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It’s a funny week in ‘The Funniest City in the World’

This weekend’s column from The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.)

It’s a funny week in ‘The Funniest City in the World’

The WISCH LIST

April 21, 2012

Across the country, Chicago is known for a lot of things.

Its pizza … Its skyscrapers … Its bad baseball.

And also its comedy.

Recently billed by Chicago Magazine as “the funniest city in the world,” Chicago saw comedic roots first sprout on Dec. 16, 1959, when The Second City Theatre opened its doors at 1616 N. Wells St. and proceeded to launch a laugh-out-loud revolution.

Since that debut evening, the legendary improvisational venue in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood has gone on to spawn the careers of countless comedians. In fact, the list of Second City alumni composes a veritable “Who’s Who” of American comedy during the past half century.

Among its list of notable names in those early years, you’ll find Alan Arkin (Class of 1960), Fred Willard (’65), John Belushi (’71) and John Candy (’73). In 1974, a star-studded class brought us Dan Aykroyd, Eugene Levy and Gilda Radner, who were immediately followed by George Wendt in ’75 and Shelley Long in ’76.

Cheers to that.

Two years later, in 1978, the Second City introduced us to Jim Belushi. I’ll forgive the theatre for that one, but only because in the 1980s it also gave the world Mike Myers (’88) and Chris Farley (’89). During that decade, Bonnie Hunt (’86) and Tim Meadows (’89) also graced its stage.

In the ’90s, future stars just kept rolling through The Second City with Steve Carrell (’91), Amy Sedaris (’92), Stephen Colbert (’93), Rachel Dratch (’95) and Tina Fey (’96) all joking their way to fame.

Today, aspiring comics continue to launch their careers at the Second City and other clubs throughout Chicago. But the city never features more of them at once that next week when the 15th annual Chicago Improv Festival (April 23-29) assumes control of venues across the city, and at Laugh Out Loud in Schaumburg.

This year’s festival – which says its mission is to “celebrate the present, honor the past, and showcase the future of improvisational theatre” – features more than 80 groups from five countries. Tickets are $10 to $20 per show, with the festival’s busiest (and reportedly best) nights expected to be Friday and Saturday. A full schedule of show times, along with more info, can be found at chicagoimprovfestival.org.

Among the shows that sound most entertaining is “Bassprov,” an act featuring two men from a small town in Indiana who fish, drink beer and talk about how to fix the world. The entire show features them on a fishing trip.

“Border Patrol,” meanwhile, features a six-man team – made up of Americans from Bellingham, Wash., and Canadians from Edmonton – who surely crack plenty of regional jokes about each other. And “Improptop,” hailing from Mexico City, has apparently earned standing ovations for their last two Chicago Improv Festival performances as they poke fun at Mexican folklore and, interestingly, the Broadway musical.

Now, if you can’t make it to any of the shows in Chicago this week, don’t fret. This city will still be busting guts for the rest of the spring – and well beyond. In fact, Los Angeles’ famous Laugh Factory just opened in the newly renovated Lakeshore Theater (3175 N. Broadway) with its owner promising such acts as Tim Allen, Dave Chappelle, Carlos Mencia and Bob Saget will be taking its stage. Just down the street from Second City, Zanies (1548 N. Wells St.) is the best place to find a classic stand-up act.

And lesser-known venues such as The Annoyance Theatre & Bar (annoyanceproductions.com), Chicago Underground Comedy (chicagoundergroundcomedy.com), IO (ioimprov.com/Chicago) and ComedySportz (comedysportzchicago.com) are also always good for a laugh.

Or, you know, a dozen.