The Second City opened its doors in 1959 as a small comedy cabaret. It has since grown to become the world’s most influential name in improv comedy, boasting such prominent alumni as John Belushi, John Candy, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Chris Farley, Tina Fey, Keegan-Michael Key, Eugene Levy, and many more.
Now, the Chicago troupe is giving back with her Victor Wong Fellowship for AAPI Voices in Comedy, a first-of-its-kind workshop funded by Peng Zhao, CEO of Citadel Securities, and his wife, Cherry Chen.
The fellowship will annually provide 16 Fellows with a tuition-free master program in improvisational comedy.
California native Victor Wong (1927-2001) moved to Chicago in the 1950s to study theology at the University of Chicago. He joined The Second City at the encouragement of his close friend and famed theater academic, Viola Spolin. A fixture in the San Francisco Beat Scene of the 1950s and ’60s alongside Jack Kerouc and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Wong’s acting credits included roles in the films Th e Joy Luck Club, The Last Emperor, Big Trouble in Little China, The Three Ninjas series, and The Golden Child.
Beginning this fall, 16 fellows a year will be selected through auditions and granted a ten-week program in improvisational comedy taught by The Second City’s instructors and directors. The fellows will also have access to the theater’s executive creative team and alumni, including AAPI mentors.
Following the training, the fellows will present a mix of their original comedy, improvisational games, and classic scenes from The Second City archives in a showcase event on a Second City stage in Chicago.
“Beyond professional success on stage and screen, the skills of improvisation are a kind of super-power for life,” said Parisa Jalili, COO of The Second City. “We are thrilled that this gift will allow us to train emerging AAPI talent to both hone their comedy skills as well as their skills to be deeply collaborative, resilient, and creative individuals.”
“Comedy connects us by validating our shared experiences and opening our minds to new ones,” said Mr. Zhao and Ms. Chen. “Further diversifying the comedic community will help move this important medium — and society it serves — forward. We are excited to help bring the unique perspectives of AAPI talent to the stage. ”
The Second City has also been home to the NBC-backed Bob Curry Fellowship since 2014, which annually grants performers from varying diverse multicultural backgrounds and tuition-free master programs.
Auditions for the inaugural Victor Wong Fellowship will be held in August 2022.