The nation's future funny bone is being developed right now in Chicago comedy clubs. First-rate comedy venues offer the best in stand-up, sketch and improv to catch the latest crop of comedic talents. You'll also be able to see many established stars as they zip in and out of town for special shows and comedy festivals.
So get ready to laugh with this guide to Chicago's best spots for comedy.
A NATIONAL TREASURE: THE SECOND CITY
In Chicago, an international comedy empire got its start right in the heart of the Old Town neighborhood. The Second City is the birthplace of improvisational comedy.
For half a century, the cabaret-style theater put sketch and improv on the map, launching the careers of many stars. Tina Fey? Yup, she's an alum. Steve Carell? Him too. Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Stephen Colbert, John Belushi — the list of Saturday Night Live cast members and American comedy masters that trained and performed with The Second City is incredible.
With highly-interactive shows that address current issues through social and political satire, the stages are a showcase for the next generations of comedic geniuses.
YUCK IT UP AT UP COMEDY CLUB
Enjoy drinks, dinner and a show in a nightclub atmosphere. The diverse formats of comedy at UP Comedy Club — which ranges from stand-up, improv and sketch to podcasts and game nights and special one-night-only features — has audiences rolling in the aisles. Archival shows from The Second City, housed in the same building, are a real treat as well.
NON-STOP STAND-UP AT ZANIES & THE COMEDY BAR
Right down the street from legendary The Second City is the original Zanies, or as some people call it, "Stand-up Heaven." So many comics have played there, the list is endless. You can see that by perusing the number of autographed photos on the wall. With an intimate space that is small and up-close, you might even catch the headliners signing their CDs or books on your way out.
Chicago's River North neighborhood — a bastion of nightlife with its ever-growing list of restaurants, bars and clubs — keeps the funny going in a hip way. Hidden inside Ontourage Nightclub, The Comedy Bar hosts tops names at unbeatable values every weekend. Keep a lookout too for co-owner Jim Belushi, the Chicago native of tv and film fame.
HILARITY SEVEN NIGHTS A WEEK AT iO
A testament to Chicago's thriving comedy scene, the newly-built iO Theater is a massive 33,000 sq. ft. headquarters for iO Chicago (originally known as ImprovOlympic) located in the bustling Lincoln Park neighborhood.
A 30-year-old institution, iO is known for perfecting long-form improv, as well as for having trained the biggest comedic writers and stars in showbiz (Mike Meyers, Chris Farley and Amy Poehler are just a few). After making its home in Chicago's Wrigleyville neighborhood for two decades, the comedy school and performance stages have updated their digs. Four theater stages make for a packed comedy calendar, while a full-service restaurant and multiple bars, plus a seasonal beer garden, are more than enough reason to make a night of it.
COMEDYSPORTZ: COMPETING FOR LAUGHS
Want some healthy competition with your comedy? ComedySportz is a sure winner. Here two teams of comedians vie for your laughter and applause in an action-packed, guffaw-for-points contest that uses suggestions from the audience to put together scenes, songs and games on the spot. Hosted by a referee, the high-energy show delivers clean comedy suitable for teens and families.
MORE ON CHICAGO'S COMEDY SCENE
Other great spots to drop into include the Laugh Factory in Lakeview, a Midwest outpost for the California-based chain; The Playground in Boystown, the nation's only non-profit co-op dedicated to the art of improv; and Jokes and Notes in Bronzeville, a favorite among local South Siders.
And this just scratches the surface of where to find the funny in Chicago. How about combination musical improvisation and music comedy? MCL Chicago hits the right notes. A hilarious burlesque show that parodies pop culture faves? Gorilla Tango Theatre draws them in with shows like Temple of Boobs: An Indiana Jones Burlesque and A Nude Hope: A Star Wars Burlesque. Uncensored comedy gems filled with subversive language and themes? Check out The Annoyance Theater and their new dual-stage space in Lakeview.
The sheer number of options is impressive so if you're not sure where to start, go for one of the tried-and-true comedy shows.
A rollercoaster that zips through 30 plays in 60 minutes every weekend, Chicago's longest running comedy show, Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, celebrated its 25th year with the experimental company Neo-Futurist Theater in 2014.
Bye Bye Liver is still going strong... it doesn't hurt that it centers on all things booze and that birthday parties and bachelorette parties buy out tickets in droves. The production from The Public House Theatre bills itself as two parts comedy, one part social game — still a winning formula after 7 years.
Continuing their 13-year-long run of one of Chicago's most loved improv shows, TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi have found a new venue to call home for their show TJ & Dave. The Mission Theater is now a resident of iO Theater building, with this critically-acclaimed show serving as the centerpiece of the new theater's repertoire.
Lastly, it's only fitting to mention that Chicago is home to the nation's largest sketch comedy event. Held at Stage 773 in the Belmont Theater District, the annual Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival showcases the best talents through nearly 200 shows each January. Stage 773 also produces the Chicago Women's Funny Festival in June and now the Chicago Comedy Nerd Festival in June so mark your calendars.