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Back in 2004 Dan Bakkedahl was living the dream of just about every young improv performer who moves to Chicago: he was performing on the mainstage at Second City. But then he quit. Kabir Hamid’s 2005 profile “So Long, Second City” explains why.
A white guy, Bakkedahl wasn’t targeted by the racism and sexism that have recently plagued the improv community. He was more unhappy with the way Second City encouraged its performers to mug for the audience instead of doing pure in-character improv, but he was even more unhappy with the way Second City treated his creative work. A deal with Sony Pictures Television allowed the studio development rights to all Second City material.
Bakkedahl was less enthusiastic about the arrangement. He was already unhappy that the cast created shows for free—ensemble members are paid for performances, but they’re not compensated for material-generating rehearsals. Now he was upset at the thought that Sony could use and profit from his work. “How do you feel about busting your ass to create something that you don’t get paid for,” he asks, “that Sony then also owns, that they can hand to any other actor they want and send them anywhere they want with it, and if it gets picked up you’ll make a little chunk of change?”
When Bakkedahl learned that one of his skits would be used in a showcase Sony and Second City had put together for television executives in LA, he was so angry he punched a wall and broke his hand. (Then he had to go back onstage and finish the show.) He asked Second City’s producers to either remove the skit from the showcase or give him the night off. They refused. And so Bakkedahl quit.
At the time, at least as Hamid presents it in his story, it was a ballsy move. Now, in a time when Second City employees—though not the performers—are voting to unionize (albeit unsuccessfully) and actors in general are less shy about speaking up about mistreatment, it seems like a harbinger of things to come.
Anyway, don’t feel too bad for Bakkedahl. He’s working in TV now, most prominently in Veep and Life in Pieces. Life goes on, even if you quit Second City.