Damn right, the funniest—and this spring the merriment scales even greater heights. Consider: As this magazine went to press, Los Angeles’s fabled Laugh Factory was scheduled to open in the newly renovated Lakeshore Theater (its owner, Jamie Masada, promises that big names such as Tim Allen, Dave Chappelle, Carlos Mencia, and Bob Saget will grace the marquee). The Second City’s new standup venue is still just a few months old. The Chicago Improv Festival, with more than 80 acts, arrives at the end of April (click for our guide to the fest). Even the staff of The Onion is bowing to the trend: The satirical newspaper is ditching New York City for Chicago later this year. The downside of this flurry? The sheer volume of comedic choices here can be paralyzing. So our reporter visited scads of comedy shops around town to separate the hilarious from the hideous. A dozen destinations made the cut. Read on for her expert picks.

4830 N. Broadway; 773-561-4665, annoyanceproductions.com
What it offers: Improv and sketch
Backstory:: Twenty-four years ago, Mick Napier founded The Annoyance. In 2004, he codified his the-only-rule-is-no-rules philosophy in a book, Improvise, which has become a revered manual for aspiring improvisers. Today, Napier presides over the operation’s handsome digs in Uptown. In addition to providing an artistic home for the legendary comedienne Susan Messing, The Annoyance also welcomes budding writers who want to stage their work for a discerning crowd. (Past hit shows include Skiing Is Believing, Burlesque Is More, and 40 Whacks: A Lizzy Borden Musical.) We also dig the lobby’s high-low assortment of things to do: Play board games while sitting under a chandelier. Sip a Cosmopolitan or a PBR. Both, please, thank you.
Best for: You and your sullen teenager or anyone who ever insinuated that you aren’t “with it”
Must see: In a World. . . , Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. ($8); Messing with a Friend, Thursdays at 10:30 p.m. ($5)

Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont Ave.; 773-281-4444, chicagoundergroundcomedy.com
What it offers: Standup only
Backstory: “You are NOT going to see hack comedy performances detailing tired premises such as ‘the difference between men and women.’ ” So says the website for Chicago Underground Comedy, the Tuesday night carousel of talent in the backroom of Beat Kitchen, a bar in Roscoe Village (chalkboard beer list, pink Christmas lights, grimy tiles) where working comedians congregate. Instead, you’ll hear well-known local joke tellers dispense fresh alt-comedy about breakups, injuries, misunderstandings, working at Starbucks, and how to get a DUI on a bicycle.
Best for: A young, well-educated broke person
Must see: The fearless Ever Mainard and the always-cantankerous Mike Stanley, Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. ($5)

157 W. Ontario St.; 773-387-8412, comedybarchicago.com
What it offers: Standup only
Backstory: Three nights a week, the River North nightclub Ontourage places 160 chairs on the dance floor and becomes The Comedy Bar. These evenings attract polished standup veterans, usually playing to a mix of tourists and young Loop professionals. In a current show, Sean Flannery interweaves his monologue about near-death experiences—he has suffered 32 broken bones—with drawings, photos, and video clips. The swanky décor, reasonable ticket prices, and no drink minimum are pluses. Feel free to channel your Night at the Roxbury alter ego.
Best for: Someone dipping a toe into the city’s comedy pool
Must see: Flannery’s Never Been to Paris, Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. ($10); Mike Leibovitz, April 20 and 21 at 8 and 10 p.m. ($10)


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)


1225 W. Belmont Ave.; 773-327-5252; stage773.com
What it offers: Improv, sketch, and standup
Backstory: Better than perhaps anyone on the scene, Brian Posen, Stage 773’s artistic director, knows how to mount a festival. Operating out of the former Theatre Building Chicago in Lake View, which underwent a $1.7 million renovation last year, Stage 773 offers four affordable rental facilities. Since 2002, Posen has produced the Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival, which in January drew more than 1,000 performers in 163 shows. In June, the venue will host its first Chicago Women’s Funny Festival.
Best for: The comedy lover whose idea of a good time is hopping from show to show to show
Must see: Street Tempo Theatre’s Little Shop of Horrors, April 9 through June ($15 to $38); Claymore Productions’ Exquisite Corpse, April 14 at 10:30 p.m. ($10)

230 W. North Ave., 3rd fl., 312-662-4562, upcomedyclub.com; 1616 N. Wells St., 312-337-3992, secondcity.com
What it offers: Improv, sketch, and standup
Backstory: When a vacancy arose in Piper’s Alley, the building complex in Old Town that houses The Second City’s stages and training center, the sketch comedy megabrand said it was venturing into standup. So far, UP, the brand-new luxe 300-seat cabaret theatre, features improv and sketch shows more than nationally known comics, but expect that ratio to even out in the coming months. Meanwhile, downstairs, The Second City Mainstage will present its 100th revue this month. It features Tim Baltz and Mary Sohn—who played an awkward couple in Sky’s the Limit on the E.T.C. stage—along with Steve Waltien (of iO’s Improvised Shakespeare Company) and returning cast members Edgar Blackmon, Holly Laurent, and Katie Rich.
Best for: Your future in-laws, who want to see what all the fuss is about (and are footing the bill)
Must see: The Second City’s Improv All-Stars, Mondays at 8:30 p.m. ($16); 100th revue at the Mainstage, Tuesdays through Thursdays at 8 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 and 11 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m. ($23 to $28)

1548 N. Wells St.; 312-337-4027, chicago.zanies.com
What it offers: Standup only
Backstory: “I’ve been working honky-tonks, gin joints, and third-rate smoke-filled fornicatoriums,” said the emcee of Zanies’ Rising Star Showcase recently. That sounds about right: Since 1978, Zanies has been a haven for nomadic comics and local neophytes. Hundreds of signed headshots dot the walls—including Carey, Leno, and Seinfeld—many addressed to Rick Uchwat, Zanies’ founder, who died last May. Zanies gives back to the Old Town community with Good Neighbor Tuesdays, when those who live or work in the 60610, 60611, and 60614 Zip Codes get in free (a $25 value!). The newest Chicagoland location opens in May in Rosemont; the others are in St. Charles and Vernon Hills. Words of caution: If you have the two-drink minimum at each of the four locations in a single night, you might find yourself in a fornicatorium.
Best for: Die-hard fans of standup, because every night there are comics who kill and comics who bomb
Must see: Pat McGann is the house emcee for April; Greg Proops, April 19 to 21 ($27); Doug Benson, April 24 at 8:30 p.m. ($22); two-drink minimum


And don’t miss these spring headliners . . .

John Hodgman
April 1 at UP Comedy Club

Daniel Tosh
April 19 at the Chicago Theatre

Carol Burnett
May 8 at the Rialto Square Theatre

D. L. Hughley
May 25 to 27 at the Improv

Aziz Ansari
June 15 at the TBS Just for Laughs Festival