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Photograph: Johnny Knight

The best comedy clubs in Chicago to see improv, stand-up and sketches

These are our favorite venues for stand-up, sketch and improv comedy.

Written by
Kris Vire
,
Marty Johnson
&
Lindsay Eanet
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It's a refrain every Chicagoan has heard countless times—"have you been to Second City yet?" Yes, Chicago is known for its second-to-none improv and sketch empire, which has launched the careers of comedy legends like John Belushi and Gilda Radner, and megastars like Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert and Eugene Levy. But the city's comedy scene is far more rich, diverse and inventive than any one show or performer—on any given night you can see the next Saturday Night Live titan or some super weird open mic act that you'll remember forever. So the next time you're in need of a good laugh or last-minute date night plans, grab a bite at the best restaurants in Chicago and then pay a visit to one of these venues. And if you want to go deeper, try one of these hilarious recurring comedy shows

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Chicago's top comedy clubs

  • Comedy
  • Comedy clubs
  • Lincoln Park
  • price 2 of 4

Located in Old Town, Second City is undoubtedly the crown jewel of comedy in Chicago. 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, Keegan-Michael Key, Amy Sedaris, Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell—to name a few. With long-running revues on both the main and e.t.c. stages and a number of smaller spaces for Second City Training Center students to hone their skills, the long-running institution has made the corner of North Avenue and Wells Street a comedy destination.

Chicago gets a lot of international notoriety for its improv scene, but don’t sleep on local standup institutions either. The Lincoln Lodge bills itself as the nation’s longest-running independent comedy showcase, and sports a star-studded list of alumni, including Cameron Esposito, Hannibal Buress, Kyle Kinane and Kumail Nanjiani. Multiple shows six nights a week run the gamut from the gross-out confessional Ladylike to the daytime talk show-spoofing Dr. Fix Me. If you get the itch after attending one of their shows, try one of their popular workshops, like Feminine Comique or Stand Up Seminary.

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  • Comedy
  • Comedy clubs
  • Lake View
  • price 1 of 4

Annoyance put itself on the map with its famously distasteful gross-out musical Co-Ed Prison Sluts. Three decades later, it still cranks out bizarre, unconventional comedy. Opened in 2014, its home on Belmont gives it two performance venues and classroom space all in the same building, as well as a homey bar where you can rub elbows with the next generation of comedy influencers.

Color Club
Photograph: Sarah Larson

4. Color Club

This new Irving Park venue promises “events and experiments,” and alongside thought-provoking art exhibitions, live music and weekly Jazzercise. You’ll find some of Chicago’s most unique comedy offeringsAmeerah Sanders hosts the monthly astrology-themed showcase Astrobitch, or if you want to throw karaoke in the mix, try the competitive Star Power. 

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  • Comedy
  • Comedy clubs
  • Lake View

Jamie Masada's SoCal stand-up club empire established a Chicago foothold back in 2012, refurbishing the former Lakeshore Theater space. The club offers lineups of local comics several nights a week, with the occasional touring headliner. The venue's main show, “Chicago’s Best Stand Up,” offers the a rotating lineup of some of the city's top laugh-makers.

The Revival
  • Comedy
  • Comedy clubs
  • Hyde Park

Located in the heart of Chicago’s South Side, Revival makes its home at the corner of 55th Street and University Ave, the supposed birthplace of improv comedy. Catch shows on most Friday and Saturday nights, or sign up for a class or workshop—Revival has options for both adults and little ones.

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The Den Theatre

This labyrinthine comedy complex in Wicker Park is home to some of Chicago’s top recurring comedy showcases, including the oft-imitated, never duplicated Stand Up Stand Up. In addition to regular up-and-coming talent, the Den regularly welcomes touring national comedians, including Cameron Esposito, Saturday Night Live alumnus Chris Redd and Maria Bamford. 

  • Comedy
  • Wicker Park

The Comedy Clubhouse is operated by One Group Mind, an improvisers' union that charges its members a monthly fee in exchange for training, performances and use of its Wicker Park space. The venue offers scripted, improvised and stand-up comedy, as well as self-serve taps so you can try a variety of local beers and ciders. Some of its most successful alums have gone on to appear in laugh-out-loud TV shows like The OfficeCommunity and Saturday Night Live.

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Zanies
  • Comedy
  • Comedy clubs
  • Old Town
  • price 2 of 4

Remember the olden days when comedy clubs with a two-drink minimum policy ruled? That era is long gone, but this venerable example has managed to hang on. The 44-year-old Zanies offers stage time to up-and-comers while paying tribute to some of the greats. There's also a second location in Rosemont.

  • Comedy
  • Comedy clubs
  • Lincoln Park

Opened in 2012 in the Pipers Alley space that formerly housed Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding, this Second City–run stage mixes touring stops by well-known stand-ups with tourist-friendly improv showcases and collections of archival sketches performed by Second City–trained stage vets.

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The Comedy Bar
  • Comedy
  • Stand-up
  • River North

Local headliners rule at this downtown stand-up room, which moved from the Ontourage night club to the third floor above Gino's East in River North.

iO Theater
  • Comedy
  • Comedy clubs
  • River North
  • price 1 of 4

Following a 2020 closure and sale of the building and brand, this storied house of longform improv reopened in late 2022 under new management, and the calendar is packed with shows you'll enjoy even if you don't know what a Harold team is and are too afraid to ask. Signature shows like Improvised Shakespeare (alongside Improvised Jane Austen) and Whirled News Tonight are back, along with new and noteworthy offerings like the drag talk show Shantay, the "Schoolhouse Rock meets Drunk History" Satirical Race Theory, and Hold On To Your Butts, a reimagining of Jurassic Park. The venue's expansive lobby bar is an inviting place to hang out even if you're not seeing a show.

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The Newport Theater
  • Comedy
  • Comedy clubs
  • Lake View
  • price 1 of 4

Previously known as Under the Gun Theater.

This intimate cabaret theater in Lakeview is probably better known for being one of the city’s top venues for burlesque, but don’t sleep on the comedy offerings, either. The Newport is the new home of the long-running drinking-game comedy show Bye Bye Liver!, the variety showcase The Not That Late Show, and drag comedy evening Sashshay. D&D enthusiasts will love RPG-13, where role-playing games and improv meet for a rollicking adventure.

Laugh Out Loud Theater
  • Things to do
  • North Center

Located in Schaumburg, Laugh Out Loud Theater offers likeable shows like The Big Thaw, Hot Laugh Summer and Instant Musical. We're quite fond of the theater's retro bar, where guests can belly up before and after shows for local brews, curated wines and cocktails. And with improv classes available for both adults and teens, it's easy to graduate from the audience to the stage.

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