Entertainment

Second City co-owner steps down amid accusations of racism from former performer

Andrew Alexander, chief executive and co-owner of famed The Second City improv theatre, says he is stepping down after a former performer levelled accusations of racism against the comedy institution.

Accusations emerge after Second City's pledge of support for Black Lives Matter

The Second City chief executive officer Andrew Alexander seen in 2009, is stepping down after an alumnus levelled accusations of racism against the comedy institution. (Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press)

Andrew Alexander, chief executive and and co-owner of famed The Second City improv theatre, says he is stepping down after a former performer levelled accusations of racism against the comedy institution.

In a lengthy letter posted on the company's website, Alexander said he "failed to create an anti-racist environment wherein artists of colour might thrive. I am so deeply and inexpressibly sorry."

He vowed that he will be replaced by a person of colour.

"The Second City cannot begin to call itself anti-racist. That is one of the great failures of my life," Alexander said in his statement.

"On stage, we dealt with the absurdity of the equal opportunity narrative that society uses to oppress BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and people of colour]. We dealt with the double standard that rationalizes violence against people of colour. We dealt with the cynicism of the liberal pact with capitalism. Offstage, it's been a different story."

Dewayne Perkins, actor, writer

The originally Chicago- and Toronto-based Second City was an early training ground for Saturday Night Live players including John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner and Chris Redd, among other comedy stars such as Keegan Michael-Key. The company also produced the SCTV television series in the 1970s and '80s.

Alexander's announcement on Friday 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 created obstacles for performers of colour.

His posts followed a Second City online message of support last week for Black Lives Matter.

In a tweet noting Alexander's resignation, Perkins had a one-word comment: "Oop."

The London-born Alexander said he is "fully removing myself from overseeing The Second City's operations and policies and will divest myself from the company as it stands."

Toronto location included

Alexander's ownership includes the Toronto location, a representative confirmed to CBC News on Monday. He purchased the Toronto location in 1974 from troupe co-founder Bernie Sahlins and became owner of the Chicago flagship in 1985. 

A Second City statement Friday laid out steps the company planned to take regarding the hiring and training of artists of colour, along with diversifying its theatre audiences and making donations to fight oppression and support Black-owned businesses and schools. Second City also named Anthony LeBlanc, an artistic director with the company, as its interim executive producer.

With files from CBC News

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