Chicago’s very funny festivals
These budget-friendly fests will crack you up.
Yep, this is Chicago, where you can see top-notch stand-up, sketch and improv comedy in venues all over the city seven nights a week. But for the comedy nerd (that’s you, right?), nothing is more rewarding (and often budget friendlier) than geeking out at one of the city’s many festivals devoted to the art form. Caution: At most fests you’ll likely be trying to squeeze in a ton of shows in a short amount of time, but you’re used to cramming, right?
Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival (January 3–13, 2013)
As temperatures in the city drop, the funny factor skyrockets as this joyous grassroots fest storms Stage 773 in Lakeview for more than a week of funny devoted to sketch comedy. Last year’s extravaganza boasted 162 performances by 138 local, national and international comedy troupes. Prices are just right (tickets to the 2012 fest were $13.50 per show), the energy at the venue is infectious as hell, and you can meet and greet with the performers afterward. We can’t think of a better precursor to your spring semester.
Chicago Improv Festival (April)
If you’re an improv nerd like we are, you won’t want to miss this annual fest in which every show is a spontaneous creation based on audience suggestion. Last year’s 15th annual extravaganza, for example, boasted 75 acts spread out across six very funny days with most shows priced at just $5–$15. Keep your eyes peeled for visiting greats. Past headliners have included MADtv alumni like Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key and Ike Barinholtz and lots of Second City folk.
Chicago Women’s Funny Festival (early June)
This estrogen-fueled festival of funny debuted this June as a spring companion to Sketchfest but with an emphasis on female stand-ups, improvisers and sketch artists. It included more than 66 budget shows spread out over five days and wrangled in some pretty hilarious ladies from all over the U.S. It might be the new kid on the block, but we have a feeling it will be cracking us up for years to come.
TBS Just for Laughs (mid-June)
Like lululemon and William Shatner, this mother of all Chicago comedy festivals is actually Canadian in origin. For nearly 30 years, the biggest names in comedy have been descending upon Montreal each July for knee-slapping good times. In 2009, Just for Laughs partnered with U.S. television station TBS for a Windy City version of the fest that will kick off its fifth installment in June 2013. Although big-name headliners (who in the past have included Steve Martin, Sarah Silverman, Louis C.K., Aziz Ansari, etc.) will set you back a few bucks, big chunks of programming are devoted to grassroots (i.e. cheap) comedy. Conan O’Brien, for example, took his show on the road for this year’s festival and tickets were free. 30 Rock’s Scott Adsit similarly performed a string of improv shows at iO and tickets were less than $15. Consider this your perfect stress reliever after a grueling week of finals.
Chicago Comedy Film Festival (November 2–4)
This newbie indie comedy fest is only in its second year, but its organizers say they’re committed to turning it in to a local institution. Last year it partnered with sponsors like DePaul University for a weekend that included more than 31 films both short (like the hilarious and animated “Bear Force One”) and feature length (including homegrown fare such as Bandicoot and The Mole Man of Belmont Avenue starring Robert Englund from the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise). The festival expands to three days this year, so grab a bucket of popcorn and settle in for a chuckle.