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Joyce Sloane

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Joyce Sloane Obituary
Comedy club veteran mentored

Belushis, Radner and others

CHICAGO  Joyce Sloane, the beloved maternal powerhouse of The Second City comedy club and the woman who found and nurtured such comedy giants as John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Chris Farley and Bill Murray, died Thursday, said Kelly Leonard, vice president of The Second City.

According to her daughter, Cheryl, Ms. Sloane died peacefully, while in bed. She was 80.

She was associated with Second City for all but one of its 50 years. During that time she held virtually every title in the place, including associate producer, executive producer, founder of the e.t.c. Company, founder of the national touring company, co-founder of the Toronto branch of The Second City and producer emeritus.

But those titles don't fully convey the import of a gifted woman who could spot raw talent with ease and who provided a crucial nurturing presence in what was, especially in the early years, almost exclusively a boys' club.

Ms. Sloane's daughter, Cheryl, was born a year or so after the founding of Second City, but the young comedians, especially the young women, who started out at Second City in the 1960s, '70s and '80s, found that the maternal instincts of Cheryl's mother were available for sharing.

"Everybody who comes to Second City has issues," said Tim Kazurinsky, one of Ms. Sloane's charges. "She was the mother to the largest dysfunctional family in the world. Second City was like marine boot camp, but over in this corner there was little Jewish mother. It's hard to imagine the void."

It was Joyce Sloane who held Radner's hand when things got tough. "When Gilda came out on stage," Sloane told the Chicago Tribune in 1999, "the whole audience wanted to put its arms around her." She was, of course, speaking mostly of herself. At the time, Sloane still could not speak of Radner, who had died of ovarian cancer a decade before, without her voice breaking. It was also Ms. Sloane who headed out to the College of DuPage and found a raw, edgy young student named John Belushi and hired him without even requiring him to audition.

Belushi and his brother, Jim, weren't the only ones. It was Ms. Sloane who trekked to London, Ontario, in 1990 to check out a young comic named Nia Vardalos. Ms. Sloane brought her to Chicago. Vardalos went on to make "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."

Ms. Sloane was den mother to Chicago actors, comedians and improvisers for nearly a half century; she regarded the likes of Vardalos, Bonnie Hunt, Tina Fey and countless others as her surrogate daughters.

In the early years, Ms. Sloane also was crucial to the fledgling business, initially little more than a beatnik cabaret cafe.


"My Aunt Nettie would do the payroll," she told the Tribune in 2009. "My father, who was in the printing business, said to me one day, 'Am I a partner in the business?' I said, 'Why, Dad?' He said, 'Because I don't get paid."'

Sloane had other passions, including a longtime seat on the board of the Victory Gardens Theater and deep involvement as a supporter of the Chicago Academy for the Arts. She was instrumental in the development of many seminal Off-Loop theaters in the 1970s and '80s.

"One day at 'Wisdom Bridge,' said B.J. Jones, now the artistic director of Northlight Theatre, "I watched Joyce and Essie Kupcinet bringing in carpet."

But Second City and its performers were her professional life.


Her retirement age and declining health notwithstanding, she remained a fixture at the theater until just a few weeks ago. She was normally to be found off to the side, perched on a stool or bench.

"I'm the only one who still keeps an office downstairs," she said, during Second City's 50th-anniversary celebrations. "To me there are two things that are important here, the stage and the box office, and I'm near both of them."

That was only partly true. What mattered most to Sloane at Second City was the people.

Published in The Record on Feb. 5, 2011
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