The Second City Unscripted

In 1959, a group of like-minded Chicagoans joined forces to open a hip new venue dedicated to coffee, cigarettes, conversation, and comedy. The result, a nightly cabaret featuring a troupe of inventive young actors skewering everything from politics to popular culture in witty, rapid-fire, improvised scenes, not only made delighted audiences laugh–it made history.

Copping its iconic name from a New York journalist’s disparaging remark, Chicago’s Second City theater brashly defied the role of runner-up and single-handedly made the Windy City North America’s cradle of comedic brilliance from which generations of household names would spring. Now, in The Second City Unscripted, a Who’s Who of the celebrated comedy camp’s alumni–including Alan Arkin, David Steinberg, Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, Eugene Levy, Amy Sedaris, and Stephen Colbert–tell it like it was in the house that hilarity built. 

Here are candid tales of John Belushi’s raw ambition and chemical experimentation, Bill Murray’s heckler-pummeling and lady-killing, superstar Mel Gibson’s roof-raising appearance in Braveheartregalia, and legendary director Del Close’s shuttling between the comedic asylum he ruled over and the real one he rehabbed in.In this unvarnished, unexpurgated, and unprecedented account, what happened onstage, backstage, and offstage at Second City isn’t staying there anymore. From the smash hits and near misses to the love affairs and the bitter feuds, from the showbiz politics and pitfalls to the inspired tomfoolery and heartbreaking tragedy, The Second City Unscripted is part memoir of a cherished era, part time capsule from a comedic renaissance, and part valentine to the exquisite art of being funny. It captures like never before the history of the men and women who caught lightning–and laughter–in a bottle.

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"Second City was everything to me. It had a great deal to offer–and still does to anybody who wants to take their stupid seriously." — Stephen Colbert

"Second City is the best job anybody in the American theater can get. It's incomparable. If you come through Second City training, I think you can do anything." — Bill Murray

"I think what I learned at Second City was that it was okay to take risks, to fall flat on my face and get back up and learn about myself." — Bonnie Hunt

"I met my best friends there. We used the techniques to do good, honest work, and took them with us into later careers." — Dan Aykroyd

"There would be no Curb Your Enthusiasm if it weren' t for Second City. Because of Second City, I became a better comedian." — Jeff Garlin 

"A storytelling masterpiece. The Second City Unscripted is not just the best book ever about the fabled theater and its players, but among the best books ever to burrow into the DNA of comedy genius. It's rare to get such an intimate and honest look at great artists. It's our good fortune that Mike Thomas has made it all so entertaining and impossible to put down." — Robert Kurson, Bestselling Author of Shadow Divers and Crashing Through

"Thomas corrals his subjects' testimony in a historical framework paralleling the larger baby boomer narrative, progressing from fringe revolutionaries to institutional stalwarts. Testimony is funny, sentimental and hopeful, making this a winning collection for any fan of comedy's last half-century." Publishers Weekly