Young John Belushi Imitates Truman Capote & Performs Live on Second City Stage (1972)

The tow­er­ing giants of 80s comedy—Harold Ramis, Cather­ine O’Hara, Mar­tin Short, John Can­dy, Rick Mora­nis, Gil­da Rad­ner, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray—seem to have emerged as ful­ly-formed genius­es on the sound­stages of Sat­ur­day Night Live and in major com­e­dy films and TV shows. Like­wise more recent names like Bob Odenkirk, Tina Fey, Steve Car­rell, Amy Sedaris, and Stephen Col­bert. But the fact is, like most artists, these stars got their start on hum­bler stages—those of the Sec­ond City improv the­ater, the longest run­ning troupe of its kind in the U.S. and Cana­da. Oper­at­ing in Chica­go, L.A., and Toron­to, Sec­ond City began with a small group of Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go actors, includ­ing the late Mike Nichols and his com­e­dy part­ner Elaine May. The first the­ater opened in 1959, and dur­ing the six­ties Sec­ond City nur­tured actors and comics like Alan Arkin, Del Close, Joan Rivers, and Peter Boyle.

Among the mind-bog­gling wealth of tal­ent Sec­ond City pro­duced, one come­di­an stands out both because of his leg­endary phys­i­cal com­e­dy and his untime­ly and trag­ic death. And though these descrip­tions apply equal­ly to Sec­ond City alum Chris Far­ley, today we’re focus­ing in on John Belushi, who joined Sec­ond City in 1971, four years before the debut of Sat­ur­day Night Live and his sub­se­quent turns in The Blues Broth­ers and Ani­mal House. In the clip at the top, see Belushi play “the humil­i­at­ed son of a father who died a less-than-respectable death.” Join­ing him onstage are Joe Flaherty—best known for his work on Sec­ond City’s SCTV—and Harold Ramis, Jim Fish­er, Judy Mor­gan, and Euge­nie Ross-Lem­ing. Just above, the same cast sur­rounds Belushi as he does his Tru­man Capote impres­sion.

Both per­for­mances date from 1972, and though the video and audio qual­i­ty leave much to be desired, they’re well worth watch­ing, espe­cial­ly Belushi’s Capote. Remem­bered more per­haps for his bizarre comedic vio­lence, it’s easy to for­get the over two-dozen char­ac­ters Belushi imper­son­at­ed while on SNL, includ­ing Hen­ry Kissinger, Tip O’Neil, Eliz­a­beth Tay­lor, John Lennon, and William Shat­ner. Par­tic­u­lar­ly poignant now, as we look back on the career of Joe Cock­er, who died yes­ter­day, is Belushi’s famous impres­sion of the spir­it­ed British singer, above. When Cock­er saw it, he “became hys­ter­i­cal,” say­ing, “You can’t not laugh at this.” It’s a fit­ting trib­ute to Belushi, a true fan of Cock­er’s art, and to Cock­er, who had the humil­i­ty and good humor to appre­ci­ate a good joke at his expense.

You can watch a longer video of old Sec­ond City per­for­mances on this page. It runs about 40 min­utes.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

John Belushi’s Impro­vised Screen Test for Sat­ur­day Night Live (1975)

John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd Get Bri­an Wil­son Out of Bed and Force Him to Go Surf­ing, 1976

Lorne Michaels Intro­duces Sat­ur­day Night Live and Its Bril­liant First Cast for the Very First Time (1975)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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