Our newest series features the comedy of the cities and communities around the country. Chicago is one of the great comedy cities, so we went to James Allen Kamp, founder and editor of comedyofchicago.com to help us to get a handle on Chicago. He has the scene wired, so after reading our guide, stay up to date at comedyofchicago.com.
If you are a stand-up comedy fan that’s new to Chicago, or just visiting or considering visiting, this is the guide that has you covered. Chicago has one of the best scenes in the country with great stand-up show seven days a week that includes open mics, major clubs with national headliners, and strong local acts just about to break.
In the last five years some of the best comics in America got their start here. Comedians like T.J. Miller, Hannibal Buress, Pete Holmes, Kumail Nanjiani, Deon Cole, Kyle Kinane, Lil Rel Howery and Matt Braunger (just to name a few) all cut their teeth in the Chicago scene.
The question that always gets asked is – Why? Why is there so much consistent talent coming out of Chicago right now. Well the short answer to that is – STAGE TIME. Chicago is a town made for comedy. Even Chicago’s infrastructure lends itself to a burgeoning comedy scene with a bar on almost every corner in this town – which translates to lots of crusty dive bars, historic waterholes and, fancy venues with back rooms looking for ways to get customers in the door with drinks in their hands.Add in the of the ubiquitousness of the Internet, social media marketing and hyper local comedy blogs, that have developed in the last ten years, and you come up with well over FIFTY open mics (that does even count the suburb mics).
Chicago now has 5 major clubs that bring in national headliners, and with those clubs comes an industry media spotlight that helps the scene grow. The great part about these clubs is they recognize how good Chicago has gotten and they now book more and more local talent to support their businesses.
So with all that in mind, here is a guide to the most important clubs and independent shows to help you navigate your way around this gigantic scene.
Iconic and legendary are accurate adjectives for this historic Chicago club. Zanies (the longest running comedy club in Chicago) has achieved it’s own important status as a comedy king maker. Known for giving a jump start to the careers of influential comedians like Jerry Seinfeld, Eddie Murphy, Jay Leno, Sarah Silverman Tim Allen and Dave Chappelle (among many other major stars). The proof, as they say, is in the pudding or in this case on the walls among the hundreds of pictures of famous comedians that line every inch of the club. The space itself is a living testament to the comics who have passed through it’s hallowed doors over the years. Long dark and and narrow, it’s decor hearkens back to the traditional Comedy club of yesterday. Sure it looks dated, but that’s kind of the point. Zanies is the closest thing your ever gonna get to being in a 1960’s Las Vegas comedy club. You can feel the history as you walk through the doors – 36 years and counting. While many other clubs have fallen by the wayside Zanies has withstood the hard test of time.
Even if your not a comedy fan, most people have heard of Second City. Saturday Night Live, Tina Fey, Bill Murray, Joan Rivers, and Chris Farley (just to name a few) all have deep roots here. It’s hard to name a more influential comedy theater/school. So when Second City announced that it was opening the Up Comedy Club for Stand-Up acts to perform there (as well as improv shows), it was kind of a big deal. Because of it’s Second City pedigree, the expectations were very high for this brand new club. Well, I can tell you officially… It does not disappoint. First of all the space is beautiful. Like ridiculously beautiful. The ambiance is great. High ceilings, plush booths, cabaret seating and not a bad view in the house. It’s a easily a million dollar theater. Great lighting, impeccable sound, professional staff, a full bar and tasty food options complete the set up. What about the comedians? Top notch. In the last two years some of the best comedic talent in the country has played at the Up Comedy Club. From Kyle Kinane to Bob Odenkirk to Tommy Davidson. Although (in my opinion) they don’t have stand-up comedy as much they should, (many of the sold out shows are improv and sketch based), it’s a very impressive venue with unlimited potential.
Recently Up Comedy Club hosted Nikki Glaser, Trevor Noah, and Chris Gethard.
When you think of a stand-up club, the Laugh Factory is one of those iconic brands that comes to mind. What’s really fascinating about Chicago Laugh Factory is that how good it’s doing in this market (despite some early struggles). If the Chicago comedy scene is hot, then the Laugh Factory is on fire right now. Utilizing a “local comedy model” that books Chicago talent almost exclusively, they’ve been able to pull off the unthinkable – consistently packed houses with NO national headliner. Their Saturday offering, called the Nasty Show, has seen standing room only crowds of late. The first thing you notice about the LF is what an ideal space for comedy it is. The theater is huge with high cathedral ceilings, plenty of legroom, a balcony, VIP lounge, a full bar and great seats throughout. The venue provides a perfect ambiance for patrons. The staff is friendly and after the show, you can have another drink at the lobby bar where comedians and audience members get to mingle. Those looking for a different type of date night or a girls night out should give this club a try.
The only major south-side comedy club in Chicago. Although often categorized as a black or “urban” club (90% of it’s patrons are African American), Jokes and Notes has built a legendary reputation as one Chicago’s most successful comedy venues. The fact of the matter is the best comedians in the country play here. Deon Cole, Lil Rel, Vanessa Fraction and many others have gotten their start at J&N and are proud to call it home. The room is intimate yet spacious enough for 100+ patrons, with a DJ booth, VIP tables and a full bar. Traditionally the Chicago scene tends to separate among racial lines, which is unfortunate, but a reality. White comedians were rare on the south-side and black comedians even rarer on the north. But all that is starting to change. Despite Chicago’s comedy segregation issues, Mary Lindsey, the owner of Jokes and Notes, (one of the few black female club owners in the country) goes out of her way to book all types of comedians, with an eye for getting a diverse lineup on her stage.
Weekly showcase at the famed ComedySportz Theatre. This is a proper theater with great lights and sound. Top notch talent comes through each week. Recent performances by Jamie Campbell, Alex Kumin, and Tom Dunlap
One of the longest running showcases in Chicago at the funky Beat Kitchen bar. Great drink specials. $5 Online and at the Door. Recent performances by Rebecca O’Neal, David Drake, Danny Dreesus.
All female comedy collective that been making a big name for itself. Puts together some of the best comedians around every Tuesday night. Recent performances by Sammy Arechar, Brian Babylon, Kaitlyn Grissom.
Legendary showcase which has, in many ways, put Chicago’s independent scene on the map. Head downstairs into Timothy O’Toole’s and go straight to the back room. $10 Cover @ door – $5 Online! Recent performances by Martin Morrow, Danny Kallas, Sean White, CJ Sullivan.
Always a good time at this spot which just celebrated its second anniversary. Great Comics. Very cozy, lots of couches! If you’re in Chicago and love comedy, you cna’t miss this one. Starts at 8pm, free to get in. Recent performers include Stephanie Hasz, Trey Brown, Chris Redd.
An absolutely solid showcase . The producers work hard to bring the best talent to this popular hipster bar (don’t hold that against them). Free Pizza slice with beverage, lots of drink specials. 9pm – $5 at Door – $3 ONLINE. Recent performers include Jeff Steinbrunner, Todd Massey, Darius Kennedy.
Chicago’s longest running showcase. Pete Holmes, Kyle Kinane, Hannibal Buress (just to name a few) have all performed at The Lincoln Lodge. Tickets are $10. Recent performers include Tyson Karrasch, Kyle Scanlan, Adam Burke.
Comics + Real People tell true drinking stories. Super popular, get there early. Recent shows have been completely sold out.
There you have it. Plenty of info to get you started. Need more? Check out www.comedyofchicago.com for all your Chicago comedy needs. James Allen Kamp’s website will keep you up to date on everything comedy related in and around Chicago.