Comedy institution The Second City is going up for sale, the owners announced Tuesday, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to take a damaging toll on performing arts in Chicago and around the world.
This is only the second time in The Second City's 60-year history that the company has gone up for sale.
“While all our lives have been affected by the pandemic, The Second City has found green shoots that have further highlighted our growth potential,” said Steve Johnston, president of the company, in a statement. “The company’s growth plan leverages Second City’s unique position in the comedy ecosystem as the leader in both education and live sketch and improv performance to capture market share in the short to medium term, as well as accelerate a transition toward digital delivery of programming, which is already off to a great start.”
The originally Chicago- and Toronto-based improv theater was an early training ground for “Saturday Night Live” players including John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner and Chris Redd, among other comedy stars such as Keegan Michael-Key, as well as the company-produced “SCTV” TV series in the 1970s and '80s.
The Second City's offerings have grown over the years to include online classes, a collaboration with Columbia College Chicago, a collaboration with The Onion and the creation of the Harold Ramis Film School, which the company calls "the world’s only film school dedicated to comedy." That's not to mention a full rotation of performances that are now on hiatus in Chicago and LA during the pandemic.
All Chicago performances were suspended beginning in March.
Earlier this year, claims of racism were leveled at The Second City. In a lengthy letter posted on the company’s website, Andrew Alexander said in June he “failed to create an anti-racist environment wherein artists of color might thrive. I am so deeply and inexpressibly sorry.”
His announcement followed online criticism from Second City alumnus Dewayne Perkins, an actor, comedian and writer (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”), who said the company had refused to hold a benefit show for Black Lives Matter unless half of the proceeds also went to the Chicago Police Department, and it also created obstacles for performers of color.
“I have had an extraordinary 47-year run guiding this wonderful living, breathing, dynamic comedy institution. Watching the talent development process has given me more joy than one person should be allowed,” said Andrew Alexander, owner of The Second City and former CEO, in a statement on Tuesday. “But it is time for a new generation with fresh ideas to take the company to the next level.”
A Second City statement Wednesday said new leadership will be advised "by experts in the field of diversity, equity, and inclusion."
in June laid out steps the company planned to take regarding the hiring and training of artists of color, along with diversifying its theater audiences and making donations to fight oppression and support black-owned businesses and schools.
The company said Tuesday it will "consider qualified expressions of interest through a process that will play out over the coming months."