The Chicago Tribune reports, Second City’s co-owner, Andrew Alexander, told staffers on Friday that he was apologizing for his “many failures as a steward of an important cultural institution” and stepping away from one of Chicago’s most famous and internationally influential theatres. British Born Alexander, came to Canada as a child and became on of Canada’s most innovative producers of sketch and improv comedy. After attending Ryerson University and working in journalism for a while, including the Oakville Beaver, he was eventually hired by the Ivanhoe Theatre in Chicago, where he met Bernard Sahlins, owner and co-founder of The Second City. Second City also owned a financially troubled branch in Toronto. Alexander offered to take it over. As head of the Toronto theatre, Alexander produced and developed live theatre revues and launched the careers of comedians Gilda Radner, John Candy, Dan Aykroyd, Andrea Martin, Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy, Martin Short, Dave Thomas, Joe Flaherty and others. Two years later, Alexander joined Len Stuart in starting The Second City Entertainment Company. Their first production was the television show SCTV that filmed its episodes at CITV in Edmonton. CHCH in Hamilton was one of the first Toronto area stations to air the program which later was seen on Global. After almost a decade of developing the entertainment company, Alexander and Stuart became owners of The Second City Chicago in 1985. Alexander has actively led The Second City in Canada and the US since then.
The exit of Alexander, 76, followed online criticism from Second City alumnus Dewayne Perkins, an actor, comedian and writer (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”). Perkins said the company had refused to hold a benefit show for Black Lives Matter unless half of the proceeds also went to the Chicago Police Department, and it also created obstacles for performers of color. In a tweet noting Alexander’s resignation, Perkins had a one-word comment: “Oop.”
In a lengthy message on the Second City website Alexander wrote: “Two years ago, I learned about one of the pillars of what I understand to be central to the Black Lives Matter movement: it is not enough to not be a racist; you must be anti-racist. “
“The Second City cannot begin to call itself anti-racist. That is one of the great failures of my life. The irony is that what attracts so many people to Second City – myself included – is that it gives a public platform to a group of people to speak truth to power and use the undeniable power of comedy to force a recognition of injustice. Over the years, Second City has never shied away from talking about oppression. On stage, we have always been on the right side of the issue, and of that, I am very proud. On stage, we dealt with the absurdity of the equal opportunity narrative that society uses to oppress BIPOC. We dealt with the double standard that rationalizes violence against people of color. We dealt with the cynicism of the liberal pact with capitalism. “
“Offstage, it’s been a different story. The company has grown significantly – yet culturally homogeneously. There is no excuse for it, and I am not defending it. I succumbed to (what I now realize was) my unconscious biases, the biases of the theater community, and the biases of the city in which The Second City is embedded. I surrounded myself with people mostly of my own race and culture. As a theater producer, I like to think I have good instincts, not just commercially, but also as it relates to what is right. As an administrator, I have not always had good instincts. While diversifying the theater artistically, I failed to create an anti-racist environment wherein artists of color might thrive. I am so deeply and inexpressibly sorry.”
Alexander has produced or executive produced over 250 Second City revues in Canada and the United States. Over the past 42 years, The Second City has operated resident theater and/or improv training facilities at one time or another in Toronto, Chicago, Detroit, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Edmonton, London, Ontario, and Cleveland. Additionally, Alexander expanded The Second City’s Training, Touring and Corporate Services divisions from niche offerings to boutique business lines in their own right. In February 2016 Alexander announced the opening of The Harold Ramis Film School in Chicago with its first term starting in September 2016.
uring Alexander’s career as television producer, he co-developed and executive produced over 185 half-hour shows and produced over 150 hours of television comedy for SCTV. Throughout the length of its run, the series garnered an ACTRA Award, 2 Emmy Awards and 13 Emmy Award nominations.
Alexander has developed television programming for ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox Television, Comedy Central, HBO, Showtime, A&E and the CBC. Alexander has had co-production deals with MGM Television, Imagine Films, Disney Studios, United Artists and has produced movies and television shows with Ed Asner, Dan Aykroyd, James Belushi, Bill Murray, Chris Farley, Bonnie Hunt, Shelley Long, Andrea Martin, Steve Carell, John Candy, Mike Myers, Catherine O’Hara, Harold Ramis, Martin Short, Dave Thomas, Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert. Alexander was a founding shareholder of the Pay Television service, Super Channel, and served on the board of directors. In 2008, Alexander facilitated a reunion of the cast of SCTV in Toronto launching The Second City Alumni Fund, a fund that has raised over $750,000 to assist actors and support staff during times of illness or economic hardship.
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