Chicago is known as the Windy City, but it’s also known for other things; the Chicago hot dog (hold the ketchup), the Willis Tower, and having produced — and hosted — some of the best comedy around. Let’s put it this way — when it comes to comedy, the Second City is second to none. Here are six reasons why Chicago is the nation’s funniest city.
1. Improv innovations
Though the earliest documentation of improvisational theatre in Western history can be traced back to Rome circa 391 B.C., it wasn’t until the 1950s and ’60s that improvisation came to the forefront thanks to a woman named Viola Spolin — considered the “mother” of improvisational theatre due to her authorship of several texts and her instruction. Specifically, Spolin helped to guide the first generation of improvisational actors through her son, Paul Sills, who co-founded a group called the Compass Players in Chicago. After the group began in the summer of 1955, it later made theatre history for being the first group to practice improvisational theatre. Sills later founded The Second City in 1959.
2. The Second City
Calling itself “the world’s premiere comedy club/theatre and school of improvisation,” The Second City has comedy shows seven nights a week on its stages. Shows consist of songs, improv, and short comedy sketches, and have launched careers of superstars including Tina Fey, Mike Myers, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Stephen Colbert, Jane Lynch, Amy Poehler, Bill Murray and yes, Joan Rivers. The club was opened in December 1959 and continues to produce some of the world’s most famous comedians. Among other things, the center also offers adult courses, week-long immersions, and youth and teen courses for those interested in learning more about the art of comedy.
3. Venues galore
Venues include iO Theater, Chicago Underground Comedy, UP Comedy Club, Annoyance Theater, Zanies Comedy Club, The pH Comedy Theater, The Comedy Bar, The Playground Theater, The Public House Theater, Davenport’s, Stand Up Stand Up, The Edge Comedy Club, The Gallery Cabaret, The Neo-Futurists, and Baby Wants Candy. If you don’t want to brave the crowds or prices at The Second City, these venues are only a few — repeat, a few – in the solid lineup of comedy clubs, specialty schools, and performing arts venues dedicated to comedy and improvisation in the city of Chicago.
4. A chosen host
In addition to all of its other funny business, Chicago has a multitude of festivals dedicated to laughs. There’s the Chicago Women’s Funny Festival, the Chicago Comedy Film Festival, the Improv Festival, and the Just For Laughs Festival. Though the latter is taking this year off, The Onion and the A.V. Club have graciously taken its place, with an aptly titled “The 1st Annual 26th Annual Comedy Festival” to be held from June 12 – 14. Comedians include Tig Notaro, Kyle Kinane, and Marc Maron, who has appeared on Conan O’Brien more than any other comedian — a record 48 times.
5. A firm foundation
Chicago’s bevy of comedy clubs, improvisation, and competition make for a fierce breeding ground of talent. Actors who are now well-known but were once just a face in the crowd have spoken about the city’s place in their development and how that training has stayed with them. Steve Carell, who is best known as The Office’s Michael Scott, spent nearly a decade working and teaching at The Second City. When asked about his training there comes into his acting, Carell responded with what we already know about Chicago. It’s a city full of people who appreciate comedy and who support it. “There’s such a freewheeling nature to Second City, and the greatest thing about Second City was having a sophisticated audience night after night who appreciated what it was,” Carell said. “They knew it wasn’t all going to be great when you improvised, so they were very forgiving that way.”
6. Comedy classics
John Hughes’ love letter to Chicago, a.k.a. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, is just one of the many movies that has cemented the city’s role as a backdrop for cinematic comedy. Another, one of the most expensive comedies ever produced, resulted from a comedy skit between John Belushi and Dan Akroyd—that’s right, “The Blues Brothers.” Other cult comedies filmed in the Windy City include “Some Like It Hot” and “High Fidelity.”