Chicago Comedy Clubs Overview

Second City - Comedy Club in Chicago

Chicago has long been where aspiring comedians go to learn their craft and the alumni lists of Second City and iO, the two most famous Chicago comedy clubs, are a veritable who's who of comedy.

Comedy clubs in Chicago are dominated by improv and sketch comedians, but the big standup acts come through as well appearing at Zanies or the relatively new Up Comedy Club and Laugh Factory Chicago. Witty, clever, and timely satire are the hallmarks of Chicago comedy, but audiences can find everything from absurd and high-concept shows to offensive and immature performances.

The most famous theater in town is Second City, located in Old Town, which offers shows almost every night on multiple stages. Over the years, audiences at Second City have laughed at the work from legends like Jim Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, and Mike Myers as well as current stars like Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, and Tina Fey. The shows on the Mainstage are a mix of improv and sketch comedy that has been finely tuned for comedic rhythm by the professional performers. Meanwhile, upstairs in Donny’s Skybox, Second City allows its many students to put on shows that tend to be more experimental spanning all forms of comedy and all levels of quality.

The iO Theater in Wrigleyville offers two stages of all improvised shows featuring hundreds of aspiring comedians hoping to follow in the footsteps of alumni Amy Poehler, Seth Meyers, Andy Dick, and Chris Farley. Although lesser known than Second City outside of comedy circles, iO is renowned by comedians and has helped develop long-form improv into an art form that can take the audience and the performers on a journey they could never predict. Both iO and Second City offer classes in improv and sketch comedy and help fill their seats each night with students watching their friends perform. Although this can sometimes cause the humor to be somewhat insular, it also means that any night of the week there is a packed house laughing with you.

Seeing shows at Chicago comedy clubs are all about witnessing the next big thing before they make it and every year hundreds of twenty-somethings come to Chicago hoping to get discovered and then head off to bigger stages in New York or LA. As a result, there are shows everywhere, from theaters like ComedySportz, Improv Chicago, Gorilla Tango Theatre, and the Playground Theater, to the back rooms of countless bars around town, to comedians’ apartments that will host open mic nights for friends.

Comedy can be done just about anywhere, and the kids in Chicago are always looking for stage time. This results in a comedy calendar that is always full of shows good and bad. To be sure, many performances are incredibly hilarious and smart but you can also find a lot of puerile, prurient, and predictable comedy as well. Just about every theater allows you to at least buy alcohol, if not bring your own to the show, which helps just about any performance be at least moderately funny.

And you never know, you just might see the next Chris Farley learning the craft of comedy.

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