I’ve just learned the sad news that Paul Sills, founder of The Second City improvisational comedy troupe has died. The Second City was established in Chicago, Illinois in 1959 and over the years helped hone the talents of some of the great comedic talents in the U.S. and Canada. It went on to be established in other cities including Toronto and Las Vegas.
Sills was the son of teacher and writer Viola Spolin, who wrote the seminal work on improvisation: “Improvisation for the Theater”.
Some of the performers who started their careers at The Second City include John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray Tina Fey, Steve Carrell and Dan Ackroyd. Many of them went on to Saturday Night Live and to forge movie careers. But without Paul Sills foresight to create the troupe and the conservatory, we might not have had the huge surge of comedic talent that we have over the last 30-40 years.
The other notable improvisational and training centres are the Improv Olympic, or iO, again in Chicago and The Groundlings, based in L.A.
Improvisation is very important to speakers because not only are we required to speak off-the-cuff during a Table Topics session at Toastmasters, but it also allows us to develop our ability to think on our feet if something goes wrong. Being able to think on your feet is a great skills to have because there are many incidents in work where we have to utilise those skills. In actual fact, we generally engage in some form of improvisation in our day-to-day lives.
Whilst I don’t think you can learn to improvise per se, you can certainly practice your innate ability and learn the craft and specific tools required. Check out for an improvisational group near you.