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Dummy

Open run: Tue 8 PM
,

Colleen Doyle and Jason Shotts, no strangers to the Chicago improv scene, continue to cook up subtle, spontaneous scenes to order in their new Tuesday-evening slot at iO. The night I went they played out the story of a recently married couple enjoying a brief, romantic stay at a bed-and-breakfast. Both actors played two characters—a honeymooner as well as an inkeeper—and both had an excellent sense for navigating their constantly shifting roles. The performance was slow to start, but ended up being unexpectedly elegant; a plot emerged that was as tidily made as a hotel bed. The production managed to find laughs in minute details and dark discoveries. —Hannah Gold $12

iO Theater (map)
1501 N. Kingsbury
Wrigleyville Dummy

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Felt

Open run: Wed 8 PM

There's just something about cussing puppets--and this improvised puppet show by the Atticus Finch ensemble suggests bitter, rejected prototypes of Elmo, Chewbacca, McGruff the Crime Dog, and Crank Yankers/Muppets characters ganging up in a dark alley off Sesame Street. But the troupe's nine members exceed the old, easy laugh of vulgar-talking innocents: after tutorials from professional puppeteers and a few months of practice, they display sophisticated physical control as they wield the puppets from behind the curtains of a bilevel ministage. Seamlessly creating gestures and quick takes (hilariously deadpan on the perfectly blank cartoonish faces), they also smoothly execute difficult maneuvers like sliding a quarter across a bar or crossing the stage via motorized scooter. Sharp timing and self-mockery point to the performers' long experience together, though the motley mob of puppets takes center stage: Felt is improv cut from new cloth. —Ryan Hubbard $5

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iO Theater (map)
1501 N. Kingsbury
Wrigleyville Felt

God, Sex & Death Variety Hour

First Wednesday of the month: 7:30 PM

Many a mental health professional advises that if you're really afraid of something, the best thing to do is confront your fear. That's sort of what comedian/musician Danny Black is up to with the God, Sex, and Death Variety Hour. During his opening monologue at the August show, Black, who plays host, admits he's terrified of death but swears that "talking about it makes it better." In reference to the god part, Black says he had a religious experience on a retreat once—god spoke to him, obviously—but he mostly ignored it at the time; so giving the guy (or gal) a nod now seems like the polite thing to do. The inclusion of sex as a topic—at any time, in any universe—seems self-explanatory. Continue reading >>

Schubas (map)
3159 N. Southport Ave.
Lakeview
phone 773-525-2508
God, Sex & Death Variety Hour

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I Saw You

Open run: Wed 8 PM,

Bruised Orange Theater Company's I Saw You is a charming theatrical interpretation of "I Saw You," "Matches," and "X-Matches" listings from the Reader. Performed in bars, each show features a rotating cast of three actors presenting ads published in the past year, the yearnings of their anonymous characters echoing the banter, flirting, and stares of the patrons. The material is naturally funny--"I backed up your toilet something fierce," "Do you like to churn butter?"--but the actors avoid the trap of easy "sexy" voices and imaginatively embellish the text with a wide range of accents and consistently surprising attitudes (shy to monstrous, robotic monotone to smarmy). —Ryan Hubbard $5

http://bruisedorange.org
Town Hall Pub (map)
3340 N. Halsted St.
Wrigleyville
phone 773-472-4405
I Saw You

The Magic Cabaret

Open run: Wed 8 PM,
phone 773-404-7336
,

Once upon a time, Chicago was a magic town. You could buy tricks and apparatus at Marshall Field's and get a full-blown magic show with your dinner at Schulien's. The waiters there invented what became known as the Chicago style of magic. It was up-close and personal, not too grand, but still astonishing, and best of all, it made the audience part of the show. David Parr and Joe Diamond re-create this golden age in The Magic Cabaret, using homely objects like books and light bulbs and (naturally) playing cards to bring their stories of old-time magic to life. The result is by turns funny, surprising, and spooky. But here's the most amazing part: it really is fun for the whole family, not just the kids. —Aimee Levitt $20

http://magic-cabaret.com
Greenhouse Theater Center (map)
2257 N. Lincoln Ave.
Lincoln Park
phone 773-404-7336

Natural Gas

Open run: Wed 8 PM

The quality of an improv show is directly proportional to the quality of the improvisers who create it. Put together a group of kids who know nothing about the world—or themselves—and you get a lot of cliches and imitations of bad TV. Put together an ensemble of strong, experienced actors who happen also to like to improvise and you have the optimal conditions for a piece filled with well-articulated characters in amusing relationships and interesting situations. That latter was the case with Natural Gas, the Gift Theatre's house improv team, on the night I saw them. As in every improvisation, not every moment worked, and some actors made basic mistakes, like introducing inconsistencies. All the same, their show contained more than the usual moments of spontaneous delight—and occasional splashes of pure inspiration. —Jack Helbig $5

Gift Theatre Company (map)
4802 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Jefferson Park
phone 773-283-7071

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No-Tell Motel

Open run: Wed 10 PM

If you need a little burlesque excitement to make it through your workweek, look no further than No-Tell Motel, the weekly showcase dubbed Best Midweek Burlesque Break in our 2014 Best of Chicago issue. Reader contributor Jay Gentile writes that the "hump-day party features pyrotechnics and dancers humping power sanders that spray streams of sparks into the audience." So maybe bring some protective eyewear.

Debonair Social Club (map)
1575 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Wicker Park/Bucktown
phone 773-227-7790

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The Social Takeover

Open run: Wed 8 PM

For the Social Takeover, willing audience members log in to their Facebook pages and hand them over to a revolving door of comedians certainly out to humiliate them. Not only that—each page is projected onto a big screen so that everyone can laugh at the victim. Why anyone would volunteer to do this is a mystery, but it does sound like attending could be a blast. Who among us doesn't like to see a public Internet shaming? Michael Larimer hosts. $17 plus two-drink minimum

Laugh Factory (map)
3175 N. Broadway St.
Lakeview
phone 773-327-3175

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TJ & Dave

Open run: Wed 10:30 PM

Veteran comedians T.J. Jagodowski and Dave Pasquesi perform a long-form improv show each week. $5

iO Theater (map)
1501 N. Kingsbury
Wrigleyville TJ & Dave

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Super Human

Open run: Thu 8:30 PM

Five women storm the stage. Over the loudspeaker Philadelphia-bred rapper Khia sings of her neck and her back and two specific parts of her nether regions while the ladies hump the air and pound the walls—one even does a handstand. They're Super Human, and before they even get to the improv they're amazing. Continue reading >> $5

iO Theater (map)
1501 N. Kingsbury
Wrigleyville Super Human

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Messing With a Friend

Open run: Thu 10:30 PM

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 $5

http://annoyanceproductions.com
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Annoyance Theatre (map)
851 W. Belmont
Lakeview
phone 773-697-9693
Messing With a Friend

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The Magic Parlour

Open run: Fri 7:30 and 9:30 PM

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 $75

http://thehousetheatre.com
Palmer House Hilton (map)
17 E. Monroe St.
Loop
phone 312-726-7500

The Improvised Shakespeare Company

Open run: Fri 8 PM

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. —Ryan Hubbard $14

http://www.improvisedshakespeare.com/
iO Theater (map)
1501 N. Kingsbury
Wrigleyville The Improvised Shakespeare Company

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Baby Wants Candy: The Rock Musical

Open run: Fri 10:30 PM

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

Apollo Theater (map)
2540 N. Lincoln Ave.
Lincoln Park
phone 773-935-6100

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Bri-Ko

Open run: Sat 2 PM

How many bumbling buddies does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Or juggle? Or deliver a meal in a water balloon? On Saturday afternoons at Stage 773, the answer is three—specifically the three members of Bri-Ko. The sketch-comedy troupe Rube Goldberg would've created if Rube Goldberg had created sketch-comedy troupes, Bri-Ko puts on a silent clown show for the sort of kid who'd appreciate British humor. The name suggests bricolage—i.e., art improvised from materials found at hand. But the many kooky props at hand here (Nerf darts, ping-pong balls, various foodstuffs) are used to make a great, big mess. Tim Soszko, Brian Peterlin, and Chicago Sketch Fest founder Brian Posen bop happily about like Beaker the Muppet, contriving difficult ways to accomplish routine tasks. High art it's not, but the slapstick is practiced and the dumb smiles on these bozos' faces are contagious. —Asher Klein $10-$20

Stage 773 (map)
1225 W. Belmont Ave.
Lakeview
phone 773-327-5252
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