Performers Speak Out About Racism In Chicago’s Improv And Comedy Scene

Angela Oliver, Ashley Ray-Harris and Josie Benedetti
Images courtesy of Angela Oliver, Ashley Ray and Josie Benedetti
Angela Oliver, Ashley Ray-Harris and Josie Benedetti
Images courtesy of Angela Oliver, Ashley Ray and Josie Benedetti

Performers Speak Out About Racism In Chicago’s Improv And Comedy Scene

This week, a group of black alumni and current staff of The Second City wrote an open letter accusing the improv institution of “racial discrimination,”  including  “pay inequity,” “tokenism” and the “monetization of Black culture.” They called for the investigation and removal of any staff found guilty of abuse toward “the Black artists who built [its] stages,” among other things.

The letter followed the resignation of the theater’s CEO and co-owner Andrew Alexander, who said he’d “failed to create an anti-racist environment wherein artists of color might thrive.”

The theater also released its own statement, committing to address the grievances of its black performers and alumni with a series of changes, including hiring a diversity, equity and inclusion consulting firm. “We are prepared to tear it all down and begin again,” the letter read in part.

Curious City has gotten several questions about what Chicago’s improv scene is like — including this one we answered in 2018. So in the spirit of those questions, and in light of recent news, we’re revisiting Chicago improv from a different angle: race.

In this episode we speak with comedians Ashley Ray, Josie Benedetti and performer Angela Oliver about how systemic racism has impacted Chicago’s comedy scene, what they’ve experienced onstage and off and what it will take to change things.

Steven Jackson is a senior producer for Curious City. Get in touch with him at sjackson@wbez.org.

Alexandra Salomon, Isabel Carter and Lynnea Domienik contributed additional reporting for this story.