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Improv Credits

image: Departments header The April Magazine ("College Report") claims that Off-Off Campus was founded in 1986, "when Second City co-founder Bernard G. Sahlins, AB'43, challenged students in his improv comedy course to revive the tradition on campus." Please allow me to correct this misleading statement.

Off-Off Campus was founded by me, then director of University Theater, and the late Prof. Frank Kinahan, then UT's faculty director. It was our idea to establish a campus comedy troupe; we asked Bernie Sahlins to lend his name to the enterprise because we knew that his association with Second City would get people's attention. The only thing Bernie did was to "teach" the "improv comedy course" that we arranged for him, in which he traveled to campus to watch the students rehearse their sketches. And yet whenever the subject comes up, Bernie, and Bernie alone, is always cited as the founder of Off-Off Campus. (E.g., on the Off-Off Campus home page.)

I mention this not only because it annoys me, but also because it may be a matter of interest to historiographers. Why does such a distorted view of history carry the day? Three reasons occur to me. First, it's simply unwieldy to cite a trio of founders. Much easier to boil us down to one; and that one, of course, must be the one whom the members of Off-Off Campus would prefer to consider their founder--reason No. 2--because through him they can trace a connection to Second City. Third, the situation seems to be governed by a fundamental rule of American celebrity culture: The best-known person in the vicinity of an event tends to receive a grossly disproportionate share of credit or blame for it.

I guess I shouldn't complain. Frank and I made a deal with the devil when we used Bernie's name to advance our project.

Steve Schroer
Minneapolis


  JUNE 2000

  > > Volume 92, Number 5


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