The Chicago Comedy Association yuks it up during daylight hours
It's not unusual for a comedy show to start at 10 or 11 at night. Even midnight isn't off limits. But comedy during the day? That's just weird. Aside from a few children's shows and scattered weekend matinees, it's rare to see comedians doing their shtick when the sun is up.
It doesn't have to be that way, insists Angie McMahon, the founder and executive director of Chemically Imbalanced Comedy. "Why is there a curfew for comedy?" she asks. "You can laugh at any time."
McMahon, also the Network Committee chair for the Chicago Comedy Association, is hoping that Loop workers agree. She put together Laughing at Lunchtime, a three-day, CCA sponsored minifestival that storms downtown Wednesday 24 through August 26 with shows from 11:30am–1:30pm each day. More than 20 theaters and troupes—from the polished pros of Second City to the blinged-out playahs of Pimprov—will pitch in to help put on the free shows at four buildings: the Hyatt Regency, 303 East Wacker, Michigan Plaza and the Park Grille.
All of the buildings are part of the New East Side Association, a chamber of commerce–like body dedicated to promoting business in the New East Side, the name given to (but rarely used to describe) the area between Millennium Park and the Chicago River, from Michigan Avenue to the lake.
And the Chicago Comedy Association's...er, association with the New East Side Association makes sense. The CCA is structured a lot like a typical chamber of commerce, bringing together different businesses in the hope that they can help each other attract a larger audience.
"We're a group of comedy-theater professionals who are trying to promote Chicago as the comedy capital of the world," says Matt Elwell, one of the CCA's founding members and the director of marketing at ComedySportz. "We've done some combined publicity. We've done a brochure that has a map of all the different comedy theaters in Chicago."
And while all of this might sound like an earnest marketing student's class project, the fact is that McMahon and the CCA assembled a solid roster of acts, while also pulling together an ambitious event in a unique setting.
McMahon personally selected all the groups that will perform, and the lineup proves she has excellent taste. Some TOC favorites are on the schedule, including the local stand-up comics of Chicago Underground Comedy, game-show aficionado Rich Prouty's Improv Match Game, the politically charged sketch comedy of kevINda, the short-form high jinks of ComedySportz and the innovative long-form improv of all-female troupe Sirens.
"I started out by only inviting CCA member theaters," McMahon says. "Then I branched out to inviting specific shows and production companies that I've worked with in the past or have seen and respected their work."
Amazingly, she persuaded everyone involved to take time off from day jobs or, in the case of the theaters that pay performers—like Second City and ComedySportz—to donate their time. The result is that all the Laughing at Lunchtime shows are free.
The biggest question will be how well the unusual performance structure works. After all, few people can afford to spend two full hours on a weekday afternoon watching comedy—no matter how good it is. So audience members are encouraged to pop in and out of the shows at any time. "We've set it up so that whenever you have lunch, you should be able to see a little bit of comedy," Elwell says. But some performances, such as the long-form improv and the more traditional theater productions (such as Cast on a Hot Tin Roof and Verbatim Verboten), might not lend themselves to this kind of casual viewing.
Still, it's hard to nitpick about free entertainment that's walking distance from so many offices. "Any businessperson who doesn't want a little comedy with lunch has a sweet job," Elwell says. "There are maybe 12 people downtown who have jobs that sweet."
Laughing at Lunchtime runs Wednesday 24 to August 26.