Comedic Alums Star At Second City's 50th

Second City is what amounts to the Oxford and Cambridge of American comedy. The Chicago improv theater began in an old Chinese laundry but now spans several full-time theaters, training centers, and touring ensembles. This weekend, it's having an all-star blowout for its 50th anniversary. Host Scott Simon talks to alum and comedian Jeff Garlin.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Second City is what amounts to the Oxford and Cambridge of American comedy. The Chicago improv theater that began in an old Chinese laundry, and now entails several full-time theaters, training centers and touring ensembles, is having an all-star blowout for its 50th anniversary this weekend. The litany of some of the famous Second City alums bears repeating: Alan Alda, Alan Arkin, Dan Aykroyd, the Belushi brothers, John Candy, Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey, Eugene Levy, Paul Mazursky, Elaine May, Bill Murray, Mike Myers, Mike Nichols, Gilda Radner, Harold Ramis, Martin Short - oh! - and hundreds more who've become among the leading comic talents in America.

Jeff Garlin, the comedian, producer and director who's just completed the seventh season of �Curb Your Enthusiasm,� joins us from WBEZ in Chicago. He is another one of the alums.

Mr. JEFF GARLIN (Actor): As they say in Sweden, my pleasure.

SIMON: Do they say that in Sweden?

Mr. GARLIN: I have no idea. I say that all the time.

SIMON: All right. Well, it certainly classes up the conversation.

Mr. GARLIN: Yes, it does.

SIMON: So what did you learn there?

Mr. GARLIN: To be honest, I found my comedic voice at Second City in Chicago, my stand-up voice, my acting voice. Second City gave me more confidence to be a storyteller on stage. I wasn't a storyteller previous to Second City. I�

SIMON: Just joke set-up, punchline, that sort of thing?

Mr. GARLIN: Yes, yes, and it was terrible. And so I began to improvise from an outline and tell stories, and I have confidence that I was an improvisational storyteller because of Second City. And without Second City, there'd be no �Curb Your Enthusiasm.�

SIMON: That's interesting because, of course, one of the things you learn in Second City's methodology, the improv workshops, is that when - you don't necessarily go for the laugh when you're in improv, do you?

Mr. GARLIN: You want to be funny. That's obviously an undercurrent at all times. But you have to really look the other person in the eye and support whatever they're saying. And hopefully, they're going to support whatever you're saying, and that'll build to something that if not funny, it's at least interesting.

SIMON: This must be something you use virtually every day when you're making �Curb Your Enthusiasm.�

Mr. GARLIN: It is something I use every day. I know for myself, I do everything in power to make the other actor look good. I hope that the other actors are doing the same for me, which is not always the case. But that's OK, that's my style. My style is - and it's learned at Second City - my job is to make you look good. And then, you know, one of the things that Second City used to also do - I don't know if they do it anymore. I just saw their new main stage production, and nobody in the show reminded me of anybody else. And the reason I bring that up is because back in my day, I know for myself, when I stepped on stage - I always knew it was a bad audience when this happened, by the way. But the audience would yell Norm - i.e., George Wendt.

SIMON: Yeah, of course.

Mr. GARLIN: You know, and they at Second City used to - there would be the Harold Ramis type, the George Wendt, John Candy, John Belushi type�

SIMON: And Harold Ramis would always be the excessive intellectual type; the John Candy, George Wendt, dare I say Jeff Garlin type, would always be the large, funny guy.

Mr. GARLIN: Right, exactly. That's exactly - large, funny guy, and I still am to this day.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Mr. GARLIN: I'm a large, funny guy. Anyhow, that's the way they used to do it. I don't - I don't think they do it that way anymore. They just hire really talented people.

SIMON: Help us understand what it's like to be a member of the Second City fraternity when you get out to Hollywood�

Mr. GARLIN: Well - well, a couple of things. First off, it's an honor considering I didn't graduate college�

(Soundbite of chuckle)

Mr. GARLIN: �that I have something that I'm an alumni of. But if you go back to Nichols and May, and Shelley Berman, all the way through like to me saying -you know, Colbert, my gosh, that's just - that's American comedy in the '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, now, and I think the future.

SIMON: Jeff Garlin, thanks very much for being with us.

GARLIN: An honor, Scott. Thank you.

SIMON: And tonight, Second City will present that special review of some of its classic scenes from over 50 years. Jeff Garlin will be among the players along with Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Fred Willard, George Wendt, Harold Ramis - really, once again, just too many names to repeat.

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