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Best Comedy Clubs in Chicago

Where to bust a gut in the funniest city in the world

(page 2 of 3)

929 W. Belmont Ave.; 773-549-8080, comedysportzchicago.com
What it offers: Improv, sketch, and standup
Backstory: ComedySportz’s signature show begins with a national anthem sing-along and ends with a trophy. In it, two teams of jersey-clad players—sample nickname: the Russian Concussion—storm the stage and face off in a refereed improv competition that penalizes for swearing and sexual innuendo (the offender must put a paper bag on his or her head). Sure, the setup feels gimmicky and packaged for birthday parties. But some of Chicago’s best improvisers join the ComedySportz ensemble to master the playbook of difficult short-form improv games that are deployed during the shows. Founder Dick Chudnow began improvising with the guys who later made Airplane! and The Naked Gun; alumni include writers Liz Cackowski (SNL) and Kay Cannon (30 Rock).
Best for: People who don’t love raunchy jokes or gratuitous profanity
Must see: ComedySportz, Thursdays at 8 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 and 10 p.m. ($22); Dual Duel competition, Sundays at 7 p.m. ($10)

3541 N. Clark St.; 773-880-0199, ioimprov.com/chicago
What it offers: Improv and sketch
Backstory: The place to see long-form improv,
iO is probably best known as the training ground of Mike Myers, the late Chris Farley, Amy Poehler, Modern Family’s Eric Stonestreet, SNL’s Vanessa Bayer, and the Upright Citizens Brigade. Students come from far and wide to learn the Harold, the universally practiced improv structure invented by iO founders Del Close and Charna Halpern. Impending development will likely force iO out of its two-theatre facility in Wrigleyville, but until then you can see the Harold performed seven nights a week in the place where it’s been honed since 1995.
Best for: Night owls, since iO is a block from Wrigley Field. You do not want to fight Cubs fans for street parking.
Must see: The Harold (currently featuring Virgin Daiquiri and Carl & the Passions), Wednesdays at 8 p.m. (free); TJ & Dave, Wednesdays at 11 p.m. ($5); The Improvised Shakespeare Company, Fridays at 8 and 10:30 p.m. ($16)

4641 S. King Dr.; 773-373-3390, jokesandnotes.com
What it offers: Improv, sketch, and standup
Backstory: A former corporate VP, Maryella Lindsey says she could not have opened her Bronzeville comedy club without having first co-owned and operated All Jokes Aside for 12 years (it closed in 2002). Described by the Chicago Tribune as “one of the most prominent black comedy clubs in the country,” All Jokes Aside—in the South Loop and at its spinoff location in Detroit—gave stage time to comics such as Dave Chappelle, Cedric the Entertainer, Jamie Foxx, Steve Harvey, Bernie Mac, Chris Rock, and JB Smoove before they were famous. Jokes and Notes opened in 2006 and, Lindsey says, is continuing to showcase today’s best black talent in comedy. “We don’t shut anybody out,” she says. “If you’re funny, you go on.”
Best for: Avid ballers, on the chance that you might spot a pro at the next table (Shaquille O’Neal and Dwyane Wade have attended shows.)
Must see: Gary “G. Thang” Johnson, April 13 and 14 at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. ($15 to $20); Brian Babylon, May 11 and 12 at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. ($15 to $20); two-drink minimum

1328 W. Morse Ave.; 773-381-4554, maynestage.com
What it offers: Improv and standup
Backstory: In 2010, the veteran theatre producer Chris Ritter closed the Lakeshore Theater and began managing Mayne Stage, a newly renovated 230-seat venue for live entertainment in Rogers Park. In addition to big music acts, great comedians—including T. J. Jagodowski, Dave Pasquesi, and Marc Maron—are in the spotlight. Standup spectacles occur on scattered weekends, and teams from One Group Mind, a humor collective, improvise every Tuesday. The audience can exit through Act One Pub, a tavern serving burgers and sandwiches, and step outside under the gleam of the Old World façade.
Best for: Couples who want to eat and be entertained at the same place
Must see: Nick Thune, April 27 and 28 at 8 and 10:30 p.m. ($20 to $25); Jamie Kilstein: F*ck the G8, May 16 at 8 p.m. ($15 to $20)

3209 N. Halsted St.; 773-871-3793, the-playground.com
What it offers: Improv, sketch, and standup
Backstory: This cash-only, BYO black box hosts shows seven nights a week, all $10 or less. Founded by a group of iO performers in the late 1990s, The Playground is a nonprofit cooperative that gives writers and actors artistic control of their work, which leans toward the experimental. The 65-seat theatre is more shabby than chic, which adds to the work-in-progress vibe. And considering that Jason Sudeikis and Jack McBrayer, who plays Kenneth on NBC’s 30 Rock, have been part of past ensembles, you can entertain the notion that you’re watching budding comic greats.
Best for: Comedy nerds
Must see: Big Yellow Bus, Thursdays at 8 p.m. ($10); Out of Character, Fridays at 8 p.m. ($10)

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