News / Theater & Performance

5 things to know about Chicago's stand-up comedy scene

Hannibal Burress
Wikimedia Commons Hannibal Burress is one of many notable comedians to come out of Chicago's stand-up scene.

The stand-up comedy scene in Chicago is on fire. There are scores of comedy clubs, independent shows and open mics. If you live here, chances are that you're aware that comedy is happening around you—sketch, improv, Second City. Chicagoans take pride in farming comedic talent to late night television. Of late, our stand-up scene, traditionally improv's step sibling, has been getting national acclaim in its own right. Not only are the best comedians in the country emerging from Chicago, but the local community has become a self-sustaining stand-up juggernaut. Here are five things you should know about the Chicago stand-up scene.

1. It's a national talent breeding ground

Ask anybody involved and they will tell you that the stand-up scene has blown the fuck up in the last few years. Why? The short answer is stage time. Chicago is a town made for comedy. Literally. This city's infrastructure lends itself to a burgeoning comedy scene. There is a bar on nearly every corner in this town, which translates to lots of venues with back rooms looking for ways to get customers in the door with drinks in hand. It took a while for everyone to figure this out.

2. We have an amazing pedigree

One fact you should definitely know is how many ridiculously talented comedians have trained in Chicago in the last five years. Like, seriously. Arguably the best comics in America got their start here—Hannibal Buress, Kyle Kinane, T.J. Miller, Pete Holmes, Cameron Esposito, Kumail Nanjani, Deon Cole, Lil Rel Howery and Matt Braunger all cut their teeth in the Chicago scene. Not to mention a ton of working comedians in this town that are currently on the cusp.

3. It's inexpensive as hell

On a budget? Still need a comedy fix? If you're in Chicago, you are in luck. A ton of high quality shows can be had for free all over Chicago. The fact of the matter is that comedy is a Monday through Sunday affair and traditionally slower nights will have some amazing deals going on. Whether it's an open mic or a free improv set at The Second City, there is never a need to pay for your laughs.

4. There are five major clubs

It used to be that Zanies was the only game in town. But with the success of the local scene and breakout stars like Hannibal Burress, major clubs have entered the market and give our local comedians some mainstream stage opportunities. They include:

Zanies A classic club that has withstood the test of time.

Laugh Factory New kid on the block, making big waves with local bookings. 

Jokes and Notes Legendary urban club that books some of the best black talent in the country.

Up Comedy Club The Second City's signature stand-up room.

Improv Comedy Club National comedy brand with large venue in Schaumburg.

5. The scene has spectacular support

Stand-up is nothing without an audience. The amount of support that the scene has been getting from local fans has been nothing short of amazing. One of the main concerns most producers of indie shows have is that the market will get saturated. That was a real concern back in the '90s when "chuckle-huts" started to seemingly pop up on every corner. Of course, that bubble collapsed. But this scene is much more grassroots and indie shows are leading the way in terms of finding sustainable models for success. And so far, the big clubs seem more than happy to book from Chicago's growing local talent pool. A big part of that has been the superfan audiences that keep coming out to support.

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