Former SNL writer, Second City vet McCarthy passes at 61

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(Credit: IMDB)

Chicago has lost a beloved writer, actor, comedian, teacher, husband and father. Former SNL writer, Michael Clayton McCarthy, who was also an active member of The Second City, iO Comedy and DePaul University faculties, passed away peacefully after a two-year bout with a debilitating form of cancer on April 8, 2020.  He was 61.

His wife, the talented Susan Messing, announced her husband’s passing on Twitter.

Born in Cleveland on February 15, 1961, McCarthy, started where most do – at the bottom.  After being hired as Second City’s first intern in 1980, McCarthy would see his success skyrocket as he joined the writing staff of SNL at 24 in 1983. That cast included Eddie Murphy, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Joe Piscopo, and Chicago’s Tim Kazurinsky and Jim Belushi.

He received a Primetime Emmy Nomination for his work.  McCarthy served as a writer for producer Chuck Lorre (Big Bang Theory, Mom, Young Sheldon) on The Drew Carey Show. He also wrote episodes for Sesame Street, Coach, Sex Wars, Red Eye, Whose Line is It Anyway? and the 2015 TV movie, Shut Up and Dance.

In 1996, he co-founded The Cat Laughs Festival in Kilkenny, Ireland in 1996, and created several writing programs including The Comedy Lab and The Second City’s current program which boasts 1.5 million students worldwide according to iO Comedy.

Acting-wise, McCarthy appeared (mostly as a judge or priest) over the years in such hit series as Coach, The Nanny, Gilmore Girls, Freaks and Geeks, Spin City and Curb Your Enthusiasm, which just ended its 10th season.

While at Second City, McCarthy performed as an actor and improviser on several main stages during his time.  Some of his fellow performers included John Rubank, Amy Sedaris and Steve Carell. Steven Colbert was one of McCarthy’s understudies.

As an instructor, his students included stars Tina FeyIron Man director Jon Favreau and Veep actor Matt Walsh, the Chicago Sun Times reported.

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


ALSO READ: Second City Stage Manager Craig Taylor passes at 63


“He was great, the kind of person who never forced me to open up and talk to him, but always made himself available, and I always wanted to talk to him because he was so genuinely wonderful to talk to,” teen stepdaughter Sofia Mia Canale told The Chicago Tribune.

Twitter Tributes

Since his death, tributes have poured in for the late writer on Twitter. Here are some of them:


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He is survived by now is survived by his wife, fellow comedian and writer, Susan Messing, stepdaughter Sofia Canale, and stepson Liam Maxwell Conner. 

Reel Chicago extends its heartfelt condolences to Susan, Sofia and Liam.




Katharin Mraz is a contributing writer for Reel Chicago and Reel 360.

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