she’s on meth, oxycodone and Xanax.
• A song with the lyrics, “Your baby might be gay, because where do gay adults come from?”
• A group of friends weighing the pros and cons of each of their Tinder dates despite one being a racist, one a sexual predator and the last a homophobe (even though she had been on a same-sex date).

These were just a few examples of how the cast tapped into topics prevalent in the current cultural climate.

I left the show not only with a pain in my side from laughing so hard, but also impressed by the agility and diversity of the cast’s humor. I enjoyed that they used comedy not as a way to ignore or distract the audience from all the non-stop news in the world, but instead to help reveal and promote understanding of these issues. It might be called The Second City, but I think they are right in line with ThoughtMatter, as they proved to be a group of first-class thinkers, creators and doers.


The Second City

This fall at ThoughtMatter, we’re ending every week with a “Get Out Fridays” discussion. During each session, a different studio member will tell us about a recent event they went to that has inspired them, and can in turn inspire each of us here at ThoughtMatter. It can be any event—as long as it involves getting out of the office and thinking in a different space

More Thoughts.

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