The eighth annual edition of this sprawling celebration of improvisational comedy brings together performers from around the U.S. and abroad; Chicago, of course, is heavily represented. The lineup ranges from fledgling talent to returning stars who have won fame and big bucks appearing in and/or writing for movies and TV. This year’s festival, the largest and most diverse yet, is divided into several series–Mainstage, Showcase, Sketch, Solo, Duo, and Fringe–as well as an all-night improv session, a series of daytime “Lunchbreak” performances (presented in conjunction with the city’s cultural affairs department), forums, workshops, and numerous special events.
The Chicago Improv Festival runs through May 1 at three principal venues: the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport; Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W. Belmont; and the Playground Theater, 3209 N. Halsted. Auxiliary events take place at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; Second City E.T.C., Piper’s Alley, 1608 N. Wells; ComedySportz, 2851 N. Halsted; ImprovOlympic, 3541 N. Clark; Lincoln Tap Room, 3010 N. Lincoln; and Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee. Tickets to shows at the Athenaeum and Theatre Building Chicago can be purchased through Ticketmaster (312-902-1500 or www.ticketmaster.com) or at the box office; tickets to events at other venues must be purchased at the box office on the day of the show. On Fri-Sat, a free trolley service between venues is available for all CIF ticket holders. For general festival information, call 773-935-9810 or visit www.cif.com.
Norway’s Oslo Improvisasjonsteater offers “an improvised visual trip through the Scandinavian folktale traditions” as part of a series of lunchtime performances cosponsored by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs. a 12:15 PM, Chicago Cultural Center, Randolph Cafe. Free.
Homecoming Night With Cog and Clark & Belmont
Cog, a resident ensemble of IO West in LA, headlines this bill; the opening act, Clark & Belmont, is a group of former Chicagoans now performing at IO West. Emo Philips emcees. a 7:30 PM, Theatre Building Chicago. $10.
Time to mingle with the improvisers. a 10:30 PM, Lincoln Tap Room. Free.
The competitive improv show pHrenzy, presented by Chicago’s pH Productions, whittles down contestants in reality-TV style. For the first five rounds, elimination is governed by the host, whose arbitrary rules are concealed from the cast but not the audience; after that things get more democratic–the players fall prey to audience whim. Throw in random “refereeing” and you’ve got a recipe for the most athletic idiocy you’ll find on a late-night stage in Chicago, a lot of whip-smart, hopped-up old-school fun. (BN) The show is part of a series of lunchtime performances cosponsored by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs. a 12:15 PM, Chicago Cultural Center, Randolph Cafe. Free.
Authors Jeff Griggs (Guru: My Life With Del Close) and David Shepherd, cofounder of the legendary Compass Players and author of . . . that Movie in Your Head, discuss their books at 3 PM, MADtv’s Keegan-Michael Key and Paul Vogt field questions during a “Celebrity Q&A” at 4 PM, and local troupes Carl and the Passions and the Truth Chair perform at 5 PM. a Second City E.T.C. $10.
American Dream, Election Show 2004, and Waiting for Ennis Cotter
Chicago’s American Dream team invents a new improv form right before each show. Joe Bill directs. Election Show 2004, an improvised political campaign, is presented by Seattle’s Wing-It Productions. Waiting for Ennis Cotter is an improvised comedy about two Irish women who were promised marriage by the same man on the night he left for America. It’s presented by the Boston-based group the Tribe. a 7:15 PM, Theatre Building Chicago. $15.
MADtv Stars and MADtv Writers on Hiatus
Members of the cast of MADtv, including Michael McDonald and Second City alum Keegan-Michael Key, headline this bill. The openers in MADtv Writers on Hiatus claim they’ll perform sketches “that were rejected at MADtv by shortsighted network types based on production issues, reasons of indecency, or just being too damn funny.” The group includes Tami Sagher and Rich Talarico. a 7:30 PM, Athenaeum Theatre main stage. $25.
Sandra Battaglini, Michael Lehrer, and Robert Buscemi
Toronto’s Sandra Battaglini presents her “one-act solo clown show” The Upside Down Widow; Michael Lehrer performs his one-man show, C’mon; and local stand-up Robert Buscemi opens the evening. a 8 PM, Playground Theater. $15.
Corporation, Inc., Screaming Mee-Mees, and Johnny Lunchpail
Corporation, Inc. is a long-form satire of office politics directed by Jack Bronis. The Screaming Mee-Mees are a Portland-based troupe that creates original rock operas. Opening the program is the New York group Johnny Lunchpail. a 9 PM, Theatre Building Chicago. $15.
GayCo Productions, My First Crush, and Clifford & Kidd
Chicago’s GayCo Productions, which specializes in satire with a gay and lesbian bent, headlines this program. Also on the bill: the Toronto group My First Crush, which combines video and live performance, and LA-based comics Carrie Clifford and Amy Kidd. a 9:30 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, Studio 1. $15.
Shared Property, Zach & Risa, and Hallal & Sutton
Chicago’s Shared Property performs long-form improvisation. New York improvisers Zach Woods and Risa Sang-urai met in classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. And Stacey Hallal and Mark Sutton’s new show, In Every Life, features three improvised pieces–a comedy, a tragedy, and a love story–all based on songs randomly chosen by the audience. a 9:30 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, Studio 3. $15.
R Bassprov With Emo Philips, PAX-TV’s World Cup Comedy, and Annoyance Productions
Bassprov stars Joe Bill and Mark Sutton as two small-town Hoosiers on a fishing trip. This edition of the hilarious show guest-stars Chicago-bred comedian Emo Philips. (JHe) Also on the bill: PAX-TV’s World Cup Comedy, in which three teams compete in short scenes based on unscripted scenarios, and Chicago’s Annoyance Productions, which presents improvised scenes based on “the darkest of audience suggestions.” a 10 PM, Athenaeum Theatre main stage. $20.
The Corduroy Rogers, Entropy, and Diva
The Corduroy Rogers, from Minneapolis, “believe in placing outrageous limitations on themselves that can neither be justified nor removed”; they played last year’s festival in cardboard boxes. This year, they appear chained together. Entropy is a musical improv duo from Ontario, and locals from the Playground Theater present Diva, an improvised cabaret competition. a 10:30 PM, Playground Theater. $15.
Mother and The Resistance
The New York group Mother, which
performs regularly at New York’s Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, uses audience members’ CDs and iPods as the basis for musical improvisation that “can make even the saddest songs funny.” The opening act, the Resistance, is an up-and-coming local ensemble. a 11 PM, Theatre Building Chicago. $10.
Superpunk and fon.ta.nelle
Chicago performers Mike Betette and Phillip Mottaz–aka Superpunk–perform Superpunk Live, a one-act collection of character sketches. The opening act, also from Chicago, is fon.ta.nelle, which features husband-and-wife comics Meridith Crosley and Christopher Kuckenbaker and guitarist Tom Farrel. a 11:30 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, Studio 1. $10.
Cherry Bomb/goga and Resist Butch
Karen Herr of the New York-based comedy duo Cherry Bomb and Pam Mann of Seattle’s goga share a bill with Minneapolis-based Resist Butch. a 11:30 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, Studio 3. $10.
Dirty South Improv’s The Beatbox sponsors a 16-emcee Rap Battle open to anyone willing to compete for a $100 cash prize and “wicked amounts of festival street cred.” a Midnight, Theatre Building Chicago. $5-$10; $10 fee to register for rap battle (money goes toward cash prize).
Don’t Spit the Water!
Blewt! Productions presents an interactive improvised game show in which three anything-for-a-guffaw comics try to get audience volunteers to laugh and spit out a mouthful of water, occasionally on each other or the first row. Hosted by funky-dancing Steve Gadlin and mute but cute Paul Luikart, the competition escalates from spit take to spit take, and audience members who keep a straight face win. To fully enjoy this show, you should probably fill your mouth with a lot of booze beforehand. (LB) a 12:30 AM, Playground Theater. $10.
Chairs, Imp., and Five Man Job
Chicago’s CarniKid Productions presents Chairs, an improvised one-act play exploring the life of a single character, who is played by an actor randomly chosen in a game of musical chairs. Imp. is a series of clown vignettes performed to improvised musical accompaniment. The opening act, Five Man Job, is a Minneapolis trio. a 7:15 PM, Theatre Building Chicago. $10.
MADtv Stars, MADtv Writers on Hiatus, and Emo Philips
See listing for Fri 4/29. a 7:30 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, main stage. $25.
David Pompeii and Joseph Scrimshaw
David Pompeii’s solo performance Snigger uses video and “mad beats” from a sampler. Joseph Scrimshaw portrays a group of drinking buddies in his one-man show Beer and Its Relation to Everything. a 8 PM, Playground Theater. $15.
Koko, 8 Feet Under, and Arsenal
Chicago’s Koko is an all-female comedy quintet. 8 Feet Under is an improvised play that centers on a family-owned funeral parlor in a fictional Ontario town. The opening act, Arsenal, is a house team at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York. a 9 PM, Theatre Building Chicago. $15.
Triplette, The Royal We, and Men of God
Chicago’s all-female comedy trio Triplette headlines this show, which also features the Royal We (an ensemble of Second City Training Center New York alumni) and the local sketch group Men of God. a 9:30 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, Studio 1. $15.
Rich and Furman, Cyclops, and Nogoodnicks
Second City main-stage alums Rich Talarico and Ed Furman reunite to headline this bill, which also features the LA-based Cyclops and the local duo Nogoodnicks in their show The Flip Side. a 9:30 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, Studio 3. $15.
The Second City Presents 313 and DSI’s The Beatbox
The Second City Presents 313 features members of Second City’s Detroit cast and other Detroit-area performers, including Keegan-Michael Key, Andy Cobb, and Josh Funk. Dirty South Improv’s The Beatbox is a no-holds-barred mix of hip-hop and improv, featuring rap battles and competitive comedy. The result is an awesomely chaotic spectacle. (NG) This performance features MADtv alum Mo Collins. a 10 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, main stage. $20.
Loose Screws, Entropy, and Foreplay Unscripted
Loose Screws is “Honolulu’s longest-running improv group.” New York’s Foreplay Unscripted claims to “approach sexual kinks and quirks with frankness and joyousness.” See listing for Fri 4/29 for information on Entropy. a 10:30 PM, Playground Theater. $15.
Improv All Night
This marathon of improvisation features a new ensemble every 15 minutes. Veterans and newcomers alike will perform a variety of improv forms. a 10:30 PM-6 AM, ComedySportz. $5; “stay as long as you like.”
Show Pony and Lucky Ham
The Chicago group Show Pony juxtaposes large group scenes and intimate vignettes. The opening act, Lucky Ham, is an all-female ensemble that performs regularly at IO West in LA. a 11 PM, Theatre Building Chicago. $10.
POW and KevINda
POW: The Professional Opportunities Workshop is a mock business seminar led by Matt Oberg and The Daily Show’s Bob Wiltfong. The local group KevINda performs the sketch revue These Coloreds Don’t Run. a 11:30 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, Studio 1. $10.
Messing With a Friend and Iron Cobra
Susan Messing and Mick Napier team up for “a joyous freak show.” The opening act is Iron Cobra, a Toronto duo. a 11:30 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, Studio 3. $10.
CIF Alumni All-Star Jam
Improv performers who have gone on to success on stage and screen return to their roots. This show is an open forum for any festival performer. a Midnight, Theatre Building Chicago. $10.
The Southpaw Sam McClowski Show
Southpaw Sam McClowski–the creation of writer-performer Samson Crouppen–thinks that television talk-show hosts have become too namby-pamby. So he comes up with “The Southpaw Sam McClowski Show,” coming to you from station K-ASS in Bryan, Texas. This host wears a Yosemite Sam Stetson, Roy Rogers shirt, sneakers, and a single boxing glove emblazoned with his initial, the better to accomplish his mission, which is to “kick ass.” Crouppen, a former Chicagoan now based in LA, never swerves from his larger-than-life portrayal of a testosterone-ridden male at his most incorrigible. (MSB) a 12:30 AM, Playground Theater. $10.
Roxy Bellows and The Cupid Players
“If Liza Minnelli and Don Rickles had a kid, it would be Roxy Bellows,” declares the publicity blurb for this one-woman act. Roxy, the quintessential lounge act, is portrayed by veteran Chicago improviser Pat Musker. Opening for Roxy are the Cupid Players, whose musical sketch comedy showcases sophisticated lyrics and arrangements. (MSB) a 7:30 PM, Theatre Building Chicago. $10.
Jagodowski & Pasquesi and Scott Adsit & Mick Napier
TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi reunite; Pasquesi’s LA improv partner Scott Adsit teams with Mick Napier to open the show. a 8 PM, ImprovOlympic. $20.
CIF Closing Night Parties
The festival wraps up with a pair of celebrations. a 10 PM, ImprovOlympic. Free. And a 10:30 PM, Lincoln Tap Room. Free.