Comedy shows and venues | 2012 Student Guide
See Time Out Chicago’s weekly magazine or go to timeoutchicago.com/comedy for up-to-date Comedy listings and events.
While you must be 21 years old to patronize most of the bar venues here, some establishments around town occasionally have 18-and-over nights. Call for details.
✽ Recommended or notable
✽ The Armando Diaz Experience iO Del Close Theater, 3541 N Clark St (773-880-0199, ioimprov.com). Mon 8:30pm; $12. One improviser starts the show with a monologue inspired by an audience suggestion, others then improvise scenes around it. This cult fave is always top-notch.
✽ Baby Wants Candy Apollo Theater, 2540 N Lincoln Ave (773-935-6100, apollochicago.com). Fri 10:30pm; $15. The nimble players in this long-running gem take a single audience suggestion and spin a fully improvised two-act musical out of it. Let the mayhem begin.
FREE Big Fancy Open Mic 21+ Sully’s House, 1501 N Dayton St (312-733-6000, theedgecomedyclub.com). Thu 9pm. The Edge might be homeless, but its open-mic night at least has found a home. Catch the up-and-comers (or give it a shot yourself).
Bye Bye Liver: The Chicago Drinking Play 21+ Fizz, 3220 N Lincoln Ave (773-348-6000, byebyeliver.com). Fri, Sat 8, 10pm; $20. Drinking games and boozy high jinks rule at this night of interactive sketch comedy.
✽ Chicago Underground Comedy 21+ Beat Kitchen, 2100 W Belmont Ave (773-281-4444, beatkitchen.com). Tue 9:30pm; $5. This outstanding night of comedy takes in four to five comics each week. Keep your eye on some of these talented folks; they’re going places.
Chicagoland Annoyance Theatre, 4830 N Broadway (773-561-4665, annoyanceproductions.com). Tue 8pm; $8. This cabal of talent justifies going out on a Tuesday. Scenes are always Chicago-set and the improv is top-notch.
FREE Cole’s (Miner’s Daughter) Open Mic 21+ Cole’s, 2338 N Milwaukee Ave (773-276-5802, coleschicago.blogspot.com). Wed 8:30pm. Rhea Butcher and Adam Burke host this popular open-mic night.
✽ Comedians You Should Know 21+ Timothy O’Toole’s, 622 N Fairbanks Ct (312-642-0700, comediansyoushould know.com). Wed 9pm; $5. This night of comedy is all about putting local stand-ups on your radar.
The Comedy Bar 21+ The Red Bar Comedy Club at Ontourage, 157 W Ontario St (773-387-8412, redbarcomedy.com). Fri, Sat 8, 10pm; $10–$15. Joke nights are few and far between in downtown Chicago. This venue rights that wrong with a Vegas-style night of stand-up.
✽ Cook County Social Club iO Cabaret, 3541 N Clark St (773-880-0199, ioimprov.com). Tue 8pm; $12. The goofballs who make up CCSC are a joy to watch. Their loose-limbed, youthful improvisational style is totally infectious.
✽ Counter Productive Lover Chemically Imbalanced Theater, 1420 W Irving Park Rd (800-838-3006, cicomedy.com). Sat 10:30pm; $10. Weaving between high- and lowbrow, improvisers Counter Productive Lover take a single suggestion and create a sideways world where “they wear hats on their feet and hamburgers eat people.”
✽ Cupid Has A Heart On iO Del Close Theater, 3541 N Clark St (773-880-0199, cupidplayers.com). Sat 10:30pm; $20. This iO mainstay will pierce your heart and fill you with love—while cracking you up.
Deltones Present the New IO Musical iO Cabaret, 3541 N Clark St (773-880-0199, ioimprov.com). Sat 8pm; $14. A cast of iO regulars mixes it up with an improvised musical each week.
FREE Entertaining Julia 21+ Town Hall Pub, 3340 N Halsted St (773-472-4405, townhallpub.com). Sun 9:30pm. The Puterbaugh Sisters host this night of comic nuttiness.
✽ Felt iO Del Close Theater, 3541 N Clark St (773-880-0199, ioimprov.com). Wed 8pm; $5. Nine Hensonlike puppets perform the same old improv we’ve
seen a million times before, but the difference is skin-deep.
FREE Flock Yourself 21+ Bird’s Nest, 2500 N Southport Ave (773-472-1502, birdsnestbar.com). Wed 8pm. C.J. Toledano, Bob Palos and Aaron Weaver team up for a combination open mic and stand-up show that mixes newbies and local greats.
FREE The Free For All The Playground Theater, 3209 N Halsted St (773-871-3793, freeforallimprov.com). Sun 7:30pm. A trio of local troupes performs improv for broke comedy seekers.
Give Me 5 The Playground Theater, 3209 N Halsted St (773-871-3793, the-playground.com). Wed 10pm; $5. The Playground gives us five, as in five-minute sets of video, song, dance and more from the city’s up-and-comers.
The Hot Karl The ComedySportz Theatre, 929 W Belmont Ave (773-549-8080, comedysportzchicago.com). Sat midnight; $10. ComedySportz ensemble members take off the gloves in this raucous long-form where debauchery is highly encouraged.
✽ Improvised Shakespeare Company iO Del Close Theater, 3541 N Clark St (773-880-0199, ioimprov.com). Fri 8, 10:30pm; $16. It’s a night of Elizabethan tomfoolery that’s not to be missed. The nimble players capture the spirit of the Bard without ever lifting material directly from his work.
FREE Kafein Open Mic Kafein, 1621 Chicago Ave, Evanston (847-491-1621). Mon 9pm. Flex your comedy muscles at indie coffeehouse Kafein, where all are welcome at its anything-goes open mic.
✽ Messing with a Friend Annoyance Theatre, 4830 N Broadway (773-561-4665, annoyanceproductions.com). Thu 10:30pm; $5. Gifted improv weirdo Susan Messing invites a new friend to “play” with her each week. The results are hilarious.
One Group Mind studio BE, 3110 N Sheffield Ave (773-248-5900, studio-be.org). Fri, Sat 10pm; $5. This improv offering takes in two to three indie troupes at each performance.
Potential Boyfriends studio BE, 3110 N Sheffield Ave (773-248-5900, studio-be.org). Tue 10pm; $5. In the style of Pistol Party or Entertaining Julia, comedy troupe Potential Boyfriends weave improv and sketch into a night of high- and lowbrow dicking around while inviting emerging stand-ups and improv troupes to share the stage. For a Tuesday night, it’s hopping.
✽ The Second City’s Improv All-Stars UP Comedy Club, 230 W North Ave (312-662-4562, upcomedyclub.com). Mon 8pm; $16. It’s the same improv games we’ve seen before, but played to perfection by a whip-smart team of pros who manage to create laughs out of thin air and aren’t afraid to go off-color when appropriate. The legendary Mick Napier directs (and it shows).
Skinprov Annoyance Theatre, 4830 N Broadway (773-561-4665, annoyanceproductions.com). Sat midnight; $7. You like dudes who improvise in the near buff? Why, you must be a bachelorette!
FREE SMUSH Stage 773, 1225 W Belmont Ave (773-327-5252, stage773.com). Mon 8pm. When you smash together improv, sketch and stand-up, you get SMUSH, an open-mic night for all comedy types.
FREE Speak Easy Comedy Stanley’s Kitchen & Tap, 1970 N Lincoln Ave (312-642-0007, speakeasycomedy.com). Mon 8:30pm. A group of up-and-comers produces this weekly showcase. The headliners are solid, so don’t write this one off too quickly.
Sunday Double Header Donny’s Skybox, 1608 N Wells St (312-337-3992, secondcity.com). Sun 8pm; $12, students $10. Gameprovers Infinite Sundaes provide a wealth of Sabbath silliness and each month perform alongside a different sketch or improv troupe.
✽ TJ & Dave iO Cabaret, 3541 N Clark St (773-880-0199, tjanddave.com). Wed 11pm; $5. This two-man show puts master improvisers TJ Jagodowski and Dave Pasquesi together for an hour of long-form.
FREE The Two-Hour Comedy Hour 21+ Gallery Cabaret, 2020 N Oakley Ave (773-489-5471, gallerycabaret.com). Sat 7pm. Emily Lake and Charlie Lind bring local and national talent together for 120 minutes of stand-up, sketch and more. Audiences get their own shot at the mic (including stupid bar prizes) with the Tight 42 Seconds segment.
✽ We’re All in This Room Together The Second City e.t.c., 1616 N Wells St (312-337-3992, secondcity.com). Thu 8pm, Fri, Sat 8, 11pm, Sun 7pm; $23–$28. Log off Facebook and turn off your f-ing cell phones. This one-of-a-kind theatrical experience will never happen again, says the e.t.c. in its exciting 36th revue.
✽ Whirled News Tonight iO Del Close Theater, 3541 N Clark St (773-880-0199, ioimprov.com). Sat 8pm; $14. This weekly winner deserves its prime-time slot. Scenes are based on articles that audience members clip from the dailies and post to the wall.
✽ Who Do We Think We Are? The Second City Mainstage, 1616 N Wells St (312-337-3992, secondcity.com). Tue–Thu 8pm, Fri, Sat 8, 11pm, Sun 7pm; $23–$28. Second City hits 100 with a revue that impresses on the strength of its talented lineup. Little new ground is broken, but solid performances abound from the impressive ensemble including Edgar Blackmon, Holly Laurent and Katie Rich, e.t.c. alums Tim Baltz and Mary Sohn, and enjoyable newcomer Steve Waltien. In anticipation of the fall elections, this show is likely to morph into a new one soon.
Your Funniest Friends Variety Comedy Showcase 21+ The Joynt, 650 N Dearborn St (312-573-2233, thejoyntchicago.com). Sat 8pm; $10. This downtown joke night weaves sketch and improv into its stand-up format.
✽ Annoyance Theatre 4830 N Broadway (773-561-4665, annoyanceproductions.com). Average price: $5–$15. Annoyance put itself on the map with its famously distasteful gross-out musical Co-Ed Prison Sluts. Twenty years later, it still cranks out bizarre, unconventional comedy.
Chemically Imbalanced Theater 1420 W Irving Park Rd (800-838-3006, cicomedy.com). Average price: $5–$15. CIC (that’s Chemically Imbalanced Comedy) treads in the quirky and the strange, and that’s a good thing. This diminutive storefront theater might serve up energetic, long-form improv one night and serious theater the next. But mostly, the emphasis is on the chuckle.
The Comedy Bar 157 W Ontario St (773-387-8412, redbarcomedy.com). Average price: $10–$15. Every weekend, the guys who produce the Red Bar Comedy podcast transform swank River North nightclub Ontourage into a Vegas-style joke joint attracting plenty of the city’s finest comics. Granted, they’ll alter their material a bit to play to tourists, but it’s still exciting to see comedy making a downtown comeback.
The ComedySportz Theatre 929 W Belmont Ave (773-549-8080, comedysportzchicago.com). Average price: $5–$22. A ref keeps the score as dueling improv troupes battle it out at the Chicago version of this national brand (which relies heavily on audience participation). Most shows are squeaky clean, but potty-mouthed fare like the Hot Karl or the groundbreaking Impress These Apes appeases an edgier crowd.
de Maat Theatre 1616 N Wells St (312-337-3992, secondcity.com). Average price: $10–$15. Named for the late improvising guru Martin de Maat, this 49-seat theater allows the ever-expanding Second City to grow yet again. Don’t expect superstar comedy; this is where grads from the city’s famed conservatory experiment with new works.
Donny’s Skybox 1608 N Wells St (312-337-3992, secondcity.com). Average price: $10–$15. Donny’s Skybox, cousin to the Second City’s Mainstage and e.t.c., offers a home for young comics and improvisers (many of whom are graduates of the Second City Conservatory) a place to present new material. As such, the material is often raw and the audience populated by friends and family members. But keep your eyes peeled, some legitimately intriguing shows do sometimes pop up.
The Pub Theater 21+ 3220 N Lincoln Ave (773-904-8777, thepubtheater.com). Average price: $5–$20. Fizz is just an ordinary Chicago taproom; ascend to its second floor and you’ll discover the Pub Theater, an itinerary comedy club currently churning out local sketch and improv. Keep this one in mind for your 21st birthday: The Pub is famous for its interactive drinking show Bye Bye Liver.
Gorilla Tango Theatre Chicago 1919 N Milwaukee Ave (773-598-4549, gorillatango.com). Average price: $10–$15. This bare-bones Bucktown space offers a coproduction model that appeals to sketch comedy, improv and nascent theater troupes by making brief runs financially viable. The venue keeps things hopping, booking shows in as many slots as it can. Of late, it appears to have hit upon a winning formula with a string of burlesque shows that parody popular franchises like Star Wars and Super Mario Bros.
✽ iO 3541 N Clark St (773-880-0199, iochicago.net). Average price: $5–$16. No doubt about it, the house that improv legend Del Close and founding partner Charna Halpern built rocks. Not only has iO churned out legendary folk like Mike Myers and Amy Poehler, but it consistently puts the art of improv first, most noticeably via the Harold, its signature long-form. The shows are generally cheap and the classes a must for budding improvisers. Don’t miss weekly cult faves like TJ & Dave or The Armando Diaz Experience.
Jokes & Notes 4641 S King Dr (773-373-3390, jokesandnotes.com). This South Side staple has been serving up comedy for the better part of five years and has hosted many a rising-star African-American comic.
Laugh Factory 3175 N Broadway (773-327-3175, laughfactory.com). The old Lakeshore space has been transformed into a brand-new stand-up club and it looks great. Be on the lookout for both national headliners and local comics.
✽ The Lincoln Lodge 21+ 4008 N Lincoln Ave (773-251-1539, thelincolnlodge.com). Average price: $10. The back room of a washed-up diner may not sound like much, but that’s the beauty of the Lodge, a room that virtually placed Chicago on the alt-comedy map. The emphasis is top-quality comics, as evidenced by both local talent and visiting greats. If you want to see folks who may one day go places, check it out.
✽ pH Productions Theatre 1515 W Berwyn Ave (whatisph.com). Average price: $5–$10. This home to improv comedy is a hit thanks to a smorgasbord of themed shows like the audience participatory pHlip Cup and the potty-mouthed pHucked. Long an itinerant company, it recently found a new home in Andersonville and is slated to open any day now.
✽ The Playground Theater 3209 N Halsted St (773-871-3793, the-playground.com). Average price: $5–$10. The nation’s only not-for-profit co-op theater devoted to the art of improvisation is an excellent place for young teams to practice their craft. The programming is often experimental and incredibly hit or miss, but there’s no denying the youthful, infectious energy that pervades the place.
✽ The Second City e.t.c. 1608 N Wells St (312-337-3992, secondcity.com). Average price: $23–$28. The younger sibling to the Second City Mainstage was never meant to be. The first revue was staged while owner Bernie Sahlins was away on business. Good thing. Now more than 20 years old, it’s a smashing success and an experimental counterpart to the tourist-driven Mainstage. Its shows are typically high-energy, rock & roll productions featuring some of the most talented sketch comedians in town.
The Second City Mainstage 1616 N Wells St (312-337-3992, secondcity.com). Average price: $23–$28. Even if you know nothing about improv, chances are you’ve heard of Second City. This is the place that put both sketch and improvised comedy on the map while launching the careers of many distinguished comics including Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Chris Farley, John Belushi, Joan Rivers, Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell. Mainstage revues are occasionally stodgy, but most shows are still top-notch.
Stage 773 1225 W Belmont Ave (773-327-5252, stage773.com). Average price: $10–$25. Home to Sketchfest and the Chicago Women’s Funny Fest, this theatrical venue (which boasts an impressive four stages) balances its schedule with both serious and comedic fare.
UP Comedy Club 230 W North Ave (312-662-4562, upcomedyclub.com). Second City’s rapid takeover of the entertainment and shopping complex known as Piper’s Alley now includes this brand-spanking-new home for comedy. Weekends are devoted to headlining folks like The Daily Show’s Rob Riggle or MADtv’s Bobby Lee, but there’s something going on here most nights including a must-see improv show on Monday.
Zanies 1548 N Wells St (312-337-4027, chicago.zanies.com). Average price: $25–$35. Remember the olden days when comedy clubs with a two-drink-minimum policy ruled? That era is long gone, but this venerable laugh factory has managed to hang on. The comedy here is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, Zanies offers stage time to up-and-comers while paying tribute to some of the greats, but both the venue and the comics can, at other times, feel a bit dusty.