By Julia Bianco
The Phi Beta Kappa Association of the Chicago Area will be honoring Andrew Alexander with their Distinguished Service Award. Alexander is CEO, co-owner, and executive producer of The Second City theater company.
The Distinguished Service Award is given annually to someone who is connected to the Chicago area and who has contributed to their field in a way that is “in keeping with the highest traditions of Phi Beta Kappa.”
The Second City is a sketch comedy company founded in 1959 by Bernard Sahlins, Howard Alk, and Paul Sills. The company puts on performances mixing improv with other forms of comedy, focusing on satire and commentary on current events. They also hold workshops for would-be comedians to hone their skills.
Alexander began working with the Second City in Toronto in 1974. In 1976, he developed the television show SCTV, which starred members of the Toronto Second City troupe. The show featured performers like Rick Moranis, Dan Aykroyd, Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy, and more. It ran until 1984, earning 15 Emmy nominations (and two wins) throughout its run.
Alexander eventually partnered with Len Stuart to form the Second City Entertainment Company, and took over Chicago’s branch of the troupe in 1985.
The company has since expanded across the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, with trainings and performances held in cities including Detroit, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Edmonton, London, Ontario, New York and Cleveland. Around 13,000 people enroll in the company’s comedy training facilities each year.
The Second City is often referred to as the “Harvard of humor,” a place where the stars of tomorrow go to learn the ins and outs of comedy. Former performers include Alan Arkin, Joan Rivers, Bill Murray, Chris Farley, Mike Meyers, Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, and many more. Many go on to star in other television shows, with frequent appearances by Second City alumni on shows like “30 Rock,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Saturday Night Live.”
“[The Second City has] had an influence in every decade,” Alexander told the Wall Street Journal. “It was particularly true in the ‘70s with ‘Saturday Night Live’ and with Harold Ramis’ films, into the ‘80s with Mike Meyers, and there’s a new generation with Stephen Colbert and Tina Fey.”
“The reason it’s successful is because we stay relevant,” Alexander explained to The State-Journal Register.
The Distinguished Service Award is meant to honor people who have given something special to the city of Chicago.
“We look for people in our city that have given back and made our city the spectacular intellectual, social and cultural hub that it is,” said Judi Strauss Lipkin, President of the Phi Beta Kappa Association of Chicago. The board, of around fifteen people, unanimously voted to recognized Alexander and the Second City with the honor.
The award will be presented on November 14 at The Casino. It is open to the public. Tickets are available at www.pbkaca.org.
Past recipients of the Distinguished Service Award include chef Rick Bayless, poet Gwendolyn Brooks, and last year’s recipient, former Chicago Commissioner of Cultural Affairs Lois Weisberg.
Julia Bianco is a junior at Case Western Reserve University. She is a double major in cognitive science and political science, with a minor in English. Case Western is home to the Alpha of Ohio Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.