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Days and Nights at the Second City

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About the Author

Bernard Sahlins, in addition to his work at The Second City, founded and produced the International Theatre Festival of Chicago and is a co-editor of the Plays for Performance series published by Ivan R. Dee. He lives and writes in Chicago.


Sahlins, one of three founders (in 1959) of the famed Chicago comedy sketch theater The Second City, doesn't profess to have written a complete history; the memoir half of this book stops in 1985. Still, his brief account of the evolution of an institution has charm and wisdom. Those in and around the comedy troupe were political liberals, but they recognized "that the proper target of a satirist is himself and members of his own class." Sahlins recounts how youth culture a subculture through much of the Sixties eventually became the popular culture and helped draw The Second City toward mainstream success. He also offers brief accounts of noted troupe alumni like John Belushi. The book's second half contains extensive directors' notes: on the characteristics of various types of scenes (blackout, parody, etc.), how to best use minimal props and costumes, how to sequence a show, how to open a scene, and how to fix acting mistakes. Sahlins abhors the "bad boy" over-the-top comedy of Saturday Night Live; he wants his actors to "play to the limits of your skill and intelligence." While this book is neither a full history nor a full training manual, the half-loaves are well baked. For strong performing arts collections. Norman Oder, "Library Journal" Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

John Belushi, Mike Meyers, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, Mike Nichols and John Candy are just a few of the numerous comedy greats associated with famed Chicago comedy review Second City. In Days and Nights at the Second City: A Memoir, with Notes on Staging Review Theatre, Second City founder and longtime producer and director Bernard Sahlins (editor, Plays for Performance series) tells the story of this influential cultural institution, from its beginnings in 1959. Sahlins's comic sensibility isn't obvious in this mostly rather earnest book, which contains statements like "Man is the only animal that laughs, and comedy's major role is to evoke the laughter that celebrates our unity as mortal creatures." Still, for anyone curious about the history of contemporary American comedy, this book contains plenty of important background. 18 b&w photos. ( May 25) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

This is the essential book that had to be written about The Second City, the loving, richly felt memoir of the wise and eloquent man who was there from the start...fascinating. -- Richard Christiansen Chicago Tribune A warmhearted account of an indispensable troupe. -- Robert Brustein If The Second City is a temple of American humor, Bernie Sahlins is its principle architect. -- Harold Ramis The entire recent tradition of American satire can be summed up in three words: The Second City. The New York Times Bernie was there from the beginning and he knows Second City inside out. He also has a broad view of the culture and context in which Second City grew...a must. -- Alan Arkin A fun and interesting memoir of his time at the theater...a must-read for anyone interested in directing or performing improvisation-based sketch comedy. -- Anne Libera, artistic director, Second City Training Center; resident director, Second City

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