Second City Toronto prepares for its 50th anniversary

Mar 21, 2023 | Arts, Canadian News

Second City Toronto — the incubator of laughter that launched a bevy of comedians and birthed SCTV — is on the cusp of a half-century celebration.

The Canadian comedy club that has spawned many a future entertainer is preparing to celebrate 50 years of delivering laughs to the people of the Great White North. It began its celebration early, last November to be exact, with the opening of a new location on One York Street near the harbour.

Its American counterpart, Second City Chicago, was founded first on December 1959. It maintained a high level of success. The Canadian club was created in 1973.

Its first location was on Adelaide Street, without air conditioning or a liquor license. The Toronto location has seen the beginnings of many actors, writers and other big stars including Dan Aykroyd, John Candy and Eugene Levy.

For writer, actor and Second City Toronto alumna, Aurora Browne, the titular comedy club was a blessing, as it meant assistance in her acting skills.

Browne said she felt burnt out after school. She didn’t feel like she “knew how to act,” when they “tried to kind of teach you stuff and get into your head and help you express your art.

“And it wasn’t until I was at Second City on stage every night, you know, by the time I was hired to mainstage, that I felt that I really synthesized everything that they were trying to teach me at an acting school,” Browne said.

Former Second City Toronto director Daniel Shehori owes a lot of his success to the comedy club. Now a manager for the Word on the Street book festival in Toronto, he feels the reason why so many comedians who worked at the club have gone to bigger things is because of their ability to improvise.

It’s not just because of the need to adapt but how it grabs people, he said.

“Either you don’t really care about it, or you’re highly impressed with it,” Shehori said.

He doesn’t watch as much improv as he used to. However, when a mainstage cast that’s been together for a while does “hot improv” on stage, he describes the act as magical.

“So these people finesse the skill, that they’ve been able to transfer not just into getting bigger comedy and acting careers, but whatever they’re doing, whether they’re, they move into a completely different field altogether,” Shehori said.

Browne offers some words of wisdom to prospecting comedians, including giving Second City Toronto a shot: don’t worry about being funny.

“Don’t truly worry about being funny and trying every moment to make a joke or impress people, although believe me, I know what a hard thing that is for insecure performers because every performer has an insecurity,” Browne said. “Just be honest and committed.”

The club celebrates its 50th anniversary this coming June.