Margaret Hicks explains the history of Second City (Stephen Markley photo for RedEye)
For out-of-town visitors and Chicagoans alike, the Second City Walking Tour provides a glimpse of two histories: the City of Chicago and the world-famous comedy institution that has spawned some of America’s most famous comedic talents, from Jim Belushi to Tina Fey, Abbie Hoffman to Joan Rivers.
Margaret Hicks, 40, is the entrepreneurial spirit behind the revival of the Second City Tour, which she’s been doing for three years.
“I’ve been a docent on the Chicago Architecture Tour and a performer on anything resembling a stage in Chicago,” Hicks said. “I went approached Second City about restarting the tours, and they were like ‘Go for it.’ ”
The tour kicks off at Second City headquarters in historic Piper’s Alley in Old Town and covers everything from the history of the Great Chicago Fire to the audition process for Second City. Along the way, Hicks relates hilarious and poignant tales of the talent that has come through Second City.
“Chris Farley was a congregant here,” she told the group of St. Michael’s Church. “And it’s rumored that the day before he died, he went on a suicide tour. He walked through Old Town and visited every place that meant something to him.”
Hicks has also written a book called “The History of Chicago Comedy” and does her own tours at ChicagoElevated.com. She said the Second City tour gig is pretty much her dream job.
“Even if I’m having a down day — everyone has one of those days — I come here and see the people so excited, and I’m like ‘Oh, the worst thing I have to do is hang out with fun people and talk about Chicago for a while,’ ” she said.
“The people who come on it, my feeling is if you’re here, you’re probably a fun person. But it’s also about this neighborhood and the history of Chicago and what an amazing impact this city and Second City has had on American comedy,” she said.
Tour member Adrienne King, 21, is a recent graduate of the University of Dayton in Ohio and hopes to move to Chicago in the future. It was her idea for her family to take the tour.
“My favorite TV show of all time is ‘Strangers With Candy’ with Stephen Colbert and Amy Sedaris,” she said, referring to two now-famous Second City alums. “I decided I had to check it out.”
James and Amanda Starkweather were in Chicago celebrating their honeymoon.
“This was on the top 100 things to do in Chicago,” James Starkweather said.
Added Amanda Starkweather: “We also do comedy sports, so there is a parallel.”
“My mom was in town,” said Vanessa Park, 30. “And she’s been wanting to go to Second City for 30 years.”
“Ever since the first “Saturday Night Live” cast with Belushi and Dan Akroyd,” said her mother, Victoria Park.
“I’ve been in the Northwestern bubble, so I thought I should learn something about Chicago, and I figured this beats the architecture tour,” Vanessa Park said.
The tour, which winds its way through Old Town, concludes with Hicks explaining what a phenomenon it is to rise to fame through Second City. Her first piece of advice is: Work hard. And her second bit of advice?
“Be prepared to ride coattails. You never know who’s going to come out of here,” she said.