Chicago's reputation as a comedy town is well-deserved: It's the city where improv was born and sketch was refined, where Saturday Night Live comes looking when it needs to replenish the well. It was here that Nichols met May and Poehler met Fey. The best comedy clubs in Chicago cultivate and build on that rich history to ensure that the city will always be a place where young talent can thrive for years to come. From the Second City and iO Theater to Zanies and the Revival, these are the best comedy clubs in Chicago for a good laugh.
Chicago's best comedy clubs
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.
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 Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler, 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. The theater complex contains four performance spaces: the Del Close Theater, the Jason Chin Harold Cabaret, the Chris Farley Cabaret and the Mission Theater. The venue's expansive lobby bar is an inviting place to hang out even if you're not seeing a show.
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 new 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.
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.
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.
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.
Located on the second floor of the Link Hall Building in Wrigleyville, Under the Gun’s calling card is its popular weekly Lincoln Lodge comedy variety showcase. The show has attracted big names in the past, including Amy Schumer, Hannibal Buress, Fred Armisen and Janeane Garofalo. Make a return visit for knee-slapping titles like Blackout Diaries and Sex Positive.
The Comedy Clubhouse is operated by One Mind Group, an improvisers' union that charges its members a monthly fee in exchange for training, performances and use of its Wicker Park space. The B.Y.O.B.-friendly venue offers scripted, improvised and stand-up comedy. Some of its most successful alums have gone on to appear in laugh-out-loud TV shows like The Office, Community and Saturday Night Live.
With outposts in Schaumburg and North Center, Laugh Out Loud Theater offers likeable shows like Love Me Tinder, Booze Your Own Adventure and TGIF: Thank God It's Funny. 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.
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 40-year-old 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. Stop by for the weekly College Improv Night.
Local headliners rule at this downtown stand-up room, which recently moved from the Ontourage night club to the third floor above Gino's East in River North.
Sports meets comedy in this family-friendly, interactive comedy show. A ref keeps the score as dueling improv troupes battle it out at the Chicago version of this national brand (which relies heavily on audience participation). Most shows are squeaky clean, but late-night shows on the weekends can get a little edgier.