Chicago comedy scene continues to thrive

Each night across Chicago, in dark rooms dimly lit by overhead lights and buzzing with laid-back energy, lines are being crossed, traditional values are heaved out the window and sexual innuendos run rampant. Ladies and gentlemen, this is your local comedy scene.

Chicago has long been one of the best circuits for comedians to work on sets and refine their performance skills. It is home to legendary comedy theater The Second City, located in the Old Town neighborhood. The Second City has paved the way for countless famous comedians and continues to be a prominent stepping stone towards the national spotlight, as shown by three of its members recently signing on to join the cast of Saturday Night Live.

The journey does not start at Second City for most comedians however; it starts in small bars doing open-mics and comedy showcases. Whether you are looking to work on your set or just looking for an affordable show, there are plenty of spots near DePaul University that are worth checking out.

Ace Bar is a gift from the heavens for DePaul comedy fans. This college-friendly bar is located right down the block from DePaul at 1505 West Fullerton Ave. and can serve as a comedian’s workshop. They host open-mics every Sunday at 10 p.m. and offer a free comedy showcases on Monday at 9 p.m. Not only is the show free and over age 18, all DePaul students are offered 20 percent off of their tab with student identification.

Ace bartender Nate Burrows, a DePaul alumnus, hosts the open-mics and co-produces “The Comedy Evening” Monday nights.

“For the most part, you go to a lot of these showcases and spend 25 bucks to see a comedy show,” said Burrows. “Or you can come here and see some of the best stand-up comics in Chicago for free.”

You never know who will make a guest appearance at the Monday show. Hannibal Burress, a Chicago comic who has written for Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock, performed a surprise set back in August.

Burrows’ co-producer of The Comedy Evening, Dan Friesen, believes that the line-up distinguishes The Comedy Evening from other shows.

“The comics that perform here are the best in the city and I stress over the line-ups to make sure the product is quality every time,” said Friesen.

He also believes that college students can benefit a great deal from this venue. “There’s a lot they can learn and laugh at,” he said. “I wish in college there had been something nearby my school like this. I had to start my own show there because there was no show in town.”

Another hysterical and affordable show is Chicago Underground Comedy, which takes place Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. at the Beat Kitchen on 2100 W. Belmont Ave. This show costs only $5 and only those 21 and over can get in the door.

Comedian Dan Telfer produces Chicago Underground Comedy and has taught at Second City for over three years. Telfer, 33, said the venue complements the performance.

“It’s in a rock club that’s got a cool vibe – it makes it a little more fun than if it was in a regular bar or café,” said Telfer. “More than half of the performers have been doing it for years, so that’s going to be a consistent thing. And it’s only five bucks; it’s really cheap.”

Along with the venue, this show also provides a unique opportunity to see amazing guest performers such as Beth Stelling. Stelling, who was named Chicago’s top stand-up comedian by Chicago Reader magazine in 2010, headlined the show that September. Although Stelling moved to Los Angeles in 2011 and performed a set on the Conan O’Brien Show in July, she established herself first in Chicago.

“I would go out and see shows, like here at The Beat Kitchen, just to get a feel for the scene and I would be like ‘I can do that,'” said Stelling, 27.

She began doing stand-up in 2007 and said she really started getting noticed after performing at The Edge Comedy Club. “Other comics would see me there and ask me to do their shows and things moved really fast for me because there weren’t a lot of ladies in comedy at that time,” said Stelling. “Everyone is always looking for diversity on their showcase and sometimes, unfortunately, they put up women too early. But I’m sure that happened to me and it only benefited me.”

Another must-see on the scene, though also 21 and over, is ” C o m e d i a n s You Should Know” Wednesdays at 9 p.m. at Timothy O’Tooles located on 622 N. Fairbanks Court.

This show is a steal for only $5 online, but it’s $10 if you purchase at the door. It’s hosted by some of the best comedians in Chicago and is enhanced by its upscale atmosphere. The show is located downtown and the room has more of a club feel to it with a host seating each individual party. The room fills up to about 100 people and you will notice a bit of an older crowd compared to other shows.

Drew Michael, one of six comedians who run the show, said the atmosphere of the show is intentional. “We took all the best elements of a club and got rid of the elements that suck – no drink minimum; we book people who we see out a lot, are working hard and are really taking this seriously; and are really funny. It’s a great stage too,” said Michael.

Michael, 27, has been part of “Comedians You Should Know” since 2008. He feels that the chemistry he and his team have developed over the years is a big reason why they have had such success.

“When new people come I feel like they can sense that something’s happening. There’s camaraderie between comics because we’re all friends, the audience is in on the joke, and they definitely like to be a part of it,” said Michael. “It’s cool. It’s not like a mainstream thing like Second City – it’s something that they found like a neighborhood event. I feel like when we’re having fun, they’re having fun.”

If this seems like something you want to try, there are more than enough opportunities to try an open-mic. For the most part, they take place on weekdays and some of the good ones to check out are Ace Bar on Sundays, Comedy Sports on Mondays, Lottie’s Pub on Tuesdays, Coles on Wednesdays and Sully’s on Thursdays.