Best Improv Comedy In Chicago

September 15, 2014 7:00 AM

When work, world news and weather make your shoulders slump and forehead crease, you need another person’s perspective on life. You need someone who can dispel the gloom with wry wit and a ‘hey, you’re-not-alone’ message. Instead of turning on the tube for comic relief, head out to an improv comedy club where you can laugh with fellow sufferers. They say that laughter is the best medicine, so skip the doctor’s office and take in a show instead at any of these five top comedy venues here in Chicago.


iO Theater

1501 N. Kingsbury St.
Chicago, IL 60642
(773) 880-0199
www.ioimprov.com

At iO (formerly ImprovOlympic), you are likely to see someone on stage whom you will next see on “SNL” or “30 Rock.” Several iO performers have gone to those and other TV programs including “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report.” Think Tina Fey and Mike Myers. At iO, groups form and re-form for shows so the material is fresh and reactions to each other and the audience change. There’s something to see, think about and laugh at every night. Just don’t go back to the Clark Street space because after nearly two decades there, iO has move to Kingsbury Street. Shows are in The Harold Cabaret, Del Close Theater, The Chris Farley Cabaret and The Mission. Many comic wannabes come here to study with iO coaches so the new place also has more training space.

The Second City
1616 N. Wells St.
Chicago, IL 60614
(312) 337-3992
www.secondcity.com

Begun on the cusp of 1959-60, when the staid ’50s evolved into the turbulent ’60s, Second City alum such as Alan Arkin and Barbara Harris paved the way for future generations of off-the-cuff, witty comics. Following in their footsteps came John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and Gilda Radner. A long-time training ground for improv comedians, the venue continues to shine with talent. Shows here are on the two Resident Stages: ETC and Main. The shows are constructed by improv, but by the time they are ready for audiences, the shows are scripted.

Up Comedy
230 W. North Ave.
Chicago, IL 60614
(312) 662-4562
www.upcomedyclub.com

UP Comedy Club hosts The Second City’s Game Night and improv sketches upstairs in Piper’s Alley. However, when stand-up comics start touring after summer, the club will often feature them on the weekends. The sketches and Game Night typically continue on Monday and Wednesday. Tickets are easier to get to Up Comedy shows than Second City, which often sells out.

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Chicago Improv
5 Woodfield Road
Woodfield Mall Store K120B
Schaumburg, IL 60173
(847) 240-2001
www.chicago.improv.com

Not all big-name comics or improv talent perform in the city. Sullivan and Son and Jo Koy are a few of the headliners at Chicago Improv in west-suburban Schaumburg. The club is attached to Woodfield Mall which likely prompts some clever asides from its performers. But don’t dismiss the venue as insignificant. It has a marquee and seats about 400 patrons. Even though it’s large, the atmosphere is cozy and comfortable. The club features stand-ups although some of them work with the audience for some improv moments.

Comedy Bar
157 W. Ontario St.
Chicago, IL 60654
(773) 387-8412
www.comedybarchicago.com

Jim Belushi sometimes stops in at the Comedy Bar. Indeed, the place’s appreciative audience draws national headliners. Its intimate, 150-seat cabaret setting, no drink minimum and low ticket prices attract comedy fans from across the city. The club features stand-ups but it also participates in Chicago’s improv fests.

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Jodie Jacobs is a veteran journalist who loves writing about Chicago, art, theater, museums and travel. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.