The sixth edition of this annual orgy of improvisational comedy brings together performers from around the U.S. and from our allies abroad–think of it as a coalition of the comically willing. (Chicago, of course, is heavily represented.) This year’s festival, the largest yet, is divided into several series–Mainstage, Showcase, Sketch, Solo, Duo, and Fringe–as well as an all-night improv session, an adult-oriented “Blue” show, a series of daytime “Lunchbreak” performances (presented in conjunction with the city’s cultural affairs department), and numerous special events, including forums and workshops. The Chicago Improv Festival runs through May 18, with events at seven principal venues: the Athenaeum Theatre (main stage and second-floor studio), 2936 N. Southport; ImprovOlympic, 3541 N. Clark; WNEP Theater, 3209 N. Halsted; the Playground, 3341 N. Lincoln; Noble Fool Theater, 16 W. Randolph; Frankie J’s on Broadway, 4437 N. Broadway; and Crush (formerly Coyle’s Tippling House), 2843 N. Halsted. Auxiliary events take place at the Chicago Cultural Center (Randolph Cafe, Claudia Cassidy Theater, and studio theater), 78 E. Washington; the Second City, Donny’s Skybox Studio, Piper’s Alley, 1608 N. Wells (fourth floor); ComedySportz, 2851 N. Halsted; and Martyrs’, 3855 N. Lincoln. Tickets to shows at the Athenaeum can be purchased through Ticketmaster (312-902-1500 or www.ticketmaster.com) or at the Athenaeum box office; tickets to events at the other venues must be picked up at the box office on the day of the show. For general festival information, call 773-235-8070 or visit www.cif.com.
THURSDAY, MAY 15
This three-hour workshop is restricted to student ensembles registered with the festival. Scheduled coaches are Joe Bill, Craig Cackowski, Lillian Frances, Michael Gellman, and Dave Razowsky. Second City, 11 AM. $30 per ensemble member.
The Amsterdam-based troupe returns to its namesake city for a lunchtime show. Chicago Cultural Center, Randolph Cafe, noon. Free.
Weekday Afternoon Workshop
This three-hour workshop is open to anyone and provides an introduction to the improvisation process. The class is limited to 15 students; preregistration is required. Gary Austin leads Thursday’s session. WNEP Theater, 1 PM. $25.
Thursday Coaches See listing for 11 AM today. Second City, 2 PM. $30 per ensemble member.
Weekday Evening Workshop
This two-hour workshop is open to anyone and provides a basic introduction to the improvisation process. The class is limited to 18 students. Thursday’s teacher is Peter Gwinn. Frankie J’s on Broadway, 5:30 PM. $20.
Neutrino and FuzzyCo
“Pushing the envelope has yielded fantastic results for Neutrino, one of the longest-running Harold teams at New York’s Upright Citizens Brigade. Its eight members have a reputation for pulling off stunts. And tireless experimentation within the Harold form led them to their biggest epiphany last spring: videotaping a fully improvised 25-minute Harold performance on New York City streets, then editing and projecting it (with a three-minute delay) in a theater. This madcap fusion of nearly instantaneous filmmaking and anything-goes improv revels in the joys of spontaneous creation, and Neutrino’s mastery of the form is simply awe inspiring. When Chicagoans Fuzzy Gerdes and Shaun Himmerick, masterminds of Chicago’s improv troupe FuzzyCo, saw the show during a trip to the east coast, they… imported it to Chicago, where it played to packed houses at WNEP and Improv-Olympic for two months earlier this year. FuzzyCo’s take on the Neutrino concept differs from its source slightly: since FuzzyCo has a cast of 11, the piece is longer and delves a little more deeply into any tensions that develop. As part of the Chicago Improv Festival, FuzzyCo opens a joint program at 7 PM with a reprise of their late-night hit, and Neutrino–in its first-ever Chicago appearance–closes out the first show after a short intermission. At 9 PM, both troupes divide into seven crews to prowl Lakeview for a jam session, during which time Gerdes promises to create 21 short films based on a single audience suggestion. There goes the neighborhood,” says Reader critic Nick Green. WNEP Theater, 7 PM. $15.
Writers and cast members of the LA-based TV show hold forth; Mo Collins and Debra Wilson host. Athenaeum Theatre, main stage, 8 PM. $25.
Neutrino and FuzzyCo
See listing for 7 PM today. WNEP Theater, 9 PM. $15.
An official celebration is held at the Lincoln Tap Room, 3010 N. Lincoln, 10 PM. Free.
FRIDAY, MAY 16
Comedy from Canada, eh? Chicago Cultural Center, Randolph Cafe, noon. Free.
These advanced immersions into improv take place over Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Friday’s advanced workshop and improv forum are at Second City, 12:30-6 PM; lunch is provided. Saturday’s workshops at Saint Alphonsus School, 1429 W. Wellington (third floor), run 10 AM-6 PM; lunch is provided. Sunday’s master classes at the Athenaeum Theatre, main stage, take place 1 PM-5 PM. $250 per student.
The Spontaneity Shop, Funny Black People, and The Spolin Players
The Spontaneity Shop is five British actors using the competitive techniques of Theatersports maestro Keith Johnston. The Spolin Players, based in LA, feature Dan Castellaneta and Edie McClurg. Funny Black People, also from LA, feature Frances Callier and Jerry Minor. Athenaeum Theatre, main stage, 8 PM. $25.
ImprovOlympic’s James Jackson, Washington Improv Theater, and Dad’s Garage
James Jackson, an ImprovOlympic team, uses the long-form Harold style. The Washington Improv Theater, from D.C., combines storytelling, songs, and audience interaction to create free-form comedy. Dad’s Garage hails from Atlanta. ComedySportz, 8 PM. $15.
Bare, Burnt Marshmallows, and Frightwig
Chicagoans Fuzzy Gerdes and Shaun Himmerick–aka Bare–“experiment with the dynamics of improvisational theater.” Toronto’s Burnt Marshmallows–Christel Bartelse and Christina Sicoli–draw on their backgrounds in clowning and dance. Toronto’s Frightwig consists of Marcel St. Pierre and Ginette Mohr, both alums of Second City’s national touring company. Playground, 8 PM. $15.
Robert Dassie, Jill Bernard, and Phil Incorvia
Dassie is a Second City and ImprovOlympic vet now living in LA. Bernard, from Minneapolis, presents her show Drum Machine. Incorvia makes his solo debut with One Time. Frankie J’s on Broadway, 8 PM. $15.
Comedians taking the stage include Eric Drysdale, Adrianne Frost, Henry Scott, John Bolger, Sari Karplus, and Matt Dwyer. Crush, 8 PM. $10.
Greg Allen and Nicole Bergund and Well Hung Jury
Allen, founder of the Neo-Futurists, and performance artist Bergund present a movement piece “based on the possibilities of chance and spontaneous occurrences.” Austin’s Well Hung Jury seeks to “elevate improv to theatrical status.” WNEP Theater, 8 PM. $15.
Black Sheep, WUCB Action 5 News, and The Impatients
The Black Sheep deliver six character monologues. New York’s WUCB Action 5 News spoofs TV journalism. The Impatients are from Toronto. ImprovOlympic, 10 PM. $15.
Monologue Ponies, Men in Shirts, and JaCKPie
Jim Jarvis and Scott Woldman, the Monologue Ponies, offer autobiographical stories based on an audience suggestion. Men in Shirts–Clifton Highfield and Chuck Charbeneau–“stretch each other and the audience whichever way their twisted minds see fit.” Atlantans Jim Karwisch and Chris Pierce perform long-form improv as JaCKPie. Playground, 10 PM. $15.
Andrew Eninger, Michelle Miracle, and Pete Shukoff
Chicagoan Eninger works with a solo improvisational style he devised–the Sybil, a one-person version of the Harold. “What’s great about Eninger is that he trusts his gut: after getting a suggestion from the audience and setting the scene, he treats each minute as precious and dives right in. He also has great stage presence,” said Reader critic Nick Green when he reviewed Eninger’s show One Man Seen last year. Miracle, from Denver, bases Miss Communication on “being a plus-size woman in a minus-size world.” Shukoff bills himself as a “comedy songwriter.” Frankie J’s on Broadway, 10 PM. $15.
See listing for 8 PM Friday, May 16. Crush, 10 PM. $10.
The Josh and Tamra Show and WNEP Theater
Josh Cohen and Tamra Malaga use puppetry in their long-form improv. The WNEP company sets out to prove “nothing is sacred, not even you.” WNEP Theater, 10 PM. $15.
Annoyance Theater, Improv-Olympic’s Road Show, and IO West’s Beer Shark Mice
Members of the ensemble that created The Real Live Brady Bunch share the stage with an “all-star” team assembled by Charna Halpern. Beer Shark Mice, of ImprovOlympic West, features Neil Flynn of the sitcom Scrubs and Dave Koechener. Athenaeum Theatre, main stage, 10:30 PM. $25.
GOGA and Sirens
This show features two all-female ensembles, from New York and Chicago respectively. Playground, midnight. $10.
Debby Jo Thorndale
As Jewell Rae Jeffers, Thorndale hosts Tastes Like Home Live Cooking Show. Frankie J’s on Broadway, midnight. $10.
Midnight Bible School
“Second City alum Matt Dwyer has drawn local comedians and improvisers out of the woodwork with an opportunity to push the boundaries of stand-up comedy…. The lessons in comedy offered by the teachers at the Midnight Bible School were a mixed bag. Some performers went the safe route,…others went straight for the jugular,” Reader critic Nick Green said during this show’s run at Second City in 2000. Crush, midnight. $10.
The Heino Happy Hour
Toronto’s Marc Hickox appears as German folksinger “Heino.” WNEP Theater, midnight. $10.
This adult-oriented late-night show features ComedySportz’s The Hot Karl and WNEP Theater’s The Sickest F***ing Stories I Ever Heard. ComedySportz, midnight. $10.
SATURDAY, MAY 17
CIF Feature Films
The following films will play for free at the Chicago Cultural Center, Claudia Cassidy Theater. Noon: Pushing Tom, directed by Jonathan Appel, written by Appel and Ian Roberts. 2 PM: Starring Marlon Brando, directed and written by Deb Lacusta. 3:30 PM: Sanford Van Johnson: A Life Near the Theatre, directed and written by Eric Drysdale; Hot Dog Randy, directed and written by Eric Drysdale and Jodi Lennon; and Replacement Baby, directed and written by Adam Devlin-Brown.
Cupid Players and Ahh…Geez!
Cupid Players are a “talented, high-energy cast,” Reader critic Jennifer Vanasco said when she reviewed their show in March. Ahh…Geez!, composed of Second City Toronto Conservatory grads Dorothy Gebhardt and Jason Gemmill, present their show Are We There Yet? The Second City, Donny’s Skybox Studio, 7 PM. $10.
The Second City Classic Cast Reunion, Noble Fool Theater Company, and Improv Bandits
Second City alumni George Wendt, Tim Kazurinsky, Mary Gross, Bruce Jarchow, Nancy McCabe-Kelly, and Danny Breen reunite under the direction of Bernie Sahlins. Local comedy mainstays Noble Fools and the New Zealand trio Improv Bandits also perform. Athenaeum Theatre, main stage, 8 PM. $25.
ImprovOlympic’s Deep Schwa, Johnny Lunchpail, and ImprovBoston
ImprovOlympic’s Deep Schwa perform the Harold. Johnny Lunchpail, a New York quartet, promise to “construct a theatrical hysteria.” Boston’s ImprovBoston uses storytelling and music in an effort to produce “joyful chaos.” Improv-Olympic, 8 PM. $15.
Gynecology and The Cowboy and John
“Bioethicist and lawyer by day, playwright by night Katie Watson has compiled a neat package of comedy sketches around various ‘she things,’ opening with a graphic enactment of a pelvic exam….Watson stops short of anything meaningful, relying mostly on the shocking, the gross, and the F word for laughs and stretching some jokes way beyond their limit,” Reader critic Kim Wilson said when she reviewed Gynecology last year. The Cowboy and John are New Yorkers John Gemberling and Curtis Gwinn. The Second City, Donny’s Skybox Studio, 8 PM. $10.
Second City’s Trainwreck, All Jane No Dick, and The Williamson Playboys
Trainwreck is a local duo specializing in long-form improv. All Jane No Dick is a two-woman duo from Portland. The Williamson Playboys (“the world’s oldest Cajun father-and-son music duo”) are Paul Bates and Doug Morency from Toronto. Playground, 8 PM. $15.
Tami Sagher, Tony Rogers, and Brad Steuernagel
Tony Rogers performs his “relationship seminar musical” Pop Psychology, which Reader critic Kim Wilson calls “a better showcase for Rogers’s melodious, sardonic songwriting…than for his therapeutic or comic instincts.” Sagher, a Second City veteran now writing for MadTV, presents The Algebra of Being Tami. Steuernagel returns from New York with a solo show. Frankie J’s on Broadway, 8 PM. $15.
Greg Allen and Nicole Bergund and GOGA
See listing for 8 PM Friday, May 16, for information on Allen and Bergund; see listing for midnight Friday, May 16, for information on GOGA. WNEP Theater, 8 PM. $15.
Superpunk and The Shornsby Show
Chicago’s Superpunk promises entertainment “without getting hung up on through lines, forced opinions, or a message.” The Shornsby Show uses song and dance to explore “the long and tangled friendship” of Angelenos David Hornsby and Robin Shorr. The Second City, Donny’s Skybox Studio, 9 PM. $10.
Second City’s Tuesday Night Special, WPA Theater Project, and Smoke the Kitty
Second’s City’s team uses a “dramatic, relationship-based style” of improv. The WPA Theater Project, a New York quartet, evoke the 1930s to examine contemporary society. Smoke the Kitty, from LA, work from an audience suggestion about why a family would gather. ImprovOlympic, 10 PM. $15.
Brick: Further North and The Midwesterners
“The ensemble offers a hilarious perspective on the everyday [and] uses music to great effect both between scenes and within the sketches. A few bits run too long, and one shifts the energy awkwardly…but this is otherwise a high-momentum, highly entertaining show,” said Reader critic Jenn Goddu when she reviewed Brick: Further North last year. The Midwesterners (from New York, of course) bring an “in your face style of comedy” to the stage. The Second City, Donny’s Skybox Studio, 10 PM. $10.
Dual Exhaust, Nails and Ostrega, and Improsia
Zach Ward and Beth Melewski, aka Dual Exhaust, “favor dramatic exposition over punch lines and trust each other’s instincts, adding layer upon layer to even the most implausible scenarios. The looseness of their chosen form–a bastardization of the Harold with every ounce of structure bled from it–means that they expend almost as much effort setting traps for themselves as they do on a variety of Houdini acts to escape them. But the payoff for all the time spent chasing false leads is extraordinary: Ward and Melewski’s monologues and scenes are seamless, and the narrative is more intricate than a team five times the size (and with five times the technical resources) could muster,” said Reader critic Nick Green last year. New Yorkers Jen Nails and Jennifer Ostrega, each a veteran of her own one-woman show, premiere their two-person act at this year’s festival. Improsia, from Seattle, indulges in “a free-form, experimental take on improvised theater.” Playground, 10 PM. $15.
Adrianne Frost, Brett Gilman, and Steve Scholz
Frost, a founding member of GOGA, comes from New York with a solo show. New Yorker Gillman presents his solo show, 1,000 Cats. Improv-Olympic veteran Scholz appears solo with Trust Funnin’. Frankie J’s on Broadway, 10 PM. $15.
The Josh and Tamra Show and Clunk
See listing for 10 PM Friday, May 16, for information on The Josh and Tamra Show. Local outfit Clunk clowns its way through an adaptation of Russian writer Danil Kharms’s work in The Morons Don’t Have to Laugh. WNEP Theater, 10 PM. $15.
Improv All Night
The festival is still mustering troupes for this all-night marathon; festival producer Jonathan Pitts asserts that the main-stage troupe from Second City Toronto will perform from 12:30 to 1 AM. ComedySportz, 10 PM-6 AM. $5.
Dorff, McCann, Stack and Friends, Brave New Workshop, and Comedy-Sportz
Conan O’Brien writers Kevin Dorff, Brian McCann, and Brian Stack are joined by members of ImprovOlympic West’s Beer Shark Mice. The duo of Matt Craig and Caleb McEwen, aka Brave New Workshop, present their show Martha Stewart, Prison Vixen, or It’s a Good Thing!, which explores “the American sense of entitlement.” ComedySportz engages the audience in competitive improv. Athenaeum Theatre, main stage, 10:30 PM. $15.
Coyote Pretty and High Fife
“Improv-Olympic veterans Dori Goldman and Margaret Hicks are…a strong, charismatic team, smoothly alternating verbal wit and goofy physical humor,” said Reader critic Jennifer Vanasco said about Coyote Pretty last year. New York’s High Fife combines audience participation, music, poetry, and mixed media. The Second City, Donny’s Skybox Studio, 11 PM. $10.
Defiant Thomas Brothers and Bruce & Wells
“Seth and Paul Thomas–unrelated blood brothers–are remnants of an era before political correctness; their show is part underground anything-goes comedy routine, part full-on happening. There’s enough indecorous filth that sizable portions of this hour-long show come across as pandering to college kids. But the two aren’t afraid to overturn expectations… [and]…the performers’ comic timing is exquisite,” says Reader critic Nick Green of the Defiant Thomas Brothers. Christy Bruce and Tabetha Wells are from Second City Toronto. The Second City, Donny’s Skybox Studio, midnight. $10.
Boom Chicago’s Brendan Hunt & Jordan Peele
Hunt and Peele, veterans of Amsterdam’s Boom Chicago troupe, “address racism, attack the cultural mind-set, and exploit stereotypes.” Playground, midnight. $10.
The chef/actor combines cooking and improv comedy at his own restaurant-theater. Frankie J’s on Broadway, midnight. $10.
Hothouse STC: Mayfly Jam
Todd Stashwick presents movement-based improv. WNEP Theater, midnight. $10.
SUNDAY, MAY 18
Bassprov and Cardiff Giant
Fred Willard joins Joe Bill and Mark Sutton in the bass boat. For Cardiff Giant, see Critic’s Choice. Athenaeum Theatre, main stage. 8 PM. $25.
The fest wraps up with a celebration at the Lincoln Tap Room, 3010 N. Lincoln, starting at 10 PM. Free.