Michael McCarthy, Second City actor and ‘SNL’ writer, dies at 61

Former co-star Amy Sedaris remembers him as “a team player” with “a very dry sense of humor.”

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Actor and writer Michael Clayton McCarthy


Michael McCarthy, who went from writing for “Saturday Night Live” to starring in multiple Second City shows in the late ’80s and early ’90s, died Wednesday at age 61 at his home on the North Side.

“Michael was extraordinarily smart, talented and kind,” Second City said in a statement, noting cancer was the cause of death. “He was someone you always enjoyed being with, and you felt better about yourself and the world when you were given the pleasure of his gracious company. Michael had true wit, and his writing felt effortless in its beauty and intelligence.”

McCarthy performed alongside Steve Carell, Amy Sedaris and other rising talents in five Second City revues: “Truth, Justice or the American Way,” “Economy of Errors,” “Winner Takes Oil,” “Ameri-Go-Round” and “America Lite.”

“This is incredibly sad news,” Sedaris told the Sun-Times. “I loved Michael. He had a very dry sense of humor. He was always such a goer, a team player, generous and kind. I really loved working with him.”


Michael McCarthy (top) performed with a 1990 Second City touring company that included Amy Sedaris (center) and Tim Meadows (right).

Second City

A Cleveland native, McCarthy worked for “SNL” from 1983 to 1985, where his creations included the “House of Mutton” sketch starring guest host Michael Palin. A stint at “Sesame Street” followed. As he recalled in a 1991 Sun-Times interview, “I was so frustrated with actors messing up what I was writing, I auditioned and was hired for the Second City Touring Company.”

Later he graduated to the resident companies: first the e.t.c. stage and then the more prestigious mainstage. One of his understudies: a young Stephen Colbert.

As a journeyman writer and actor in Los Angeles in the late ’90s and early 2000s, he appeared on TV series including “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “According to Jim” and “The Gilmore Girls.” In 1995 he co-founded The Cat Laughs, an annual comedy festival that continues to this day in the Irish city of Kilkenny.


Michael McCarthy (bottom center) appears with John Rubano (top), Paul Dinello (left) and Steve Carell in the 1992 Second City show “Truth, Justice or the American Way.”

Roger Lewin/Jennifer Girard Studio

In 2006, McCarthy became head writer for “The Morning Fix,” an ambitious attempt at creating a “Daily Show”-like weekday comedy show that lasted 14 months on Chicago’s WKQX-FM (101.1).

In recent years he was active as a writing teacher at Second City, iO and DePaul University, and his students included Tina Fey, “Iron Man” director Jon Favreau, “SNL” performer Vanessa Bayer and “Veep” actor Matt Walsh.

Survivors include his wife, fellow Second City actor Susan Messing; stepchildren Liam Maxwell Conner and Sofia Mia Canale, and siblings Patrick McCarthy, MaryEllen Davis, Matthew McCarthy and SorenMcCarthy.

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