A first look at Chicago's new Laugh Factory comedy club

You can almost hear the sound of laughter and applause echoing through the new Laugh Factory comedy club–almost. The venue, part of a small chain based in Hollywood, took over the old Lakeshore Theatre in summer 2010 and has been pumping several million in renovations into it ever since. You will barely recognize the place when it soft-opens later this month.

The Lakeshore Theater had a scruffy charm for sure. Even though the seats were uncomfortable and the bathrooms barely worked, the place was infused with a passion for the "art of comedy" as it liked to say—and its man at the top, current Mayne Stage GM Chris Ritter, infused the joint with the best and brightest comedians of today. It's hard to say if Laugh Factory founder and owner Jamie Masada will have the same eye for emerging talent (although he's been in the biz for three decades, so he ought to), but the place sure looks good.

The entire joint has been given a fancy new coat of brick-red paint. The lobby is punctuated with shadowboxes that will contain memorabilia from legendary comedians like Bob Newhart and Phyllis Diller. Masada has carved out a small platform in a corner nook in the lobby where a statue of Richard Pryor—Laugh Factory's first headliner—will remind patrons of the Laugh Factory's vaunted history. The bar is larger, and snacks will be available courtesy of a small kitchen on the second floor. Wait, there's a second floor you say? There is indeed, and more on that later. The bathrooms sparkle with white tiles and an otherwise understated, contemporary look.

The real shock happens when you enter the theater itself. The old movie seats have been completely ripped out and in their place is new tiered seating not unlike at Mayne Stage. Bistro tables will crowd the area directly in front of the stage, while rail seating and booths will flank the back. A huge Laugh Factory logo, which looks like a giant orange cut into stained-glass, looms large over the generous stage. Curtains, not yet hung, will be tied off at both ends to offer the illusion of a back stage. As patrons ascend to the second floor they can check out all kinds of original cool moldings that will remind them of the building's vintage status. There are additional bathrooms on the second floor and a string of wires running close to the ceiling will help accommodate cameras. (The Laugh Factory intends to ink deals to have comedy specials shot there.) Balcony seating will contain soundproof VIP seating (without sightlines) for industry types to presumably wheel and deal; additional balcony seating for the general public is also available. All in all, the Laugh Factory will accommodate 375. An elevator is available for people with disabilities and valet parking will ease the neighborhood's horrific parking problem. (If you can believe it, the Laugh Factory even convinced the city to relocate the bus shelter out front to make room for its valet). Although its shabby marquee still remains, that too will soon be gone.

The Laugh Factory is hosting a benefit party November 15 and is aiming for a soft opening shortly thereafter. A grand opening is tenatively slated for December, although nothing is official yet.

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)