Reader's Choice: Michael Palascak
In performance, Michael Palascak fashions himself a slacker without means or ambition. Thing is, he's always busy performing—in city and suburban showcases, on the radio, in competitions and festivals. Earlier this month he appeared on Comedy Central's Live at Gotham. The I-still-live-with-my-parents shtick may be a chestnut, but he explores it as thoroughly and cleverly as anyone. He explains the "top-of-the-line technology" of his folks' washer and dryer with boyish glee: "Yeah, here's how it works—I put my clothes in the washer, they come out folded on my bed." And when his parents remind him he can't live with them forever, he replies with concern, "Well, I don't even wanna think about you guys dying." amichaelpalascak.com. —Ryan Hubbard
Readers' Choice: Mike Stanley
Reader's Choice: Susan Messing
There may be no braver improviser in Chicago than Susan Messing. In a recent performance, she had a hilarious emotional breakdown with her onstage husband, then simulated sex with him—on top of three audience members. Drawing on tremendous acting and voice skills as well as a veritable library of cultural references, Messing creates fully formed characters and has a gift for infusing improvised scenes with a distinct style and tone. Her weekly show at Annoyance, Messing With a Friend, is one of the surest bets for laughs in the city. aOpen run: Thu 10:30 PM, Annoyance Theatre, 4830 N. Broadway, 773-561-4665, theannoyance.com, myspace.com/susanmessing, $5. —Ryan Hubbard
Readers' Choice: Katie Rich aThrough 7/22 (with the Frank Hayes 4), Tue 8 PM, $12. Through 7/26 (with the Deltones), Sat 8 PM, $14. Open run (with Carl & the Passions), Wed 8 PM. All at iO, 3541 N. Clark, 773-880-0199, iochicago.net, katierich.com. F
Best Improv Group
Reader's Choice: TJ & Dave
TJ & Dave is the gold standard for group improv in Chicago. Every week for most of the year TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi craft several new characters—each routinely revealing a compelling humanity—and work them into a completely improvised hour-long story with clever plot developments and, usually, a surprising, satisfying resolution. Jagodowski and Pasquesi's combined 30 years of stage time and long experience together mean you can trust that their silences aren't dead air but part of a patient, comfortable improvisational rapport where ideas are constantly cooking; that if one says something out of the moment the other won't let it slide; and that they're attentive to audience response, brilliantly pushing and pulling the crowd as they go. aNormally set for Wed 11 PM at iO, the show is currently on summer break. —Ryan Hubbard
Readers' Choice: The Hot Karl
Through 7/26, Sat midnight, ComedySportz Theatre, 929 W. Belmont, 773-549-8080, thehotkarl.com, $10.
Best Sketch Group
Reader's Choice: The Cupid Players
With savvy director Brian Posen at the keyboard, the Cupid Players are a musical sketch comedy machine, churning out intricate song-and-dance numbers with I-can't-believe-they-just-did-that humor and execution that makes it look easy. One of the motliest comedy groups in town, they comprise a wide variety of body types, personalities, and takes on life and living. And they don't back away from anything: in their current show, Cupid Has a Heart On, they comprehensively explore sexuality among the flawed—the women delivering especially unbridled observations. aOpen run, Sat 10:30 PM, iO, 3541 N. Clark, 773-880-0199, cupidplayers.com, $18. —RyanHubbard
Readers' Choice: Hey You Millionaires
a Wed 7/2, 10 PM (with Hannibal and LMDF), O.I.N.K!, the Playground Theater, 3209 N. Halsted, 773-871-3793, myspace.com/heyyoumillionaires, $5-$10.
Best Place to See Improv/Sketch That Isn't iO or Second City
Reader's Choice: Annoyance Theatre
From musicals and burlesque to satire and solo shows, the Annoyance offers sketch comedy in a variety of modes, typically performed with crazy energy. Some of the best improvisers in the city can be seen here, too, in open-run shows, including Susan Messing (see above), TJ Jagodowski (in Chicagoland), and Tim Baltz (in Davey Dickrocket). Under founder Mick Napier's ballsy direction, the risk-taking Annoyance also fosters young playwrights and directors and occasionally gives stand-ups the stage. aAnnoyance Theatre, 4830 N. Broadway, 773-561-4665, theannoyance.com. —RyanHubbard
Readers' Choice: ComedySportz
a929 W. Belmont, 773-549-8080, comedysportzchicago.com.