Chicago has long been a hub for stand-up, improv and sketch comedy. In the 70s, NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” launched the comedy careers of several Second City alums, including John Belushi, Bill Murray and John Candy, a trend that has continued into this decade. Beyond this must-see Chicago comedy venue, several other smaller local theaters have gained popularity over the years. Here is an overview of some of the Windy City’s top comedy clubs.
Second City: Located in the Old Town neighborhood, Second City is well known beyond the streets of Chicago as a proving ground for comedians. Comedy greats like Alan Arkin, John and Jim Belushi, Peter Boyle and John Candy all got their start here. Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, Bill Murray and Mike Meyers also worked the stage here.
The Main Stage theater itself is impressive in size, but the feel is unimposing with tiered seating and tables on the floor in front of the stage. Food and drink is available, and servers make the rounds to take orders and deliver food. Two smaller theaters (Donny’s Skybox and Chicago e.t.c.) also offer shows throughout the week.
The ComedySportz Theatre: Steps from the Red Line Belmont stop in Lakeview, this improv theater features two improv teams that take cues from the audience for their routines while they compete for the night’s biggest laughs. A full-bar is available in the lobby.
Zanies Comedy Night Club: In business since 1978, this Old Town comedy club has stand-up comedy shows every night of the week. Local and nationally touring acts take the stage for one show per night, except on Fridays (two shows) and Saturdays (three shows). Valid I.D. is required, and no one under the age of 21 is admitted. Food offerings include pizza and nachos. Zanies also offers stand-up comedy classes for small groups. Classes are in the evenings, and usually run four to six weeks.
iO Improv: Formerly known as ImprovOlympics, this Wrigleyville comedy club also has an impressive alumni list. Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Andy Dick, Mike Meyers, Chris Farley and Andy Richter all performed here. A full bar (and an impressive menu of craft beers) is available to keep the crowd loose, and shows are performed every night of the week on the two stages.
Chemically Imbalanced Comedy: Relatively new on the scene, CIC puts on inprov and sketch comedy shows in an intimate setting on the North Side. Limited-run Improv shows show on Friday nights and Saturdays bring the Saturday Night Showcase, featuring three local and regional sketch and improv groups. CIC is BYOB only, and you must bring your own glasses, corkscrews, bottle openers, etc.