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For the Improv Comedy Legends of Second City, Diversity Is Serious Business

Still from a corporate diversity training video created by Second City for SAP.Still from a corporate diversity training video created by Second City for SAP.
Still from a corporate diversity training video created by Second City for SAP.Courtesy of SAP

Diversity training is nothing to laugh at…but what if it was?

Second City—the storied improv organization that produced stars like John and James Belushi, Bill Murray, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, and Steve Carrell—has quietly expanded far beyond comedy clubs and stages. These days, the much of the company’s business comes from corporate training, where it uses comedy to help clients such as Google, Facebook, and Clorox with things like increasing sales effectiveness, building stronger teams—and improving diversity and inclusion.

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Over the past three years, revenue from this training business, which is grouped under the Second City Works umbrella, has increased by 65% and now makes up a third of Second City’s overall business—or about $20 million in annual revenues, say company executives.

The company taps the larger Second City talent pool to work with its corporate clients, so trainings are led by performers (or former performers) and video scripts and other materials are penned by pro comedy writers.

One of Second City Works’ fastest growing offerings is diversity and inclusion training. While diversity has long been a part of the organization’s history—CEO Andrew Alexander says it became a major focus in casting for company after the 1992 Los Angeles race riots—the past few years have seen a major increase in interest from corporate clients.

“Corporate America has woken up a bit,” says Alexander.

Second City is currently in talks with more than 30 clients regarding diversity and inclusion-related initiatives, which span from the creation of company-specific content (e.g. training videos) to management workshops and company-wide training programs.


One such client is enterprise software giant SAP (SAP), which recently worked with Second City to create a series of diversity and inclusion training videos, which is plans to roll out to its 77,000 global employees in August.

SAP chose to partner with Second City in the hopes of breathing “fresh air” into its diversity content, says SAP’s senior instructional designer Joanne Connelly. Instead of the typical lengthy, didactic PowerPoint presentations filled with statistics about how diversity adds to the bottom line, Second City’s videos are two minutes long, and show typical situations employees might find themselves in.

In one video, called “Your bias is showing,” black manager lectures his employees about the need for diversity—only to then openly favor the employees that mimic his mannerisms and style of dress while ignoring those that think differently. “It’s super exaggerated, but makes the point that diversity isn’t just about race,” says Brynne Humphreys, Second City’s VP of client services.

The goal is to get people to talk openly and honestly about issues of diversity and inclusion. “We don’t go out claiming to be experts on diversity,” she says. “We’re experts in comedy, and in using comedy to break open a truth.”