A whole book could be written on what happened in the Chicago comedy scene in 2015. And it wouldn't be a short book—it'd be, like, the seventh Harry Potter book. Alas, the Reader has only so many pages.
These are the year's breakouts. Check them out before they're gone—I have a nagging feeling that we'll soon lose these standouts to one of the coasts.
If the name "Rebecca O'Neal" sounds familiar, it's probably because the local stand-up performs nearly every night at comedy showcases across the city. She regularly talks about her life as a bike messenger, her disappointment upon learning "Yo, Robot" was just I, Robot in Spanish, and what it's like walking around with an NPR tote bag on the south side of Chicago. But she's not just performing: O'Neal produces the monthly showcase Congrats on Your Success and hosts the weekly open mike at Cole's (yeah, the one started by Cameron Esposito—look how far she's come!). So if the name Rebecca O'Neal doesn't sound familiar, don't worry. It will.
Goodrich Gevaart first appeared on my radar last year as one of the organizers and hosts of the Comedy Exposition. The festival's successful second year—and great contribution to the local comedy scene—would be reason enough to include Gevaart on this list, but it just so happens that he's also hilarious. One of the jolliest comics working in Chicago at the moment, he can even make depression sound delightful: "I call it practicing the dark arts . . . it's more fun to think of myself as a sad magician!"
This stand-up, who hosts the weekly variety show Sadsacks and Wisecracks and is also the lead singer in a Patsy Cline cover band (!!!), appeared in the OWN Network pilot My Life Is a Joke, and showed up on Last Comic Standing, where Roseanne Barr sang her praises. Barr is just letting the world know what we in Chicago have known for years: Jose is an American treasure. She's an effortless performer who pokes fun at her job, relationships, and lifestyle without sounding apologetic. This is who she is, she's proud, and she's willing to laugh along with you while describing herself as the "haunted house" of the dating market.
Gnar Gnar Shredtown
The trio known as Gnar Gnar Shredtown—Zach Bartz, Kevin Gerrity, and musical director Dan Wilcop—have turned the rules of improv on their head. Forget the three-beat structure that informs Chicago long-form improv—these guys take a suggestion and run with it until they've squeezed it dry, then move on. And who says sound effects aren't important? While Second City-trained comics Bartz and Gerrity take control onstage, Wilcop contributes dramatic music, sound effects, and even just single tones to change the direction of a scene. The result is something completely original that brings a different energy to live comedy.
Southside Ignoramus Quartet
This sketch-comedy group may come across as overly casual—their performance space is a tent in cast member David Pintor's parents' backyard—but their show is actually one of the most thought-provoking in town. They tackle issues plaguing their neighborhood (Pilsen) and represent a demographic they don't often see on the city's larger sketch-comedy stages: their own. Made up of Hispanic comedians, Southside Ignoramus Quartet comically bring their culture and experiences to the audience. Sketch of the year: Selena returns as a zombie during the apocalypse, but no one wants to kill her—"We can't lose her again!"
Late Late Breakfast
This mashup of stand-up comedy and game shows started as a monthly showcase in 2013, featuring local comedians doing their sets while getting pelted with pies, purposely heckled, or whatever other wacky premise hosts Danny Maupin and Tyler Jackson presented. But this year it became so much more. In its purest form, it's still a Saturday-brunch show with no lack of Bloody Marys, free pancakes, and high jinks, but the crew behind it have added "breakfast for dinner" shows, celebrity roasts (the roast of Donald Trump kicks off their 2016 calendar), and started a New York edition. LLB's gathered so much momentum in the last few months that I'd guess 2016 is going to be the year of breakfast comedy.
Ian Abramson is responsible for creating a whole new genre of comedy. His stand-up is often interactive, and last year's grandest contribution was Seven Minutes in Purgatory, which thrived by putting comedians in an awkward, silent box while performing their sets. Bell Hop starts in an elevator in the Virgin Hotel and continues to the 25th floor; it's a nonstop comedic, well, "experience" might be the best way to describe it. Framed as a showcase in which things just keep going wrong (the first performance ended with Abramson's arrest), it allows comics to try something unusual—PowerPoints, characters, moments of complete anticomedy—all led by Abramson, the insane yet brilliant ringmaster. v