The Chicago Improv Festival celebrates its tenth anniversary with 45 sketch and improv groups from around the world. 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. CIF regulars anchor the main-stage shows, while an extensive slate of newcomers reflects the festival’s commitment to emerging talent. The festival runs through Sunday, April 29, at several venues. Admission ranges from free to $37.50. Tickets can be purchased at box offices and in some cases online. See the schedule below for some highlights. For complete ticket, schedule, and venue information, call 773-935-9810 or visit –Ryan Hubbard


Mark Sutton, CIF’s artistic director, and Joe Bill bring Bassprov (8 PM) back to the main stage, this year with guest star Tim Kazurinsky. It’s followed by Dasariski, an improv group from I.O. West, and David Razowsky and Carrie Clifford, a lively, very funny duo whose show is set in motion by the random placement of two chairs. Stick around for Chicago’s own Baby Wants Candy (10:30 PM) and New York City’s hit puppet act The Josh and Tamra Show. Two Chicago-trained comedians now on MADtv anchor established shows–Frank Caeti at the ComedySportz show (8 PM) and Ike Barinholtz in Susan Messing’s Messing With a Friend (midnight).

Tonight’s “up-and-coming” showcase (shows on the hour, 7 PM-midnight) spotlights three Chicago acts–the team of Jon Barinholtz, brother of Ike, and Rob Belushi, son of Jim; Be Frank’s Bogglego; and I.O.’s consistently witty Improvised Shakespeare Co.–as well as Lurlene from Hollywood, California; Johnny Lunchpail from New York; and Revolving Madness from San Francisco.


Last year’s fantastic MADtv night showed how fast, intelligent, and zany large-group improv can be. This year it’s again a double bill: MADtv Stars and MADtv Writers on Hiatus (8 PM). Upright Citizens Brigade, returning for the first time since 2002, plays at 10:30 PM with Matt Besser, Ian Roberts, Matt Walsh, and late addition Amy Poehler, coanchor of SNL’s “Weekend Update.” They’re followed by Imp, out of New York and Austin, who combine “commedia dell’arte, Cirque du Soleil, Jacques Tati, and Bill Irwin.”

Tonight’s “up-and-coming” showcase (on the hour, 8 PM-midnight) features two I.O. Chicago groups, the Washington Generals and the Reckoning, one of the best improv ensembles in the city. They’re joined by Transactors Improv Co. from North Carolina; Cross, Ross & Tubbs from Los Angeles; Salt Lake City-based the Hook; and Boston’s Code Duello: Hamilton and Burr. Also at midnight is Underbelly, a Los Angeles group specializing in “things we do in the shadows,” accompanied by a live band.

A CIF outreach program debuts with six ensembles from around the country in an “Apprentice Teams” night (10 and 11 PM), hosted by Chicago’s Chemically Imbalanced Comedy.


The festival closes with a double bill of Chicago acts (8 PM). Schadenfreude performs with “many special guests and surprises” and promises a “WWF-style wrestling match” between the executive directors of Chicago’s two biggest comedy festivals, CIF’s Jonathan Pitts and SketchFest’s Brian Posen. The three-woman group Switchboard–Second City alums Deb Downing Grosz, Rebecca Sohn, and Jean Villepique–ends the fest with long-form improv.