Bill Murray Started Second City on Same Day As John Candy: ‘We Were Both Lousy’

Bill Murray Started Second City on Same Day As John Candy: ‘We Were Both Lousy’

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Bill Murray was on The Tonight Show to promote Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire but that didn’t stop Jimmy Fallon from busting out an old black-and-white photo of Second City Murray, sporting an impressive mustache that lands somewhere between Ron Swanson and BoratFallon asked Murray if he knew right away that he was good at improv comedy.

“As a matter of fact, I was really bad at the beginning,” Murray said. “I was really bad. I remember walking out after the first very challenging improv class and walking about 75 blocks in the wrong direction. And then I realized, ‘I got to get out of here,’ and had to sort of jog all the way back home. That was pretty bad.”

And least misery had company, as Murray revealed that he began his Second City adventures on the same day as the legendary John Candy. “We were both terrible,” he admitted. “We were both lousy, and no one would work with us. So it was just Candy and I looking at each other like, ‘I guess it's us again, you know?’ But it worked out okay for us eventually.”

His former castmates remember Murray as being a little better than that. “I thought Billy was a fricking genius,” says Michael Gellman in The Second City Unscripted: Revolution and Revelation at the World-Famous Comedy Theater. “I would watch him every night to see how he evolved and changed material and characters. I thought he was one of the best people I had ever seen onstage. I enjoyed being his understudy. I learned more from watching Billy. I learned more from watching that cast. It was old-school.”

Murray told Fallon that Second City mentors helped him find his way — fellow Ghostbuster and Groundhog Day partner Harold RamisSCTV stalwart Joe Flaherty and Bill’s brother, Brian Doyle-Murray. In Flaherty’s view, it didn’t take long for Bill to surpass his older brother. “He did more characters than Brian. Bill did a lot of sort of weird characters. Like that guy (Carl Spackler in Caddyshack) that talks out of the side of his mouth,” Flaherty says in Second City Unscripted. “And so I’d say he had a great stage presence, too. The audiences sort of just zeroed in on him. He had that kind of star quality.”

In that oral history, Murray fondly remembered his experience at the improv theater in his trademark sarcastic style. “It’s given many great performers their start, but more importantly, it’s killed thousands of barely talented people and it’s put them to death, and they’re now doing the jobs they’re built for. It’s because they couldn’t meet the rugged standards,” he said. “I used to work at this place, and they paid me poorly and miserably, but they let me drink free, and I’ve never forgiven them for that.”


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