TODAY   |  May 22, 2013

The comedic legacy of Chicago’s Second City

Over the last 54 years, Second City has produced some of the greatest comedians of our time, from Gilda Radner and Bill Murray to Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. TODAY’s Natalie Morales reports and talks to “SNL” cast member Cecily Strong, a Second City alum.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> 1959 , the cabaret theater in chicago 's old town neighborhood opened. then the comedy troupe was known as the compass players , but this once-tiny company has now produced some of the greatest comedians of our time. this is the second city.

>> tomorrow's another day.

>> from gilda radner to bill murray and chris farley .

>> well, la dee freaking day.

>> from the blues brothers to a pair of soul sisters . john candy , mike myers , fred willard , and rachel dratch . the list of alumni reads like a comedy all-star roster. just turn on any episode of "saturday night live," it's easy to see why the best laughs come from the second city.

>> i just love walking around the building and seeing all these young people 's faces, you know, the classics, and then looking up at all the pictures and looking at the history.

>> history that night after night audiences come to see. the crowds sell out their 300-seat theater regularly. but second city is not just a theater, it's a school, teaching comedians the art of sketch comedy and improvisation, with training centers in chicago , hollywood, and toronto.

>> we're going to retrain your brain. and it's going to feel really easy, because it's going to feel like you're playing a game.

>> reporter: ann la bear has been instructor for over 25 years. she's seen the best and brightest come along.

>> he was in our basement as his job, but he wasn't making any money, because they were very bad. i said to him, come work for me. you can work in the box office and sell tickets.

>> this is "the colbert report "!

>> i take absolutely no credit for her. i didn't watch her going, she's so good. oh, she's so good.

>> really?

>> really!

>> steve carell was a guy who was always good, but then all of a sudden, something happened to him, and you go, oh! oh, he's magic!

>> that's what she said!

>> reporter: ann now teaches a bachelor's degree program for columbia college in chicago known as comedy study. her students, the future of comedy. the question is, who's next?

>> and joining us now, the person who is next, new to us, "saturday night live's" stephly. already they're calling you the rookie of the year at " snl ."

>> my parents have been already.

>> well, you have a great character. willie especially loves this girl.

>> i'm a fan. it's the girl you wish you hadn't started a conversation with at a party.

>> right.

>> we have a little clip to show people .

>> you know many, right?

>> what are you up to this summer?

>> oh, i don't. maybe i'll be thinking about it syria? heard of it much? people need to wake up fast. and also, they need to sleep more. okay, there are high school students who can't even point out india on a map of africa, okay? it's a disgrace. it's an atrocity. it's like, why don't you buy knowledge? trick question! it's free.

>> what makes a character great is the nugget of truth in it. i think we all know that girl, right, stephly.

>> yeah, and it's just like -- it's just like the "today" show, but like, what are we even doing? and you've just gotten an e-mail. i am reading personal e-mails now.

>> anything good?

>> i shouldn't say. it's pretty dirty.

>> i like how you shout off-camera.

>> there's always some terrible friend. it's taken up -- i guess everybody does know that girl and have been her a little bit.

>> a little bit.

>> like the girl is sort of like the contradiction, right?

>> she is.

>> she thinks she knows everything.

>> social media , a lot of those angers on tumblr. on facebook after the election was my favorite, readings a lot of statuses.

>> what can you say about second city as an alum. if you go down the list of " snl " stars, everybody you ever heard began in the second city.

>> it was so my dream growing up, growing up in chicago , to get to be part of that club was so special to me. just to see all of the alumni. just to say i'm a part of that and get to be a part of that. i got to have that dream come true and then i got to have the " snl " dream come true. so i feel like i'm good.

>> is it like a rite of passage if you are a second city, that is sort of like your next stop is going to be " snl "?

>> no, not at all. i mean, i was like -- i didn't even -- i wasn't able to say i wanted that job, because it was so like -- i'll never get " snl ," you know? so i didn't even want to say it out loud, because it seemed to silly.

>> and seth is leaving after the fall. we heard fred armisen . maybe jason sudeikis .

>> the on one i know is maybe bill. it was really tough, it was really emotional to have them leave and they were so kind and such a big part of my first season. so, but i'm excited to see what happens next year. and i'm like, will i know who's going to be --

>> you are the future, it's very clear.

>> no presh.