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12 Must See Shows At A Jangleheart Circus

By Matt Byrne in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 21, 2013 3:00PM


A Jangleheart Circus is a three-day celebration of the independent improv and sketch scene that has flourished in Chicago over the last few years. While the lineup is predominantly made up of homegrown talent, the allure of another Chicago-based comedy festival has attracted performers from parts as far-off as Los Angeles and Texas. What follows is a quick rundown of some the sure-thing shows at the fest, which takes over Wicker Park's Den Theatre space this weekend, though it's hard to go wrong, with a lineup as strong and unique as this.


Making Out With Wes Perry
Local writer/performer Wes Perry has regularly drawn such large and enthusiastic crowds to this monthly variety show that he recently transitioned venues from the intimate performance haven Upstairs Gallery to the equally beloved if slightly larger Hideout. Perry's magnetic personality and keen eye for crafting an eclectic, inclusive showcase makes Making Out a must-see. (9 p.m., Scraps' Castle)

The Great Show on Earth
Word is that this oddly named duo from Austin, Texas (whose bio promises interactive media and healthy snacks) totally wowed the Jangleheart submissions board with their application. That straight-from-the-source bona fide, paired with the fact that they're traveling 1,200 miles for an underground comedy festival should be enough to justify checking out these out-of-towners. (9 p.m., Crabby Cove. Also 10 p.m. Friday, Scraps' Castle)

Collectors Edition
Like many neurotic, introspective twentysomethings, the trio of writers behind Collectors Edition spend much of their free time obsessing over their favorite bands. What sets this collective apart is their stridently "poptimistic" view, treating kneejerk punchlines like One Direction and late-period Green Day with the same dignity and critical respect as canonical rock groups like R.E.M. and Big Star. For this abbreviated version of this reliably fascinating and personal live lit show, the CE cast will be offering up their respective takes on Prince's monolithic and eclectic catalog. (10:30 p.m., Scraps' Castle)

Upstairs Gallery regulars DMNK is a quartet of improvisors beloved by their peers for their loosey-goosey, fast-paced style. Thing is, 75 percent of the team will be out of town for the festival, leaving only the team's "D," Devin Bockrath, whose relentlessly charming, go-for-broke persona is strong enough to carry any show. Bockrath will be tasked with anchoring a one-night-only performance of DMN-Que?, which replaces the remaining DMNK members with a collection of unannounced ringers handpicked by the missing teammates. (10:30 p.m., Wolf's Den)


Listin Up
This wholly unique mashup of standup comedy and improv is helmed by standup comic Dan Friesen (former producer of the hugely popular and dearly departed Comedy Evening standup showcase) and writer/improvisor Daniel Shar (of the dark, depraved sketch group Phat Beethoven). At each show, three comedians improvise standup sets using a list of topics suggested by the audience, while three groups of improvisors perform sets drawing inspiration from the notebooks of their standup peers. Listin Up promises to be as fun to watch as it is difficult to explain. (8:30 p.m., Wolf's Den)

As if three theaters' worth of performances going at any given time wasn't enough to make for some tough calls, The Den Theatre's lobby will double as a live podcast recording studio, featuring tapings of some of the best improv/sketch-focused chat shows. Friday night's double bill of The Poor Choices Show, anchored by the Chicago-based filmmaker Mark Colomb and The Sweetness, hosted by local comic Dave Maher, is especially strong. (9 p.m. and 11 p.m., Lobby)

This energetic troupe hails from Washington D.C., where they've cut their teeth crafting improvised one-act plays at festivals and improv showcases. Part of the allure of festivals like these is catching out-of-town teams whose skills were developed in a completely different scene, and delighting in the quirks and strange details that other groups might not have access to. (11 p.m., Wolf's Den. Also 7 p.m. Saturday, Scrap's Castle)

This self-proclaimed "improv supergroup" is one of the most respected teams currently performing in Chicago. Practitioners of an idiosyncratic improvisation style known as "The Camera," Sand apes the talking head-friendly tropes of documentary filmmaking to craft a show that directly addresses the audience, giving each performer the chance to flex their solo performance muscles in between more traditional scenes. (11:30 p.m., Wolf's Den)

The Other Other Guys
Though The Other Other Guys called it quits in 2012 when two of the group's founding members moved to Los Angeles, the team, which in it's time amassed swaths of praise for their sporadically experimental, prop-heavy sketch shows, returns for a one-off midnight celebration. For all those who may have missed them the first time around, this is the perfect chance to get in on the Other Other party. (Midnight, Scrap's Castle)


Cook County Social Club
Cook County is the closest thing to a "headliner" Jangleheart has. The otherwise fairly egalitarian festival has made it clear that CCSC's return to the stage after wrapping up their legendary seven-year run at iO earlier this summer is a very big deal. This wildly popular and sorely missed troupe is cited perhaps more than any other as an important part of the development of much of the current crop of up-and-comers in Chicago. (8 p.m., Scrap's Castle)

Tim Batlz
There are few performers currently working in Chicago better or more consistently funny than Tim Baltz. He's a veteran of the Second City main and e.t.c. stages and won the 2011 Jeff Award for Best Actor in a Revue. He also was recently named by Rolling Stone as one of ten comedians most likely to get picked up for the next season of SNL. Baltz has been given a full hour of stage time to use however he wants, a perfect introduction for those looking to catch this homegrown superstar before he inevitably leaves to become the next big thing. (10:00 p.m., Scrap's Castle)

Kill All Comedy
Recently named the "Best Emerging Comedy Troupe" by Chicago Magazine, the massive cast of Kill All Comedy features some of the city's most singularly weird comedic performers. On top of their omnipresence at live shows, this collective churns out videos, podcasts, and written content regularly, and was recently brought on for a new monthly show at The Hideout, graduating from the Upstairs Gallery space that helped them define their voice for the last two years. (11:00 p.m., Scrap's Castle)

A Jangleheart Circus runs Thursday, Aug. 22 through Saturday, Aug. 24 at The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. Tickets are on sale now.