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The Armando Diaz Theatrical Experience & Hootennany

Open run: Mon 8 PM
iO Theater 1501 N. Kingsbury, Chicago Lincoln Park


An old standby, this weekly show transforms performer monologues (delivered by a different guest each time) into inspiration for a night of masterful long-form improv. The best-of-the-best iO talent typically make up the cast, so the show hops from literal moments from the story to abstract, playful scenes with aplomb.

The Blackout Diaries

Open run: Sat 10 PM
Lincoln Lodge 956 W. Newport, Chicago North Center


The gregarious Sean Flannery tells stories about adventures he's had inebriated out of his mind. He's joined each week by other comedians and the occasional layman—each with a drunken tale to tell. 773-251-1539

Blue Man Group

Open run: Thu 8 PM; Fri 7 PM; Sat 2, 5, and 8 PM; Sun 4 and 7 PM
Briar Street Theatre 3133 N. Halsted St., Chicago Lakeview

Buy from Ticketmaster$49-$99


After 20 years and god knows how many bald caps and gallons of paint, this Chicago staple stays true to its mission: “Blue Man Group—enemy of monotony, remedy for boredom, promoter of overjoy and elation.” That experimental, interactive theater can remain both current and family friendly in equal measure speaks to the show's healthy mix of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it wit and larger-than-life clowning. Audience participation, voluntary and involuntary, is still a key component, whether it’s sharing Twinkies with the trio, donning a poncho in the splash zone, or being shamed as a latecomer, in showstopping fashion. Cultural references and parodies have certainly changed with the times (and devices), but the keys to Blue Man Group remain its hypnotic music and lively energy—if you’re not out of your seat dancing when the 90 minutes are up, you probably don’t have a pulse. —Marissa Oberlander 773-348-4000

Chicago Dramatists Saturday Series

Open run: Sat 2 PM,
Chicago Dramatists 1105 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago West Town/Noble Square


This near-weekly program features staged readings of works in progress. 312-633-0630

Chicago Underground Comedy

Open run: Tue 9:30 PM
Beat Kitchen 2100 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago Roscoe Village


A benchmark for local stand-up comics takes the form of a slot at Chicago Underground Comedy—a weekly, curated showcase with the occasional former Chicagoan headlining. Think T.J. Miller, Hannibal Buress, Cameron Esposito, or John Mulaney. 773-281-4444

Cole's Comedy Open Mike

Wednesdays, 9 p.m.
Cole's 2338 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago Logan Square


Hosted by Sonia Denis and Rebecca O'Neal, this scrappy showcase boasts about 50 comics a week. 773-276-5802

Comedians You Should Know

Open run: Thu 9 PM


A mix of barflys and independent comedy fans flocks to this weekly showcase, one of the best in the city. The room is friendly, and if hecklers appear, they're shut down affably by Chicago's top stand-ups. It's not a place to try out new material, so the comedians hit jokes hard. And the audience, sitting close and around the stage like a big hug, welcomes the change of pace from the bar's drunk tomfoolery. CYSK is an appropriate name. 312-642-0700

ComedySportz Theatre

Open run: Thu 8 PM, Fri 8 and 10 PM, Sat 6, 8, and 10 PM
ComedySportz Theatre 929 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago Lakeview

Buy from Ticketmaster$19


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 773-549-8080 or 312-559-1212

Dream Freaks Fall From Space

Open run: Wed-Thu 8 PM, Fri-Sat 8 and 11 PM, Sun 4 PM, Tue 8 PM
Second City 1616 N. Wells St., Chicago Old Town

Buy Tickets$29-$46


Second City is in denial. Donald Trump is our president, and along with that comes a host of issues regarding race, gender equality, LGBTQ rights, and police brutality, among other things. The cast of the brand-new yet already outdated main-stage revue Dream Freaks Fall From Space tackle these loaded topics by mentioning them, then moving right along. And speaking of denial, scenes break one of the most fundamental rules of improvisation—embody the spirit of "yes, and . . . " to complement your partner onstage. Here instead actors deny ideas with "What are you talking about?" Second City is the tentpole of Chicago comedy for the rest of the country, but Dream Freaks feels like it was concocted in an intermediate-level improv class where mere nods get laughs and politics get skewered with Pixy Stix. Continue reading >> 312-337-3992

Festival of Flesh

Open run: first Sat of each month, 10: 30 PM and midnight
Underground Lounge 952 W. Newport Ave., Chicago Lakeview


Gothic illusionist and proud floor-length-leather-jacket owner Ron Fitzgerald emcees Arkham Noise Productions' burlesque show, which caters to a wide array of fetishes with an alternating lineup of about 100 performers—around a dozen acts on a given night, curated by producer/DJ Miss Ellie Noise. Audience members can watch the show from their bar stools; this month's range of fantasies included domination, flesh hooks, IKEA (DIY kink?), and bathing in public. Still, nearly every act was a striptease at heart, and followed a familiar trajectory: gloves to girdle to brassiere, and then an exuberant reveal. It felt more silly than sexy, and the only clothes remaining onstage at the end were the basketball jerseys that line the back wall of the bar. —Hannah Gold 773-327-2739

God, Sex & Death Variety Hour

First Wednesday of the month: 7:30 PM
Schubas 3159 N. Southport Ave., Chicago Lakeview


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 >> 773-525-2508

The Harold

Open run: Wed-Thu 8 PM, Fri 8 and 10:30 PM, Sat 10:30 PM, Sun 8 PM, Mon 10:30 PM
iO Theater 1501 N. Kingsbury, Chicago Lincoln Park


Improv teams use an audience suggestion to create interweaving story lines that result in a connected long-form narrative.

The Improvised Shakespeare Company

Open run: Thu 8 PM, Fri-Sat 8 and 11 PM
iO Theater 1501 N. Kingsbury, Chicago Lincoln Park


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

The Infinite Wrench

Open run: Fri-Sat 11:30 PM, Sun 7 PM
Neo-Futurarium 5153 N. Ashland Ave., Chicago Andersonville


Greg Allen gave and Greg Allen took away. On December 31, 2016, the Neo-Futurists founder made good on his promise to kill off the company's signature cult show, Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, ending an unprecedented run of 28 years. The current generation of ensemble members weren't happy. Now they've pretty much reconstituted TMLMTBGB in everything but name, running on the same schedule at the same venue with the same exuberance. Though their new baby is superficially different from the original (where before the plays were numbered, for instance, now they're color coded), it retains the identical goal of offering 30 original short plays in 60 minutes. The performance I saw lapsed occasionally into reductive political posturing, having more to do with tribal affirmation than revelation. But it also had its share of wit, insight, emotional frankness, and dancerly physicality. —Tony Adler 773-275-5255

Kiss Kiss Cabaret

Open run: Fri 10 PM
Uptown Underground 4707 N. Broadway St., Chicago Uptown


The tone and pace are just right in this late-night burlesque show. Doubling as affable emcee Max Flattery, director Chris Biddle keeps the evening fresh with a rotating lineup of erotic dancers, campy acts, and nerdy comedians. Striptease routines satisfy a wide range of PG-13 fetishes, sometimes in unconventional ways. Teddy Bare's absinthe fairy number, for instance, incorporates modern dance elements not typically associated with the bump and grind. The result is an eclectic blend of steam, smart humor, and shtick. If Biddle and company can maintain momentum, Kiss Kiss Cabaret has what it takes to become a cheeky Chicago staple. —Dan Jakes 773-867-1946

Lincoln Lodge

Open run: Fri and Sat, 8 PM
Lincoln Lodge 956 W. Newport, Chicago North Center


For close to 15 years, one of Chicago's best comedy clubs wasn't even in a club. It was in the back of the Lincoln Restaurant, a modest diner in North Center where the Lincoln Lodge, the successful indie stand-up and variety show, set up shop. The restaurant's wood-paneled walls and curiously patterned carpets created a warm and welcoming experience not unlike watching a comedy show at your grandma's house. Lest this environment sound too safe, the show itself is known for its edge. The house cast, which currently features promising up-and-comers Derek Smith and Rebecca O'Neil, boasts such alumni as Cameron Esposito and Kumail Nanjiani, while Kyle Kinane and Hannibal Buress were among the show's most frequent visitors until Hollywood came calling. Even now, the Lodge draws prominent headlining comedians—like Marc Maron and Eddie Pepitone—eager to perform for cheerful crowds untroubled by a two-drink minimum.

When the Lincoln Restaurant closed its doors in December, the Lincoln Lodge was without a home. Luckily, the Subterranean came calling. Located in the epicenter of Wicker Park and patronized by boozy youngsters, the SubT isn't as homey, but the Lodge has always had swagger, and the new digs reflect that. And the location is ideal for tracking down targets for Lincoln Lodge's live interview segment, which puts a comic out on the streets to interview unsuspecting passersby.

At the show I saw on March 14, genial host Marty DeRosa welcomed a mix of newer faces (Smith and fellow cast member Trey Brown) and old standbys (CPS teacher turned full-time comic Jeanie Doogan), all of whom were solid. Local legend Junior Stopka headlined the evening, and his irreverent ramblings and absurd non sequiturs were characteristically hilarious, enough to distract from the bass-heavy EDM show that was starting upstairs (some of the kinks are still being worked out, it seems). That lone drawback aside, the new era of the Lincoln Lodge is off to a strong start. —Drew Hunt 773-251-1539

The Magic Parlour

Through 7/1: Fri 7:30 and 9:30 PM, Sat 4:30, 7:30, and 9:30 PM
Palmer House Hilton 17 E. Monroe St., Chicago Loop


This 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 encourages 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. Drinks (wine, beer, and soda) are included in the cost of admission. —Keith Griffith 312-726-7500

Manic Mondays

Open run: Mon 9 PM
Frances Cocktail Lounge 307 E. 75th, Chicago Other South


Lauded stand-ups Taneshia "Just Nesh" Rice and Marilee Williams host this weekly showcase—one of the few on the south side.

The Paper Machete

Open run: Wed 6:30 PM, Sat 3 PM
Green Mill 4802 N. Broadway St., Chicago Uptown


The "salon in a saloon." Comedians, writers, and storytellers discuss the week in pop culture and politics. 773-878-5552

Twisted Knots

Open run: Thu-Sat 7:30 PM, Sun 4 PM


Longtime married couple Frank and Carla—a stressed-out salesman and an underappreciated nurse—try to get back their conjugal mojo by role-playing a call-girl scenario (Carla plays the call girl) in their hotel room on New Year’s Eve. The Hard Rock Hotel on Michigan Avenue provided furnishings and decor to lend verisimilitude to Greg Pinsoneault and Shaun Renfro’s set design in this production directed by Tara Branham. In fact, it’s Dale Danner’s script that could use some authenticity; the couple’s sex games and the husband’s much-discussed superstitious streak feel contrived and strained. Only when the charade is dropped toward the end do we glimpse genuine disappointment and fatigue. Ryan Kitley’s Frank seems detached from the proceedings, but Mary Cross turns in lively, tangy work as Carla. —Zac Thompson

Wet Cash

Open run: Fri 8 PM
Dark Tower Comics 4835 N. Western, Chicago Lincoln Square


Stand-up with a very big twist. Each week, performers at this showcase can do anything they want. One time, they ran a show where everybody on the bill and in the audience was named Derek. Plus, all donations benefit the fishbowl they toss their money in—hence the title. Expect, well, everything. 773-654-1490

The Wild Party Variety Hour

Open run: every last Saturday of the month, 11 PM
HQ 1914 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago Wicker Park/Bucktown


Burlesque, vaudeville, shtick, and other types of performance, hosted by Silent Theatre. 312-533-8023