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Willard Reflects On Second City At 50

The Second City this month celebrates 50 years of making improvisational comedy, and Fred Willard, a Second City alum, joins NPR's Michele Norris to talk about the famed comedy club.

"It started in a little coffee shop down near the University of Chicago — and I think it drew a very intellectual crowd, a college crowd, a graduate crowd," Willard tells Norris. "It was pretty low-profile, but I think it gained popularity. I don't think there was anything like that at the time. It was before Monty Python. It was before Saturday Night Live."

So with no script to follow, how did he prepare to go onstage?

"I think what it comes from is just doing it night after night," Willard says.

The first time he went onstage he says he "had nothing."

"They pushed me out there and suddenly I got into it and did quite well," Willard says. "And the next night, I was standing backstage and they were doing something and I said I have a wonderful joke and I went on and I did the joke and it got a laugh and suddenly there was nothing left there."

Willard says The Second City taught him to never go onstage with an extreme character and never go on with just one joke.

The key to improv, he says, is doing it over and over each night, until you're no longer thinking and you "just get on and jump in the stream."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.