Chicago and improvisational comedy share a rich heritage that has led to the proliferation of big-name theaters like Second City
. But the people cracking audiences up on those stages weren't always headliners; they had to start somewhere—most likely with barprov, improv's minor leagues. Bars with small stages, which are so close to the tables patrons may worry about an enthusiastic performer tipping over their drinks, host the shows, and the setting exemplifies the idea of creating a lot out of pretty much nothing. Highfalutin' talk aside, it's also an affordable way to get some laughs.
You can tell that a bar has a sense of humor when it purports to have the "World's Most Fabulous Urinal." The Mutiny, a dive bar on the fringes of Logan Square, usually showcases rock bands, but it features shows from Open Wound Comedy on the first Sunday of every month at 8 p.m. The group displays a mix of stand-up, sketch and improv, entertaining the mix of old-timers and hipsters. There are no specials during the show, but it's hard to argue with the entry price: free! Put money saved toward one of The Mutiny's quasi-famous 36-ounce frosty mugs ($5.75) to sate your thirst.
While not exactly barprov because the venue is a theater, the performances at The Playground exemplify the ideals of the form. It's the perfect place for people interested in improv to check out shows on the cheap, or for interested performers to test their skills. Daring folks should head to Open Court on Thursday nights at 10:30 p.m. for five bucks. People who want to participate submit their names and are chosen on the spot to form a team. They're given a guest coach and a short time to learn a format, and then they're thrust out onto the stage. The Playground hosts a wide range of shows and teams almost every night, and it's BYOB. As performers often say, "The more you drink, the funnier we get."
Known primarily for its beer atlas that guides you through the esoteric selection, this Lakeview bar houses a comedy showcase featuring the improv group Three-Legged Race on every Wednesday except the first one of the month. Sets start at 8 p.m., cost $5, and there's usually a rotating stable of two opening groups. The show takes place in the back bar—one of many rooms that Sheffield's offers—so many a bargoer will be oblivious to the show. Take the time to head to the back and do so, though; the players are friendly and enjoy having fun with the crowd.
Owner Brian Bon Durant constantly works to make this multi-level Uptown bar an artist-friendly space. The Spot features the Overstock Comedy Showcase, which presents sketch and improv shows every Monday night. The improv performances take place at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., with five to six teams playing short sets, with "Whose Line Is It Anyway"-style games in between. It's a barrage of forms and humor, offering a mix of more-established teams on open runs and up-and-comers trying to stick. As of December, the price was $3, including one drink ticket—though insiders say the price may rise soon. Tip for budding SNL-ers: The Spot offers meal and drink discounts to teams that come to play.
Town Hall Pub
This Boystown bar/liquor store has a resident show, Dirty Water Improv. The group puts on a 45-minute discussion on a topic suggested by the crowd—"real-time improv," as group member Adam Hyman described it. The members always play Boston-area characters; Hyman performs as "Roger Goldberg," a pretentious English professor. Dirty Water is a well-established group; they've had the Town Hall gig for about three years and have played at other area theaters and major festivals. But because the show is simply some guys talking in a bar, the relaxed Town Hall made for the ideal regular setting Hyman said. It costs $10 to get in, and you can enjoy specials like $3 Point pints while the show's going on.