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Chicagoist's Favorite Places To Laugh

By Staff in Arts & Entertainment on Feb 20, 2013 7:00PM

We all know Chicago has a thriving comedy scene, but you might not know just how accessible it is. Whether you prefer standup, sketch or improv, you can find side-splitting laughter any day of the week. These are a few of our favorite spots to get a pick-me-up dose of the best medicine. Did we miss one? Of course we did. We'd have to write at least one book to tell you about all of them. Let us know your favorite venue or show in the comments.

Second City Alumni. Photo Credit: Helmers

Comedy With Tradition

Let's just start with the obvious Big Three. The Second City is a comedy museum. It's a monument to laughter. We could wax poetic about the great names that came through, from Farley to Fey, from Aykroyd to Colbert. Many Chicagoans visited once as a tourist, but hitting up the main stage regularly gets pricey and on the weekends, the place is packed with out-of-towners. Try to go on a weekday and check out Training Center performances at Donny’s Skybox Theatre and the de Maat Studio Theatre. Also, try Second City's new-ish addition UP; it has a slightly smaller room than the main stage with slightly better drink service, and it attracts stellar medium-weight standup comics. — Samantha Abernethy
The Second City is at 1615 N. Wells Street.

The other two big comedy farms iO and The Annoyance Theater have been exporting more big names to the national stage in recent years, but who's keeping count? Each has a slew of improv and sketch troupes performing every night, with larger special events sprinkled throughout. Throw a dart at a calendar and pick one. You probably can't go wrong. — Samantha Abernethy
iO is at 3541 N. Clark Street. The Annoyance Theater is at 4830 N. Broadway.

Comedian Cameron Esposito performs at the Lincoln Lodge. Photo Credit: Erin Nekervis

Comedy With Comically Large Beers

The Lincoln Restaurant is a pancake restaurant that looks like it hasn't been redecorated since 1976. The back room has wood paneling and tile ceilings, a bar that serves up giant beers and a stage that has hosted the longest running independent comedy showcase in Chicago, The Lincoln Lodge. National acts come through every week, and if you can't make it to The Blackout Diaries in person, subscribe to the podcast. The Lincoln Lodge also holds some larger capacity shows at The Mayne Stage in Rogers Park. — Samantha Abernethy
The Lincoln Restaurant is at 4008 N. Lincoln Avenue. Look for the comically large photo Abraham Lincoln. The Mayne Stage is at 1328 W. Morse Avenue.

Yes, the Beat Kitchen is more well known as a music venue, but it also hosts the can't-miss Chicago Underground Comedy showcase, featuring the sharp tongues of Chicago's up-and-coming standup talent every Tuesday. — Samantha Abernethy
The Beat Kitchen is at 2100 W. Belmont Avenue.

The Hideout is pretty much the perfect venue for anything. For comedy, check out Kind of Blue on the first Sunday of each month, The Interview Show on the first Friday of the month or the intermittent Funny Ha-Ha literary reading series. — Samantha Abernethy
The Hideout is at 1354 W. Wabansia

The Puterbaugh Sisterz perform at a Chicago Underground Comedy showcase. Photo Credit: Erin Nekervis

Comedy With Intimacy

For standup, head to Shambles. They've been getting actual touring comics, as well as local comics. It's free, small, cheap drinks, awesome hosts. Or get your own feet wet at Cole's bar's open mic on Wednesday nights. — Zak Baker
Shambles is at 2050 W. Division Street. Cole's is at 2338 N. Milwaukee Avenue.

Chemically Imbalanced is another small theater space with big talent (and a bar). Be sure to check out Pimprov every Friday night. — Samantha Abernethy
Chemically Imbalanced is at 1422 W. Irving Park Road.

The Upstairs Gallery is an independent theater space that is mostly improv and sketch. It's a great spot for people who have teams or groups that need somewhere to get on a stage. And I remember having a good time at the Playground Theater, which has BYOB shows and some good improv teams. — Chris Bentley
The Upstairs Gallery is at 5219 N. Clark Street. The Playground Theater is at 3209 N. Halsted Avenue.

If you're looking for a mix of national acts and local upcoming talent, then head over to Bronzeville and Jokes and Notes. Former All Jokes Aside co-owner Mary Lindsey has put together a brisk and inventive schedule featuring open mics where comics can work on new material and comedy fans from across the city can catch the best African American comics working today like Damon Williams, Brian Babylon and Marlon Mitchell. Jokes and Notes' contemporary design and 150-seat capacity are tailored to make each performance an intimate affair. — Chuck Sudo
Jokes and Notes is located at 4641 S. Martin Luther King Drive, 773-373-3390

"Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind" turns 25 years old this year. Photo Credit: Melody Kramer

Comedy With Theater

It's hard to believe that Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, The Neo-Futurists' signature program, is turning 25 this year. Aside from now being old enough to rent a car, the format for TMLMTBGB is still the same: 30 plays in 60 minutes (with a selct number of new plays switched out each week); admission is $10 plus the roll of a die; and there are some roll-on-the-floor laughing experiences with each staging. In addition to remaining one of Chicago's most unique theater experiences, TMLMTBGB is also one of Chicago's most underrated comedy shows. After all, comedy and theater do go hand in hand. — Chuck Sudo
Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind is in an open run at The Neo-Futurists, 5153 N. Ashland Ave., Fridays-Saturdays, 11:30 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.

I like iO, if only because they've provided a venue, the upstairs Del Close Theater (named for the Godfather of Improv), for the Improvised Shakespeare Company. I've seen that thrice (or however you say four or five times in Elizabethan-speak) and loved it. It's improv upon Avon! — Melissa Wiley
iO is at 3541 N. Clark Street. The Improvised Shakespeare Company performs every Friday at 8 and 10:30 p.m.

The Gorilla Tango Theater exists in the strange intersection of sexy, funny and nerdy. They offer humorous burlesque shows with geeky themes like "Star Wars: A Nude Hope," "Boobs And Goombas: A Super Mario Burlesque," and "Holy Bouncing Boobies!" They also offer several improv and theater programs in which the actors remain clothed. — Samantha Abernethy
The Gorilla Tango Theater is at 1919 N. Milwaukee Avenue.

Comedian Hannibal Buress. Photo Credit: Erin Nekervis

Comedy With Dinner

City Winery Chicago opened with a strong concert attraction in comedian Lewis Black. (The service, with its over 90-minute wait between ordering food and having it arrive at tables, was something straight out of a dark comedy.) But the Randolph Street entertainment mecca has quickly developed a good reputation for its acoustics and its concert programming, which pays more than a casual nod to comedy. In addition to Black, Sandra Bernhard and Kathleen Madigan have graced City Winery's stage, guaranteeing the venue can offer more comedians with widespread name recognition and appeal. — Chuck Sudo
City Winery Chicago is at 1200 W. Randolph Street.

Comedy With The Two-Drink Minimum

The best comedians can make you go to some strange places. I wouldn't say The Chicago Theatre is the best place to see a comedy show, but you're not going to see Jim Gaffigan anywhere else. When it comes to the big names, we monitor Zanie's, Comedy Bar and the new Laugh Factory to know when good acts are coming to town, but frankly, we wouldn't say they're the most fun, interesting or affordable places to see a show. — Samantha Abernethy
Zanie's Chicago is located at 1548 N. Wells Street. Comedy Bar is located at 157 W. Ontario. Laugh Factory is located at 3175 N. Broadway Street.