When you’re talking comedy in Chicago, it’s a veritable embarrassment of riches and why not? Improvisation was invented in Hyde Park in 1955 when the Compass Players brought being the moment to the stage changing and influencing comedy into the 21st century. What began as an alternative art form in a bar over 60 years ago is now splashed across televisions and movie screens every single day. See improvisational comedy in the flesh at any of these Chicago theaters offering on-the-spot creative energy and laughs.
The Second City
1616 N Wells St
Chicago, IL 60614
The roster of artists who emerged from the theater in Old Town is now legend (Bill Murray, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert and Tina Fey among the list) and what was a shabby theater in Piper’s Alley is now an entertainment conglomerate training comedic hopefuls in Chicago, Toronto, and Los Angeles and giving birth to four touring companies. You want improv? There are shows seven nights a week on three stages with prices from $17-$48. Come and get it at the Mainstage which is performing its 104th revue of sketches with a smattering of on-the-spot improvisation after the bows six days a week. Plan ahead – tickets routinely sell out. Or see the Touring Company’s Best of The Second City’s sketches, songs and improvisations from the theater’s 52-year history presented Saturdays and Mondays.
851 W Belmont Ave
Chicago, IL 60657
The upstart theater that gave the city long running productions like The Real Live Brady Bunch and Co-Ed Prison Sluts offers numerous improv options. Trigger Happy, directed by Annoyance Founder and Artistic Director Mick Napier, is a long form improv. Messing with a Friend features improv phenom Susan Messing with a new guest each week (the show marks its 10 year anniversary in August, 2016). SHEBEAST is an all female improv group that has accumulated some great reviews and Baby Wine is an all gay improv group that performs every Friday. For those who like their improv minus a lot of clothing, there’s Skinprov – a show where the cast members get down to their underwear and play short form improv games. Fishbowl is an improv show hosted by the group “Sight Unseen” that features an improv jam with people whose names are pulled from a fishbowl. Hitch*Cocktails launches with an audience suggestion then actors create a full length Alfred Hitchcockian thriller.
The Gift Theatre
4802 N Milwaukee Avenue
Chicago, IL 60630
If $30-$40 for a Second City ticket is too rich for you, get to The Gift Theater on Wednesday nights to see players create theater in real time. Natural Gas is the house improv team that gives the northwest side some love and laughs when it takes one suggestion from the audience and creates a wholly improvised show. Artistic Director, Kyle Zornes, says, “Our team has been around for over nine years and features veteran performers, some of whom have been or are currently instructors at The Second City, IO, Columbia College, and The School at Steppenwolf. Essentially, we try to rely on our wits, instead of gimmicks.” Tickets are only $5. Now that’s a gift.
Laugh Out Loud
3851 N. Lincoln Ave.
Chicago, IL 60613
Every weekend the intimate space welcomes audiences to blurt suggestions that will begin a narrative built with songs and scenes. The early show at 7:30 p.m. is family friendly so bring Junior which might spark an interest in comedy. The 9:30 p.m. show allows for the risque and all show cost $20. The Schaumburg location offers the same menu of improv shows as well as a $12 show called Prime Time on Thursday nights featuring a newer improv team as well as the Laugh Out Loud main stage players.
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Jacky Runice has been a columnist with the Daily Herald Chicago since grunge music and flannel was the new black. Her fingers and gray matter have been busy as travel editor of Reunions Magazine; penning a column that was syndicated around the nation via Tribune Media Services. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.