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Second City's Kevin Frank with Bruce Pirrie in SC Toronto's 1985 show 'It Came from Chicago'
© Kevin Frank Second City's Kevin Frank with Bruce Pirrie in SC Toronto's 1985 show 'It Came from Chicago'

The Second City in London

Want to see (or be) the next Tina Fey? North American improv institution The Second City – where the ‘30 Rock’ star trained – is in London for the first time, to both perform and teach. We get a quick lesson

By Ben Williams

Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Amy Poehler, Steve Carrell, Mike Myers, John Belushi, Tina Fey – well, they weren’t born comedy superstars. Before the sitcoms, movie roles and ‘Saturday Night Live’ breakthroughs many US comedy A-listers trained at The Second City: the mecca of improvised comedy.

Since 1959, the world-renowned enterprise – which has theatres and training centres in Chicago, LA and Toronto – has been teaching budding comedians the secrets behind made-up-on-the-spot larks, and many graduates have gone on to become members of the comedy elite. In fact, Second City has become such a hit factory that lots of British comics have flocked to the States in recent years to learn its improv mantras.

Now, for the first time ever, Second City’s coming to us. Three SC teachers/performers – Kevin Frank, Lisa Merchant and Jason DeRosse – are in London this month to perform alongside top British troupes at Angel Comedy’s Improv Week and train up budding comics in intensive week-long workshops. Comedy hopefuls can learn those all-important formulas for funny (who knows, perhaps they’ll discover a future star) and, more importantly, we Londoners can see some of the finest improvisers in the world doing what they do best without having to book a flight across the Pond.

So, how does Second City teach people to be funny? Surely improv’s just natural riffing? Kevin Frank – artist director of Second City’s Toronto Training Centre – let slip a few basic improv techniques that most audiences are totally oblivious to.

Always say ‘yes’

‘The first and most important rule is saying “yes”. No suggestion is too ridiculous, no idea is too rude – we don’t judge, we accept.’

But don’t stop at ‘yes’

‘Saying “Yes, and…” is the one-two-punch of improv. It’s the peanut butter and jelly, it’s the bangers and mash, it’s… well, you get it. Say “yes” but then add a new piece of information to keep those funny ideas flowing.’

Have a laugh!

‘If you don’t have fun, your audience won’t either. Enjoy yourself up there, no matter what direction the scene takes, and they’ll stay on your side.’


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