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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

Avenue Q

Wed-Fri 8 PM, Sat 5 and 8:30 PM, Sun 3 PM; also Sun 7:30 PM beginning 7/22
Mercury Theater Chicago 3745 N. Southport Ave., Chicago Lakeview


773-325-1700

Guards at the Taj

Through 7/22: Wed-Fri 7:30 PM, Sat-Sun 3 and 7:30 PM, Tue 7:30 PM; no performance 7/4
Steppenwolf Theatre 1650 N. Halsted St., Chicago Old Town


312-335-1650

The Social Takeover

Open run: Wed 8 PM
Laugh Factory 3175 N. Broadway St., Chicago Lakeview


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. 773-327-3175

Virgin Daiquiri

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


This ensemble, made up of seasoned Chicago talent, performs fast-paced improv.

The Magic Cabaret

Open run: Wed 8 PM,
Greenhouse Theater Center 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago Lincoln Park

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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 773-404-7336

Trivia Mafia

Open run: Wed 7 PM
North Bar 1637 W. North Ave., Chicago Wicker Park/Bucktown


This new weekly quiz night comes with cheap drinks, popcorn, pizza, and is hosted by WBEZ's Amy Wielunski. Also you can catch some cool bands and comedy acts after the trivia. 773-697-3563

Felt

Open run: Wed 8:30 PM
iO Theater 1501 N. Kingsbury, Chicago Lincoln Park


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

Natural Gas

Open run: Wed 8 PM
Gift Theatre Company 4802 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago Jefferson Park


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 773-283-7071

I Saw You

Open run: Wed 8 PM
Town Hall Pub 3340 N. Halsted St., Chicago Wrigleyville


For more than a decade, Bruised Orange Theater have combed personal ads, OkCupid, Craigslist, and miscellaneous XXX-rated listings for juicy posts, then inhabited the characters behind them. And they still manage to squeeze material out of what is now beyond low-hanging fruit. Online dating in 2007 was seen as a last resort, a way to find love in all the wrong places. But today the stigma has dissipated, so these online profiles seeking companionship or hookups have taken a cue from Alanis Morissette and become ironic. Also another cue and have become curiously genuine (nothing in “Ironic” is just that). I saw one of Ann Sonneville’s characters soothingly caressing a bruised apple saying, “What have they done to you?”—obviously the poster’s flopped attempt at a not-taking-this-seriously joke. Later, though, Clint Sheffer became a man who simply wants to watch women take shits and, if they’d like, pleasure themselves. (Who are we to judge?) Laughter erupts all the same for each dramatic reading, demonstrating that, written with irony or not, the words themselves are secondary to the committed performances of the actors, who dutifully treat the various solicitations and pleadings as honesty incarnate. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m headed to the ladies’ restroom. —Steve Heisler 773-472-4405

Duck and Cover Classroom

Open run: daily, various times
The Time Gallery 1342 N. Milwaukee Ave., second floor, Chicago Wicker Park/Bucktown

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I can't vouch for Escape Artistry's trumpeted dedication to "equality, environment, and education," but I can attest to the aesthetic and cryptological rigor of this tantalizing, exasperating, and ingenious escape-room game. After a cheeky introductory video instructing us newly deputized agents in the nuances of time travel (here walking down a hallway), we're locked in a drearily appointed 1950s schoolroom and given 60 minutes to decipher combinations to multiple locks in hopes of finding some missing uranium. I couldn’t track the backstory—something about two missing agents and the world’s first nuclear chain reaction—but lead designer Melissa Schlesinger’s stocked the room with mind-addling puzzles that delighted and ultimately baffled me (luckily I was trapped with smart people). Stick with it: the payoff is worth it. —Justin Hayford 773-789-9535

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.

Support Group for Men

Through 7/29: Wed 7:30 PM, Thu 2 and 7:30 PM, Fri 8 PM, Sat 2 and 8 PM, Sun 2 PM, Tue 7:30 PM, no performances Wed 7/4 or Tue 7/17
Goodman Theatre 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago Loop

Buy Tickets$30-$75


312-443-3800

The Roommate

Through 8/5: Wed-Fri 7:30 PM, Sat-Sun 3 and 7:30 PM, Tue 7:30 PM, no performance Wed 7/4
Steppenwolf Theatre 1650 N. Halsted St., Chicago Old Town


312-335-1650

20,000 Leagues Under the Seas

Through 8/18: Wed-Fri 7:30 PM, Sat-Sun 2 and 7:30 PM, alternate Tue 7:30 PM, alternate Thu 2 PM
Lookingglass Theatre Company Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago Gold Coast/Mag Mile/Streeterville


312-337-0665

MINT: Musical Improv Night

Open run: Wed 7:30 PM
Annoyance Theatre 851 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago Lakeview


Three groups with mentholated names develop themes into musicals—"Do you want to tell me about it in song?" Taking their ideas from the audience, some do a better job staying on topic than others. Among the suggestions on the night I visited: light, celebrity retweets, and the laundry room. After an hour of improv, there's a chance for the audience to take part in a "jam"—a great no-pressure way for greater all-around participation. —Chelsea Hohn 773-697-9693

House Party

Open run: Sun 7 PM, Wed 8 PM
ComedySportz Theatre 929 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago Lakeview


Game-based improv from ComedySportz's house teams. 773-549-8080 or 312-559-1212

Search Engine

Open run: Wed 10 PM
iO Theater 1501 N. Kingsbury, Chicago Lincoln Park


Craig Uhlir and Ryan Archibald's two-man improv show.

Therapy Sessions

Open run: Wed 9 PM
Hungry Brain 2319 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago Roscoe Village


The fundamentals of Therapy Sessions, a show at the newly reopened Hungry Brain, are simple: a live musical act, a stand-up or spoken-word block, and a DJ set, all focused on a monthly theme. Previous performers include the Lawrence Arms' Brendan Kelly, music critic and journalist (and Reader contributor) Sasha Geffen, and musician Antony Ablan. 773-709-1401

The Winner . . . of Our Discontent

Wed-Thu 8 PM, Fri-Sat 8 and 11 PM (except 12/31, 7 and 10 PM), Sun 7 PM (no show 12/25), Tue 8 PM; also Tue 12/20-Thu 12/22 and Tue 12/27-Thu 12/29, 11 PM
Second City 1616 N. Wells St., Chicago Old Town

Buy Tickets$19-$46


The Second City is nothing if not responsive. I mean, really: Nothing. Responsiveness is the whole point of an improv-based, satirical theater. The institution has no entertainment value if its ensemble members fail to respond to one another and no relevance if it fails to respond to the world. Continue reading >> 312-337-3992

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

Cascade Drive-In

Ongoing
Cascade Drive-In 1100 E. North Ave., West Chicago Other Suburbs West


When you go to a movie theater, there's a decent chance someone will sneeze and you'll contract a horrifying airborne monkey disease (or at least that's what I learned from Outbreak). Not a thing you have to worry about at the drive-in. Plus you can make out, it's BYOB, and it's under ten bucks for a double feature.

Spoken Rhythm

Wednesdays, 7 p.m.


Open mike with Frank Pete. "Make It Count" spoken-word program Mon 8 PM. spokenrhythm@gmail.com

Homolatte

First and third Tue of month, 7:30 PM
Tweet Let's Eat 5020 N. Sheridan Rd., Chicago Uptown


With Scott Free, featuring gay and lesbian spoken-word artists. 773-728-5576

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

In One Ear

Wed 9 PM
Heartland Cafe 7000 N. Glenwood Ave., Chicago Rogers Park/West Rogers Park


Open night for poetry and music. 773-465-8005

The Blind Bet Show

Open run: Wed 9 PM
The Pony 1638 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago Lakeview


A weekly stand-up show with a secret headliner. 773-828-5055