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The Reader's guide to TBS Just for Laughs Chicago

David Cross, Chelsea Peretti, Maria Bamford, Moshe Kasher, and more: Our critics pick favorites from the sprawling comic fest.

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TBS Just for Laughs Chicago runs from Tuesday, June 11, through Sunday, June 16, and offers a daily embarrassment of comics—round about 185 altogether, both local and national. Most events take place at Stage 773 (1225 W. Belmont), with a few big names at venues like the Chicago Theatre and Park West. Our critics' picks are below; a full schedule is at, where you can also buy tickets. Everything here is $15 unless otherwise noted.

Double Threat: Junior Stopka and Mike Lebovitz
Tue 6/11, 7 PM, Stage 773

One of the fest's best local duos, Junior Stopka and Mike Lebovitz open the whole shebang with not so much contrasting styles as contrasting eccentricities. Lebovitz (of the Comedians You Should Know collective) is wound tight—he comes off a little tweaked and a little wild-eyed as he marches through a clever set of observational humor that can draw a joke from as seemingly insignificant an event as a woman's button popping off her jacket at a coffeeshop. The enigmatic Stopka—hands down one of Chicago's best comics—occasionally has the pacing of a dude doped up on Vicodin and occasionally of a dude who is plotting to smother you in your sleep. His set ranges from incoherent rambling to tales about sleeping with mannequins back to incoherent rambling. Its awkwardness and out-there timing makes it brilliant. —KW

Megan Gailey
Tue 6/11, 8:30 PM, Stage 773

Megan Gailey is a top-notch, lovable bitch. It's as if Regina George were Lucille Bluth's granddaughter, but raised with actual love in her home in Indianapolis. Her confident superficiality is withering, and I've seen the female staff at the Laugh Factory whisper her best moments of self-absorption ("I don't give a fuck about your life") along with her as they work. Gailey makes the title of her podcast a reality tonight when she records Naked Sports Live with cohost Joe Kilgallon. —MA

The Comedy Bar Kickass Showcase: Russ Williamson
Wed 6/12, 7 PM, Stage 773

After taking a little break from the stage to work on network television (Chicago Fire and Boss), Russ Williamson has gone hard in the paint getting his Chicago mike time in. You can see why the camera loves him: he's a big man who's not afraid to get physical. The best part of watching him onstage is his face, molding itself into vomiting reality show contestants, loud CTA travelers, drunk girls in cabs. He performs as part of a showcase of local talent. —MA

Moshe Kasher
6/12-6/15, Wed-Fri 7 PM, Sat 8:30 PM, Stage 773

Moshe Kasher wears his heart on his sleeve. Beneath his sleeve, he wears a dense carpet of black body hair, which he says he likes because it makes him look masculine. "I think you'll agree I need all the help I can get," he told a crowd, alluding to the fact that people tend to think he's gay. He's not, but he is a skilled self-deprecator. His honesty is part of his charm—and it paid off in his coming-of-age/drug abuse/mental illness memoir Kasher in the Rye. You kind of have to write a coming-of-age memoir if you can call it Kasher in the Rye. —GS

Todd Barry
Podcast taping Wed 6/12, 8:30 PM; also Fri-Sat 6/14-6/15, 10 PM, Stage 773

Todd Barry is a pro. He clutches the mike stand like he refuses to let it wander off and hammers through sets that are neither hard-hitting nor bombastic, just well paced and perfectly blueprinted. He makes deadpan jokes about being a germaphobe who's comfortable with what some may consider debilitating quirks. His vocal delivery—a kind of controlled exasperation—is so conducive to a podcast, I'm surprised it took him so long to jump on the bandwagon. The Todd Barry Podcast premiered at the end of April and, like the podcasts of so many other comics, features Barry shooting the shit with fellow comedians about whatever they feel like. —KW

Chelsea Peretti
6/13-6/15, Thu-Fri 8:30 PM, Sat 7 PM, Stage 773

Chelsea Peretti's a comedic jack-of-all-trades. She's been a writer for Parks and Recreation, an actress on Louie, and the host of the cult YouTube series All My Exes, but it's her stand-up that best exemplifies her ability to mix staid subject matter with a sort of caustic, aw-shucks pragmatism. Her best material, including a bit about self-administrating date rape drugs in order to gradually build up a tolerance, packs a considerable punch; her loose and chatty persona lessens the blow without shirking the point. —DH

David Cross and His Super Duper Pals
Thu 6/13, 7:30 PM, Chicago Theatre, $39-$49

He's probably best known for portraying Tobias Funke in Arrested Development, but David Cross was a treasure long before he donned cutoff denim. His stand-up albums Shut Up, You Fucking Baby! (2002) and It's Not Funny (2004) are invaluable time capsules of Bush-era absurdity, while his seminal sketch series Mr. Show influenced everything from Portlandia to Tim and Eric. For his JFL appearance, Cross performs alongside fellow alt-comedy denizens and former Mr. Show cohorts Brian Posehn and Paul F. Tompkins, as well as Doug Benson and Todd Glass. —DH

Vanessa Fraction
5-Star Leading Ladies, Sat 6/15, 8:30 PM, Jokes and Notes, 4641 S. King, $15; The Urban Comedy Hour Thu 6/13, 10 PM, Stage 773

A portrait of Chicago native Vanessa Fraction holds one of the coveted spots on the walls of the Bronzeville club Jokes and Notes, where she'll appear IRL to host 5-Star Leading Ladies, an all-female oasis in JFL's dude-heavy lineup. If you want to catch funny women who might follow in her path—Fraction wrote for The Mo'nique Show and 106 & Park—Erika Edwards and Kellye Howard appear at Stage 773 when Jokes and Notes presents the Urban Comedy Hour. —MA

Double Threat: Kumail Nanjiani & Friend
Thu-Sat 6/13-6/15, 10 PM, Stage 773

His ballooning resumé of jobs aside—one includes playing an agoraphobic lawyer in a TV courtroom drama that also stars Mark-Paul Gosselaar; another is as cohost of a Nerdist podcast with his wife that details the ins and outs of the gamer lifestyle—former Chicagoan Kumail Nanjiani does stand-up, too. Born in Karachi, Pakistan, Nanjiani pulls source material from dolts' misconceptions about his ethnicity and moral beliefs, but he does it with such flabbergasted sincerity and conversational style that he nudges you to laugh at the ignorance of others—which is always fun. A joke about a Call of Duty video game botching his native language on a level specifically titled "Karachi" is truly excellent. The "and friend" in tonight's bill will be a "special guest comedian." —KW

Maria Bamford
Sat 6/15, 7 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage, $27.50

Being good at impressions and voices doesn't necessarily make someone funny. It can actually accomplish the opposite. But when Maria Bamford does impressions, it's transcendent. She becomes the person she's imitating, which worked out really well on her web series the The Maria Bamford Show, on which she played all the characters—except for her dog. Since Bamford did the Comedians of Comedy tour in the early aughts with Patton Oswalt, Zach Galifianakis, and Brian Posehn, she's become a fixture. (I'm partial to her appearance as Mayor May Kadoody on The Sarah Silverman Program.) —GS

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