A performer myself, I always keep my eyes, ears, nose, and broken legs on a lookout for live comedy in my travels. However, I believe live comedy starts, in my very biased opinion, with my hometown of Chicago. Up-and-comers, veterans, and even celebrities mix on the same stages and audiences, and amid all the festivals (Chicago Sketch Fest and Chicago Improv Festival to name the biggest), this city always has something going on. Even better, public transit can get you to any of these. Keep in mind, many of these places are for adults (i.e. serve alcohol), and you’ll have keep yourself awake late enough for many of the best acts. If you’re a student or can at least convince the box offices you are, there’s usually a few lower prices.
I can vouch you’ll have a great time in these parts of the standup world of Chicago:
- Zanies Comedy Night Club
Address: 1548 N. Wells
The first standup club on the list, Zanies is one of the more famous clubs in Chicago, booking a wide range of acts, including many big names.
- Lakeshore Theater
Address: 3175 N. Broadway
While not a comedy club per se, the Lakeshore brings in so many standup comedians that it’s impossible to not think of it in that light. Even many of the musical acts are comedic.
As for Improv and sketch comedy:
- Second City
Address: 1616 N. Wells St.
This is the biggest name I’ll list: the world famous theater is where the original power behind Saturday Night Live came from, and it thrives on the mainstage’s scripted comedy shows about current events. Somethings always happening besides the mainstage performance, including in Piper’s Alley next door, where there are the annexes on the top floor.
- iO Chicago Theater
Address: 3541 N. Clark St.
This place was built on the philosophy that that Improv is its own performance art, and it practices the philosophy well.
TIP: See the 8 p.m. Wednesday show downstairs: it’s free to get in. I spent two years never missing a single Wednesday, and the headlining team of Carl & the Passions is always worth the price.
- The Annoyance Theatre & Bar
Address: 4830 N. Broadway
Down Chicago’s own Broadway, this fast-paced Improv theater is also famous for some hilariously raunchy musicals.
- pH Productions at Stage Left
Address: Stage Left Theatre, 3408 N. Sheffield Ave.
A lesser-known but fast-paced company, catch their aptly-named Improv competition, pHrenzy, where the audience votes a performer out per round until only one is left standing.
Address: 929 W. Belmont
This is another small theater with a penchant for competition, and they love to play up the sports references with a zebra-striped ref and colored uniforms. The house teams face challenges every week from outside performers.
- The Playground Theater
Address: 3209 N. Halsted
A lot of Improv teams get their first major gigs here. (In fact, this is where I performed my first show outside of a school stage.) The Playground also spotlights plenty of seasoned veterans and headliners.
Remember: that’s not it. Often any bar with a stage will put up a team or comedian to draw a bigger crowd every night for drinks. Later, I’ll tackle the other heavy hitters of New York and Los Angeles and then tackle lesser known cities of comedy.