The man who improved improv

June 3, 2008
Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
Half my lifetime ago, I journeyed across the country from East Coast to West and found myself on my own for a few days in Los Angeles. Looking for some cheap entertainment, I picked up a $6 ticket to see something called "Sills & Company."

As a self-directed student of comedy, I knew that Paul Sills was one of the founders of Chicago’s famed Second City.

The "and Company" were, according to the brief listing in the free paper I picked up, Sills' friends, former students and Second City alumni.

"Should be interesting," I thought. It was more than that.

On cheap bleachers in what I remember as a community center gymnasium (I could be wrong), Sills oversaw an evening of gimmick-free improvisation featuring a jaw-dropping lineup including Paul Dooley (the father in "Breaking Away"), Valerie Harper (TV's "Rhoda"), Tony Award-winner Severn Darden, Richard Libertini (hilarious in "The In-Laws" and “All of Me”), Avery Schreiber (of the comedy duo Burns and Schreiber) and Mina Kolb (now best known for playing Jeff's mother on "Curb Your Enthusiasm).

As a movie and TV geek, I recognized every one of them. And I was awed watching them create something out of nothing. Their work was hilarious but it wasn't about cheap punch lines. Characters came to life. Joy happened.

And between sets, the group of established professionals dutifully, worshipfully, took notes from Sills and a woman who I later learned was Viola Spolin, Sills' mother and the creator of many of the games and exercises that have become the fundation of theatrical improvisation. That these pros still cared about the opinions of their mentors stuck with me.

I still think about that evening. And I thought about it moments ago when I learned that, on Monday, Paul Sills passed away.

And while I don't want this blog to turn into the arts obit page, I can't help but note the man who helped shape Second City, which in turn shaped modern comedy. And one of the people who helped shape my love and respect for acting.

Today, my thoughts are with The Second City family and the universe of people that Sills influenced.
  • What an amazing line up you were able to witness that evening! In a book I have on the history of Second City, I'm amazed looking at the photos of the early years, with Mike Nichols, Elaine May, Robert Klein, Alan Arkin, Fred Willard, Peter Boyle and then the next generation, with Joe Flaherty, Brian Doyle-Murray, Harold Ramis, John Belushi, Bill Murray, you name it. Anyone of note in American comedy did their time at Second City.

Post a comment to this blog

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
  1. Here are a few candidates for this new group, "ripped from the headlines." First up, that bizzaro State Senator Brent Waltz; secondly, the unethical Todd Huston, and his contractual arrangements scheme; Finally, but not least of all, the dishonorable Eric Turner. What sayeth you Greg Zoeller?

  2. Good day. I can't hide this great testimony that take place in my life I will love everyone to know it and be partaker that is why I always place it on answer, I am Mrs,Natalie Cuttaia by name, I live in Texas, United State Of America, I want to thank (Mr.Bruce Brandon) for his kindness upon my family life. I never knew that there is still nice lender like this on internet and earth here. Just some Months Back, I was in search for a loan of $100,000,00 as I was running out of money for feeding and rent. I was scammed $6,800 Dollars and I decided not to involve my self in such business again but a Friend of my introduced me to a loan firm due to my appearance and doings. And I told him that I am not interested of any loan deal anymore but he told me that there is still a nice lender who he will recommend me to, and I made a trial and I am most grateful lucky am I today, I was given a loan amount of $100,000.00usd, by this great Company (Bruce Brandon Loan Company) managed by (Mr.Bruce Brandon) If you are in need of a genuine or legit loan or financial assistance and you can be reliable and trusted of capable of paying back at the due time of the funds I will advice you to, contact him via: ( ) And you will be free from scams in the internet. All thanks to Mr.Bruce Brandon You are the one who remove me and my family out of poverty. The reason why i am doing this is that, i promise Mr.Bruce Brandon that if i truly got my loan, i will advertize his company and bring customers to his company. Contact him via ( )for the Loan you have been looking for..

  3. Hello, We are firm Organization formed to help people in needs of helps,such as financial help. So if you are going through financial difficulty or you are in any financial mess,and you need funds to start up your own business,or you need loan to settle your debt or pay off your bills,start a nice business, or you are finding it hard to obtain capital loan from local banks,contact us today via email So do not let these opportunity pass you by because Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever more. Please these is for serious minded and God fearing People. Your Name: Loan Amount: Loan Duration: Valid Cell Phone Number: Thanks for your understanding to your contact as we Await Regards Management

  4. The question is, where could they build a new stadium? It seems in the past year, all the prime spots have been spoken for with potential projects. Maybe in the industrial wasteland area a block past Lucas Oil? I think it needs to be close to the core, if a new stadium is built.

  5. Aldi is generally a great shopping experience. Still, I'm sure YOU wouldn't want to shop there, which I consider a positive.