Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, Dan Aykroyd, Chris Farley, Tina Fey, Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert all have one thing in common.

What began as a small experimental comedy theater in 1959 on Chicago's North Side, the Second City has become legendary for launching the careers of these and other comedy stars.

On April 27, one of the famed theater's sketch comedy and improv touring companies will perform at the Burnsville Performing Arts Center as part of the Rotary Club of Burnsville's Comedy for Caring event.

This marks the third year the community service organization has brought the act to town.

"They're improv, so they localize," said Jim Schmitt, the organization's fundraising chair. "They bring Mayor Elizabeth Kautz on stage. She graciously lets them poke fun at her. We've had a lot of fun with the Second City."

For years, the Burnsville Rotary hosted fundraising dinners to raise funds for various projects. But it "was getting stagnant," Rotarian Wayne Huelskoetter said.

When the Arts Center opened, they started taking advantage of the space, and after a couple of years decided to chance bringing in a national act for their annual major fundraising event.

"That was a big gamble," said Huelskoetter, the former fundraising chair. "We had never paid for talent before. It was a real gutsy move."

The decision paid off. Last year the event drew 600 people, and they've already sold that many tickets so far this year.

"Comedy sells," Huelskoetter said. "Comedy seems to appeal to a much broader cross section, from young people to us old people."

The decision has helped the club to expand their giving.

Last year organizers said they raised $57,000, and they hope to raise more than $60,000 this year. Some of that is earmarked for international projects, such as efforts to eliminate polio and clean water projects. But three-fourths of their giving, Huelskoetter said, gets doled out at the local level to scholarships and nonprofit organizations.

Their fundraising also allows them to partner with other Rotary clubs for programs like a full-day business ethics seminar at Burnsville High School, where juniors and seniors take on various company roles and engage in real-life business scenarios.

"Business has such a terrible name these days," Schmitt said. "Businessmen aren't terrible. They see the difficult choices that need to be made."

The past couple of years sponsors like the Walser Foundation and the Dr. LaChapelle Family Charitable Fund, created by a former Rotarian, have stepped up to cover the costs of the act so that all the proceeds go directly to the club's charitable projects.

"We give it all away," Huelskoetter said.

"We couldn't do it if we didn't have two sponsors like that who see the value of it," Schmitt said.

Before the event, the club runs an online auction of items, and on April 27 it conducts a silent auction, plus a live auction and raffle during intermission. The ticket for the Comedy for Caring event also includes complimentary appetizers and desserts. And live jazz music will be provided by southern Minnesota's 18-piece Real Big Band.

Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities freelance writer.