Jonathan Pitts
Jonathan Pitts
From April 23 to 29, the 15th annual Chicago Improv Festival takes over venues across the city, plus Laugh Out Loud in Schaumburg. With more than 80 groups from five countries, the schedule can be a blur of names. Jonathan Pitts, the festival's cofounder and executive director, gave us a cheat sheet for acts to catch on Friday and Saturday, the festival’s busiest—and best—nights. For show times and more info, go to; tickets are $10 to $20 per show.

Joe Bill and Mark Sutton play Earl and Donny, two men from a small town in Indiana who fish, drink beer, and talk about how to fix the world. The entire show is them on a fishing trip. Bill and Sutton started improvising together as Bassprov a decade ago at the CIF. They now tour nationally.
Pitt says: “Their very first show was 2 a.m. on a Sunday—they were an immediate hit.”

This six-man team—combining Americans (from Bellingham, Washington) and Canadians (Edmonton)—formed in February at Pitts’s suggestion after he saw each group perform at an improv tournament in Vancouver.
Pitt says: “These guys are subversive and funny and ironic, and they’re all tall and thin, and they’re amazing together.”

Dominican American Wendy Mateo and Venezuelan-born Lorena Diaz are best known for their sketch show People in the City: Bodegas, Beisbol, and the American Dream.
Pitt says: “They bring a Latina point of view and have so much trust in each other. It’s great.”

This house team at the Magnet Theater in New York City makes its fourth CIF appearance.
Pitt says: “These four guys find the absurdity in any normal situation and heighten it to the extreme.”

After earning standing ovations for their last two CIF outings, ImproTOP, from Mexico City, returns to tackle Mexican folklore (bilingually and in peasant garb) and the Broadway musical.
Pitt says: “Think about it: They improvise in another language and sing. They’re just stupid talented.”

Kate Duffy, Rachael Mason, and Susan Messing, some of the best female improvisers in the city, inhabit alter egos.
Pitt says: “Whatever the risky choice is, that’s where they play.”


Photograph: John H. Abbott