News News/Local

Columbia, Second City partner for comedy degree

Chicago's comedy scene just got a little bit more serious this week after Columbia College announced Tuesday that it will be partnering with The Second City to offer a new four-year degree in comedy writing and performance.

The new bachelor's degree, which will officially begin this fall, was inspired by Columbia's five-year-old Comedy Studies program that gives students the opportunity to "study abroad" at Second City for a semester and receive credit hours to take improv classes and workshops at the comedy club.

"The program really succeeded beyond our wildest dreams--in terms of the passion of the students and how well they did coming out of the program and getting jobs and moving forward," said Anne Libera, director of Comedy Studies and coordinator of the new degree program. "It wasn't long until [chair of Columbia's theater department] Dr. John Green looked at me and said, ‘This should be a major.' "

She said Aidy Bryant, who was recently added to the "Saturday Night Live" cast after graduating from Columbia in 2009, said the Comedy Studies program is what prepared and pushed her to be able to start performing at Second City.

Libera has taught at Columbia since 1997 and worked at Second City for 25 years. She was Stephen Colbert's college roommate at Northwestern and has worked with comics including Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Jack McBrayer and Kristen Schaal. She said during her time at Second City she has noticed that the students who attend comedy and improv classes during college usually succeed more quickly than individuals who move to Chicago to pursue those fields after college.

"I think it's the immersion in the art form," Libera said. "The thing we'll be doing in the major is cross training--of having actors write and writers act, and have everyone working together to put material up at a regular pace. We want to give our students all those skills--but also the ability to produce, manage and create their own work."

"There aren't gatekeepers who look down at comedians and say, ‘Hey, let me give you a series!' " Libera added. "The pathway to a career in comedy is being able to produce yourself."

Andrew Alexander, CEO and executive producer of The Second City Inc. and a trustee at Columbia College, said in a press release that the new program fits perfectly into Columbia College's experiential curriculum that creates students "that are not only knowledgeable about their chosen field, but they're also ready to work."

Columbia junior Naomi Penner, 21, is a theatre major but is considering switching over to the new comedy writing and performance major in the fall--even though it might mean she'll have to stay in school another semester. Penner, who said she had never thought she would have the opportunity to pursue comedy as a major, said the extra time would definitely be worth it.

"Knowing that there's a chance that I could continue on in comedy after taking Comedy Studies and still be in that world-- I never thought it would be a possibility," Penner said. "But I'm glad it is now."

Libera said she's excited that her students will now be able to work on comedy full-time in Chicago, a city that she says is an exciting place for comedy because there are so many opportunities for people to develop themselves and their talent.

"One of the biggest things about Chicago, for me, is that Chicago is such an amazing place to develop your own voice," she said. "Los Angeles and New York are places where you sell your voice--but Chicago is the place where you figure out who you are."

Erin Vogel is a RedEye special contributor.

Want more? Discuss this article and others on RedEye's Facebook page

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
Related Content
  • Chicago's curious college courses

    Chicago's curious college courses

    Another break is over and another semester at school begins. Wah. Wah. Wah. But who says school can't be any fun? Try taking one of these strange courses offered at local Chicago schools to make this year a little more interesting ... Want more? Discuss this article and others on RedEye's Facebook...

  • Chicago sues red light camera firm for $300 million

    Chicago sues red light camera firm for $300 million

    Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration has sued Chicago's former red light camera operator, Redflex Traffic Systems, for more than $300 million on grounds the entire program was built on a $2 million bribery scheme at City Hall that has already led to federal corruption convictions.

  • Marrow's 'The Gold Standard' raises the Chicago rock bar

    Marrow's 'The Gold Standard' raises the Chicago rock bar

    The four musicians in Marrow know quite a bit about bringing diverse influences to the table. After all, three of them, singer-guitarist Liam Kazar, singer-keyboardist Macie Stewart and bassist Lane Beckstrom were in Kids These Days, a now-defunct septet that combined jazz, funk, rap and rock in...

  • The Kids These Days family tree

    The Kids These Days family tree

    From its 2009 beginnings to its 2013 demise, Chicago's Kids These Days seemed like one of the most promising acts the city had seen in years. While the band split up at the height of its hype, its members have since gone on to do bigger and better things—seriously impressive considering the hip-hop/rock/jazz...

  • Solid 'Gold': How ex-Kids These Days members came back stronger as Marrow

    Solid 'Gold': How ex-Kids These Days members came back stronger as Marrow

    After the dissolution of Kids These Days, the much-buzzed about Chicago fusion-jazz-rock-rap septet that split in spring 2013 just a few months after releasing its only album, “Traphouse Rock,” some of its members spent what seems like all of 20 minutes bandless. "We were driving back from the...

  • Mr Twin Sister's 'In the House of Yes' is one of last year's hidden treasures

    Mr Twin Sister's 'In the House of Yes' is one of last year's hidden treasures

    Welcome to RedEye's "Song of the Day," an ongoing feature where music reporter Josh Terry or another RedEye staff member highlights something they're listening to. Some days the track will be new, and some days it will be old. No matter what, each offering is something you should check out. Check...

  • GrubHub's weekend customer-support issues made people hangry

    GrubHub's weekend customer-support issues made people hangry

    Technical difficulties at GrubHub and Seamless over the weekend drove hordes of hangry would-be customers to air their grievances on social media. The food ordering and delivery sites, which merged in 2013 and use GrubHub’s back-end technology, errantly accepted payments on Saturday evening without...

  • One dead in Heart of Chicago after being shot by police

    One dead in Heart of Chicago after being shot by police

    A 29-year-old man died after being shot by police on the Lower West Side early Saturday, police said.