The latest iteration of the Waltzing Mechanics' long-running homage to the Chicago Transit Authority tries to encapsulate comedy, tragedy, and the triumph of the spirit in vignettes that play out in an onstage train car. It inhibits itself in one important way: the "el stories," based on interviews, are told verbatim—and I found the likes, ums, and buts distracting (and perhaps a troubling metastatement on how language has devolved). Linguistics aside, nothing in Chicago is more relatable than the el, and some standout bits resonated with a universal truth: the drunk bro's inappropriate advances, the sick passenger making everyone else wish they could teleport to safety, and the impromptu late-night sing-along. —Marissa Oberlander $15
The Neo-Futurists perform 30 plays in 60 minutes in this "futurist evening in the grand Italian tradition." The fare changes weekly in this long-running production; between two and 12 new scripts are performed each week depending on the roll of a die. This is funny, wise, nakedly honest, sometimes unsettling, and invariably entertaining theater. â€”Jennifer Vanasco $9 plus the roll of a die ($10-$15)http://neofuturists.org
Part of a national chain of comedy clubs, this company is known for quick improv games (think Whose Line Is It Anyway?), but it also stages long-form improv. LCD screens and sophisticated lighting and sound systems amplify the sports-style improv of the company's eponymous production, ComedySportz. There's a snobbery in the Chicago improv community that looks up at the "art" of the long form, with its emphasis on story and characters, and down on the "entertainment" of the short, with its emphasis on games and punch lines. ComedySportz falls emphatically in the entertainment camp; its bottom line is laughter, and it gets plenty of it. The show is structured as a competition between two teams performing multiple games that require audience participation. A referee ensures that the players--a rotating roster from a company of about 50--work clean or they finish the game with a brown bag over their heads. The formula is practically foolproof: players may flash their quick wits in winning responses, but they're even funnier when they fail. In one game a team had to devise a pick-up line, each member contributing a word. Moving rapidly from player to player, the line developed: "Tonight-I'll-tango-with-your-face." Probably wouldn't work at a bar, but at ComedySportz it killed. --Ryan Hubbard $19
Answering the prayers of nerdy straight guys everywhere, this Geek Girl Burlesque show features a bunch of scantily clad women reenacting the first Star Wars movie. The only character who isn't played by a woman, R2-D2, is represented by a trash can. M.C. Curran's script closely follows the plot of the original except that the action frequently pauses so cast members can strip down to pasties and panties. Even Chewbacca gets a turn. In the spirit of Minsky's, Timothy Bambara's staging is more suggestive than raunchy and as concerned with laughs and novelty as with titillation. It also offers the rare chance to see Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi perform a posthumous striptease to the Bee Gees' "I Started a Joke." —Zac Thompson $35
Re-creating a legendary 1956 jam session involving Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis, this crowd-pleaser is basically a vehicle for crackling renditions of classic tunes, including "Blue Suede Shoes," "That's All Right," and "Great Balls of Fire." The show's emotional center is Sun Records founder Sam Phillips, a man caught between competing personal and business pressures. —Albert Williams $25-$70
It's that time of year when we all get really excited about looking at lots of very small lightbulbs. This evening, Lincoln Park Zoo flips the switch on its holiday display as Zoolights opens for the season. Besides strands of twinkling lights wrapped around things, Zoolights also features photos with Santa, live ice-carving demonstrations, festive 3-D displays, and ice skating.
One of the highlights of Christmas in Chicago is this annual Redmoon event, this year featuring a cast of 40 dancers, acrobats, clowns, one aerialist, and an "epic surf instrumental band." Inspired by an allegory by the Persian poet Farid ud-Din Atta, the tale centers around a Pigeon (the magnificent Fernando Córdova Hernández), a Raven (Jay Cullen, assisted by Brennan Stacker), and lots of forest animals. Director Will Bishop keeps it cohesive, and often thrilling, with layer upon layer of spectacle: a stilt-walking Queen of the Forest, shadow puppets, skeleton masks, and a confetti-spouting cannon. The result is a community-building feat of artistry. It's a short run, though, so buy your ticket ASAP; this is one of the best things you'll see this year. —Suzanne Scanlon
So much poppy mid-90s skate punk—or “melodic hardcore,” according to the dudes making it—came out of southern California that it’s easy to forget about little ol’ 88 Fingers Louie from Chicago, Illinois. But these guys’ hypercatchy, breakneck punk was just as great as anything their labelmates on Fat Wreck Chords did, and it’s aged remarkably well—probably because they never had to rely on dick and fart jokes. Their final release, a split EP with Kid Dynamite that came out weeks before they broke up in 1999, is an overlooked treasure. It was starting to seem like 88 Fingers Louie might be remembered only as the group that gave birth to Rise Against—the commercially accessible and massively bro-y band that guitarist Dan “Mr. Precision” Wleklinski and bassist Joe Principe started next. But successful reunion tours in 2009 and 2010 (Principe didn’t take part) proved otherwise, and tonight’s show is a 20th-anniversary party for Louie—the lineup once again includes Principe, and the set will be divided up between all three of the band’s former drummers, who include founding Alkaline Trio member Glenn Porter and John Carroll, who now plays in Paper Mice and Mucca Pazza. —Luca Cimarusti The Bollweevils and the Bomb open. $17.50
Improv and stand-up comedy by Keenan Camp and Logan Dean.
The fact that this fully improvised show has lasted ten years is impressive enough—most improv troupes are good for a season or two at most. Even more impressive, though, is how well the ensemble functions under the direction of creator Jason Chin. They listen to each other, play well together, and never resort to the kind of cheap, quick laughs that can wreck a scene. Instead, as the best improvisers do, they build slowly, adding to one another's improvisations and in the process creating fascinating, funny scenes with the ease of an ace jazz ensemble. The improv bits here are loosely based on items taken at random from the newspaper, as well as on questions submitted by the audience. —Jack Helbig $14http://chicago.ioimprov.com
A bona fide born-in-Chicago international hit, this simultaneously nostalgic and satirical comedy by Vicki Quade and Maripat Donovan concerns a nun instructing her students—that's you—on the dos and don'ts of dogma. —Jack Helbig $30
At the Briar Street Theatre since 1997, the cobalt zanies have added wizard-worthy tricks to an already potent mix of visual puns, physical stunts, and cultural commentary. The latest edition conjures up a 2.5-D universe, giant "GiPads" that perform outsized multitasking, and Lady Gaga hat spin-offs. The same subversive spirit fuels the show's still-potent signature bits, including splatter-crazed "paint drumming." The secret of their cerulean success? Understanding that laughter and thought can be BFFs. —Lawrence Bommer $49-$59
"Holy bi-curious moment, Batman!" says the Boy Wonder in this entertaining superhero burlesque from Gorilla Tango Theatre. Clothes are shed early and often as our hero(in)es deal out double entendres along with bams and pows in their battles against the Joker, the Riddler, the Penguin, and other villains. Marie Curieosity is full of silly self-importance and unbridled libido as the Caped Crusader, and Crystal Paradise makes a campy Robin. In fact, the whole cast show sexy confidence and solid comedic timing, creating a Gotham City that's a lot more fun than Christopher Nolan's. If you found The Dark Knight Rises too violent, you'll prefer the fight scene here in which Robin gives the Riddler a titty twister and gets motorboated in return. —Marissa Oberlander $28-$35
A holiday hangout in your grandparents' basement in the wee hours, with inebriated uncles and cousins telling tales of woe and failure (they were drunk then too)—it's a little like that. Comedian Sean Flannery's The Blackout Diaries returned to the 70s-style Lincoln Lodge this past January, having begun there with a short run two years ago before moving to a monthly gig at the Beat Kitchen. It's weekly now, with a Malort sponsorship to boot (and a podcast launching May 1). No qualms about it, the show is about drinking (and occasionally smoking) yourself into enough of a stupor that a great yarn comes from it—and hopefully some shocking photo and/or video documentation, as well. It finds humor in the bleakness of the bender. Each week's stories come from a mix of comics—I was fortunate to catch both Chris Condren and Brian Babylon during a recent visit—and everyday Chicagoans, many of whom Flannery probably met while hugging a mug of Old Style at a bar, and many of whom probably have stories to outshine the pros. Example: The amiable postal worker and former speakeasy owner, known simply as "Floyd," who once had a time in Malta that consisted of the attempted liberation of a sex slave and the maniacal bare-fisted bashing in of a small automobile. And that's just the CliffsNotes version. Flannery is a sharp, expert host—benefiting, no doubt, from the show's increased frequency—who keeps the flow of guests steady without appearing hurried. He supplements the Q&A portion with clever inquiries if the audience isn't speaking up. Regardless of the heavy content—drinking until you climb on top of something and then fall off that something isn't actually always a blast—the mood is unceasingly light, and you're probably drinking anyway. So go make a memory. —Kevin Warwick