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The Behind-the-Scenes King of Comedy
Posted By Patrick Kiger On June 17, 2013 @ 5:21 pm In Legacy | Comments Disabled
Bernard “Bernie” Sahlins, co-founder of Chicago’s Second City  theatrical troupe, wasn’t a comedian himself. But thanks to him, we’ve all had a lot of laughs over the past few decades.
Without Sahlins, who died on June 16 at age 90  in Chicago, George Wendt – best known for his role as Norm Peterson in the iconic 1980s-early 1990s sitcom Cheers – might have abandoned comedy and perhaps even become an accountant. As Wendt recently recalled , after he and other Second City newbies in the mid-1970s botched a comedy sketch and were booed off the stage, “I was so mortified that i walked down the stage-door stairs. I was going to leave the building and never come back. And [Bernie] burst backstage and said, “Get back out there! You affected those people!’” And then there’s fellow Second City alum Bill Murray, who before going on to stardom on Saturday Night Live  and in movies such as Ghostbusters and Caddyshack, for a time took up residence in the basement of Sahlin’s Chicago home.
A University of Chicago-trained engineer, Sahlin became a partner in a small but successful tape-recorder manufacturing company in the 1950s, only to forsake that comfortable career for the edgy world of performance art. His initial ventures, the Playwrights Theater Club and the Compass Players, provided a training ground for the likes of Ed Asner, Alan Alda , Jerry Stiller, Linda Lavin and Valerie Harper , and nurtured a generation of TV sitcom stars.
But it was with Second City, which he founded in 1959 and ran until 1985, that Sahlin had an even bigger impact. Though his own taste in humor ran to highbrow stuff like Aristophanes and Moliere, his laboratory for improvisational sketch comedy often veered into edgy territory and reveled in mixing irreverent commentary with sheer absurdity. (As a 1979 New York Times profile  of Sahlin noted, Second City’s most popular sketches at the time included both a satirical take on the historic Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, and a skit depicting the funeral of a man who got his head stuck in a gallon can of baked beans. In the process, Sahlin discovered and nurtured the nascent careers of Murray, John Belushi , Dan Ackroyd and Gilda Radner, to name a few. Playwright David Mamet even worked there – as a busboy.
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URL to article: http://blog.aarp.org/2013/06/17/the-behind-the-scenes-king-of-comedy/
URLs in this post:
 Second City: http://www.secondcity.com/
 Image: http://blog.aarp.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/sahlins.jpg
 died on June 16 at age 90: http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/theater/theaterloop/ct-ent-sahlins-obit-20130616,0,5657950.column
 recently recalled: http://www.suntimes.com/entertainment/20786178-421/second-city-co-founder-bernard-sahlins-dies.html
 Saturday Night Live: http://www.aarp.org/entertainment/books/info-03-2009/thirty_nine_years_of_short_term_memory_loss_review.html?intcmp=AE-BLIL-DOTORG
 Alan Alda: http://blog.aarp.org/2013/04/23/%EF%BB%BF%EF%BB%BFalan-alda-talks-life-death-and-the-big-c/?intcmp=AE-BLIL-BL
 Valerie Harper: http://blog.aarp.org/2013/03/06/valerie-harpers-rare-brain-cancer-what-caused-it/?intcmp=AE-BLIL-BL
 1979 New York Times profile: http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive/pdf?res=FB0617F6355C12728DDDA00994D0405B898BF1D3
 John Belushi: http://www.aarp.org/entertainment/movies-for-grownups/info-03-2012/blues-brothers-movies-for-grownups.html?intcmp=AE-BLIL-DOTORG
 Image: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BXqKkYYALMU
 Image: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZcFvJzhq48
 Did This Actor Invent the Gourmet Hamburger?: http://blog.aarp.org/2013/06/11/harry-lewis-actor-turned-gourmet-burgermeister/?intcmp=AE-ENDART1-BL-REL
 Bob Thompson: He Made Music to Sip Martinis By: http://blog.aarp.org/2013/06/10/bob-thompson-bachelor-pad-music-composer-dies-at-age-88-in-l-a/?intcmp=AE-ENDART2-BL-BOS
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