Chicago Public Radio's satirical twist on the classic quiz show is taped before a live audience. Host Peter Sagal and crew mine news stories for quiz questions, with different panelists from the worlds of literature and entertainment and audience members participating each week. Politics supply the jokes du jour, but what happens off microphone is often funnier. —Ryan Hubbard $24.75http://wbez.org/events
An open mike for storytellers. Freehttp://storyclubchicago.com
Susan Messing's weekly show, where she pairs off with a guest "friend" for an hour of purely improvised comedy, is one of the funniest entertainments in town. Messing is deeply talented: her acting is focused and nuanced, and she's got one of the the sharpest shit-detectors around, allowing her to cut or extend scenes like a good director. She works with a different "friend" at nearly every performance, often for the first time ever, and each prods her in unpredictable ways. But Messing stays on her toes, finding newer and quirkier characters—like a chatty old lady who sings musical numbers and pop songs at work or a wife from a 1940s screwball comedy who encourages her husband to tie her up—and the proportion of what works to what doesn't is a testament to her congeniality, experience, and broad intelligence. Messing was my pick for Best Improviser in the Reader's 2008 Best Of Chicago issue. --Ryan Hubbard $5http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=42255897
Rebecca O'Neil hosts this BYOB comedy show that features local stand-ups and is, curiously enough, operated out of a used book store.
A rotating cast of improv teams and performers.
Local comics Matty Ryan, Kenny DeForest, and Adam Burke present a weekly stand-up showcase.http://parlourcarcomedy.com
A weekly comedy showcase featuring local performers, hosted by Keith Paesel, Todd Massey, Ken Witzgall, and Jake McKenzie.
A core cast performs a different type of long-form improv each week, with guests. The actors meet once just before going on, which gives a frenetic unpredictability to their bits and leads to prankish pushing and pulling, but it also produces occasional fumbling to discover others' sensibilities. (RH) $10
A sketch show that takes on rotating forms, including musical comedy, solo performances, and magic. $5
There's a forced sort of energy to Untitled, the so-hip-it-hurts "speakeasy" in River North, and it pervades Unbridled, a performance series featuring burlesque dancers, fire-eaters, contortionists, and more (the lineup changes weekly). It's a gorgeous space, perfect for showcasing the beautifully dressed young couples who inhabit it, the servers in period costume, and emcee Madame Barker on an odd-looking motorized podium. Oh, and the performers. With everything else going on here they end up feeling like an afterthought, sandwiched between dance parties led by go-go girls and accompanied by a black-and-white movie that plays constantly in the background. The couple seated next to us barely even stopped making out long enough to watch the performances. Which is too bad, because some of them were very good—particularly a number involving a blazing hula hoop. You'll get an unforgettable view of some of the dance routines if you sit at the long table in the middle of the room, since they take place on top of it. —Julia Thiel $10
This 60-minute, late-night magic show is exactly what it should be: funny, lively, intimate, and utterly baffling. House Theatre of Chicago member Dennis Watkins blends quick-witted improv and physical comedy with freewheeling patter as he performs classic illusions. Though his sleight-of-hand is impossibly subtle, it was the mind reading tricks that seemed to have drawn several inquisitive skeptics back for another look on the night I attended. A curio-shop intimacy and cash bar encourage audience participation, and Watkins, with his Eagle Scout looks, clearly takes a mischievous pleasure in the unexpected. Just let your cell phone go off during the show and see what kind of fun he has. --Keith Griffith $75http://thehousetheatre.com
Watching Supernatural Chicago in any month that isn't October is kind of like visiting Santa at the mall in June. But even in early spring, you might find more people than there are seats at Neil Tobin's one-man magic act cum local history lesson, in the dark former storage area (I mean, Indian burial ground) of Excalibur Nightclub's basement. I wouldn't trade the off-season showing for anything—there's nothing else like 20 strangers holding hands to conjure up the spirit of a dead suburban teenager, while Tobin walks around waving his hands over everybody. Yes, the show is cheesy, and, no, it didn't convert me, but that's what makes it good theater. After all, it wouldn't be any fun to hear a haunted rehash of the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre if you really suspected that Al Capone's ghost was in the seat next to you. — Hannah Gold $25 (includes two drinks and admission to dance club)http://supernaturalchicago.com
Seven strapping men in swashbuckler shirts improvise a two-act Shakespearean play based on a title suggested by the audience. At the show I saw, "The Taming of the Jew" inspired the Bard's usual themes (religion, family, betrayal) and plot devices (murders, disguises, fortunes gained/lost) as well as an uncomfortably funny circumcision. Director-performer Blaine Swen, a veteran of long-form Shakespearean improv who swears they don't conspire during the intermission, has assembled a vigorous ensemble of actors and proven improvisers. Their experience doing Shakespeare flowers in the language: they relish iambic dialogue, execute perfectly timed asides, occasionally utter rhyming couplets (some hilariously forced: "Let us be quick-sa, and get to the bar mitzvah!"), and drop parodic phrases ("scurvenous knave," "midfortnight report") and well-placed anachronisms (the bar mitzvah had a DJ). Even the ending echoed the real plays: story lines resolved tidily--and uproariously. (RH) $14http://www.improvisedshakespeare.com/
Baby Wants Candy--a tight troupe now famous for its improvised musicals--began in 1997 as one of the dozens of ImprovOlympic teams formed every year. Somehow they've avoided the usual dissolution of such groups. More impressive, they've never experienced the artistic conservatism that paralyzes improvisers eager to "do it right"--and reap the reward, presumably, of a career in NYC or LA. Instead the troupe has become the very model of smart, physical, quick-thinking, and just plain silly long-form improvisers; they still play well together and manage to entertain. Inspired by the improbable suggestion "So this is it" at the show I saw, nine actors (backed by the five-member Yes Band) improvised a complicated, hilarious, tongue-in-cheek tale of three partnerships on the rocks--two marriages and a professional relationship--and the narrator who helps bring the couples back together. --Jack Helbig $15
If pimpin' ain't easy, pimprovising must be even harder. But the five members of Pimprov project a scary ease as they dress and cavort like "Super Freak"-era Rick James (only with more accessories) and smoothly assimilate audience suggestions into thug-themed short-form games. The group stays heavily engaged with the crowd throughout this high-energy show, bringing people on stage and carrying on multiple side conversations during and between bits. What I enjoyed most were their hilarious, spontaneous dancing (from tap to b-boying) and varied characters. These are no one-trick pimps: at the show I saw they shrewdly played everything from north side trixies to blue-collar Chicagoans. --Ryan Hubbard $15