The Chicago Improv Festival celebrates its tenth anniversary with 45 sketch and improv groups from around the world. According to founder and executive director Jonathan Pitts, the first event attracted 1,800 viewers; last year’s festival drew 7,500. This is perhaps the best opportunity all year to check out the cutting edge of improvisation, a form that continues to fuel the entertainment industry, from The Daily Show and TV commercials to theater and film. Upright Citizens Brigade, MADtv stars, Bassprov, and Schadenfreude, all regulars, anchor the main-stage shows, while an extensive slate of newcomers reflects the festival’s commitment to emerging talent.

CIF starts Monday, April 23, and runs through Sunday, April 29, at 12 venues. Admission ranges from free to $37.50. Tickets can be purchased at box offices and in some cases online. For complete ticket, schedule, and venue information, call 773-935-9810 or visit This week’s highlights include:


Opening night (7 PM) includes a slide show of photos from the first nine festivals and a performance by talented locals Joe Bill, Susan Messing, and Mark Sutton, the only improvisers to have appeared in every CIF.


“Video Night” (8 PM) is hosted by Al Samuels and Kevin Fleming, two producers of NBC’s hilarious semi-improvisational mockumentary-style show Sports Action Team. The evening includes highlights of past videos made for CIF and a one-hour presentation of bloopers, deleted scenes, and outtakes from the TV show, whose cast are Chicago-trained improvisers.


MADtv regular Nicole Parker can be seen in Suitcase Full of Lies (8 PM), a parody of one-woman shows. “Chicago Night” (7 and 9 PM) features proven ensembles Chewties!, Stubs, and Duchess as well as the dysfunctional kin of pHamily, the wise-cracking Bostoners of Dirty Water, and the pimps who accidentally took improv classes in Pimprov. But tonight’s don’t miss is the audience-interactive Improv Match Game (10:30 PM) with Second City and SNL alum Tim Kazurinsky.


The main-stage shows kick off with Amsterdam’s Boom Chicago (7:30 PM) performing Me, MySpace and iPod. In Pickups and Hiccups writer-performers Seth Meyers and Jill Benjamin create an “audience interactive sketch/improv show that focuses on the foibles and perils of modern dating.” Meyers, coanchor of “Weekend Update” on SNL (and the show’s head writer), is a Northwestern grad who trained at I.O. The evening ends with a 30-minute improv jam with current and former Boom Chicago players, including Meyers and Benjamin, three MADtv cast members, and Second City’s Joe Canale and Amber Ruffin. Tonight is also “International Night,” showcasing NeXT IMPRO THEATER (Japan), String Theory (Vancouver, B.C.), and Norse Sceneskrekk (Norway).

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Pickups and Hiccups.