Even if you know nothing about improv, chances are you've heard of Second City. This is the place that put both sketch and improvised comedy on the map while launching the careers of many distinguished comics including Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Chris Farley, John Belushi, Joan Rivers, Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell. Mainstage revues are occasionally stodgy, but most shows are still top-notch.
There's no doubt about it, the house that improv legend Del Close and founding partner Charna Halpern built rules. Not only has iO churned out legendary folk like Mike Meyers and Amy Poehler among others, but it consistently puts the art of improv first, most noticeably via the Harold, its signature long-form. The shows are generally cheap and the classes a must for budding improvisers. Don't miss weekly cult faves like TJ & Dave or Cook County Social Club.
Annoyance put itself on the map with its famously distasteful gross-out musical Co-Ed Prison Sluts. Twenty-plus years later, it still cranks out bizarre, unconventional comedy.
The back room of a washed-up diner may not sound like much, but that's the beauty of the Lodge, a room that virtually placed Chicago on the alt-comedy map. The emphasis is top-quality comics, as evidenced by both local talent and visiting greats. If you want to see folks who may one day go places, check it out.
Remember the olden days when comedy clubs with a two-drink minimum policy ruled? That era is long gone, but this venerable laugh factory has managed to hang on. The comedy here is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, Zanies offers stage time to up-and-comers while paying tribute to some of the greats, but both the venue and the comics can, at other times, feel a bit dusty.
The nation's only not-for-profit co-op theater devoted to the art of improvisation is an excellent place for young teams to practice their craft. The programming is often experimental and incredibly hit or miss, but there's no denying the youthful, infectious energy that pervades the place.
In one corner of this subterranean sports bar, you’ll find frat boys flirting with the bartenders. In another, you’ll see an entire accounting department downing beers and watching various games on the 50 screens. And somewhere, there’s a table of Northwestern med students—but they’re just trying to relax, so leave the questions about your gallbladder for your doctor.