The eighth annual edition of this sprawling celebration of improvisational comedy brings together performers from around the U.S. and abroad; Chicago, of course, is heavily represented. The lineup ranges from fledgling talent to returning stars who have won fame and big bucks appearing in and/or writing for movies and TV. This year's festival, the largest and most diverse yet, is divided into several series--Mainstage, Showcase, Sketch, Solo, Duo, and Fringe--as well as an all-night improv session, a series of daytime "Lunchbreak" performances (presented in conjunction with the city's cultural affairs department), forums, workshops, and numerous special events. ¥ The Chicago Improv Festival runs through May 1 at three principal venues: the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport; Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W. Belmont; and the Playground Theater, 3209 N. Halsted. Auxiliary events take place at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; Second City E.T.C., Piper's Alley, 1608 N. Wells; ComedySportz, 2851 N. Halsted; ImprovOlympic, 3541 N. Clark; Lincoln Tap Room, 3010 N. Lincoln; and Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee. Tickets to shows at the Athenaeum and Theatre Building Chicago can be purchased through Ticketmaster (312-902-1500 or www.ticketmaster.com) or at the box office; tickets to events at other venues must be purchased at the box office on the day of the show. For general festival information, call 773-935-9810 or visit www.cif.com. Following is the schedule for Friday, April 22, through Thursday, April 28; a complete schedule is available online at www.chicagoreader.com.
Beer Shark Mice and The Saturday Night Live Writers
The headliners Beer Shark Mice, an ensemble affiliated with IO West (ImprovOlympic's LA outpost), features Dave Koechner and Neil Flynn. Opening for them are a team of writers for SNL, including Joe Kelly, John Lutz, Jason Sudekis, and Rich Talarico. a 7:30 PM, Athenaeum Theatre main stage. $25.
CIF/Implosion College Showcase
This evening of college improv groups includes Full Frontal Comedy from Indiana University, Absolunacy from Ball State, Impulse Control from Catholic University, and the University of Chicago's Off-Off Campus. a 7:30 PM, Theatre Building Chicago. $5-$10.
R The Horatio Sanz All-Stars, Defiant Thomas Brothers, and Bassprov
SNL's Horatio Sanz hosts and performs in an improv jam with fellow Second City alum Ed Furman, Upright Citizens Brigade alums Brett Gilman and Matt Walsh, and Jerry Minor. The Defiant Thomas Brothers are Seth Thomas and Paul Thomas--no relation--who offer crackerjack comedy. (LB) Bassprov stars Joe Bill and Mark Howard Sutton as two small-town Hoosiers on a fishing trip. This edition of the hilarious show guest-stars Horatio Sanz. (JHe) a 10 PM, Athenaeum Theatre main stage. $20.
The Blue Show
This adult-oriented show features two local groups, Annoyance Productions' Grabass and Pimprov. a 10:30 PM, Theatre Building Chicago. $10; 18+.
CIF Family Day
This program of performances, aimed at family audiences, features the Laughing Aardvarks at noon; ComedySportz4Kidz, an interactive improv show geared to children aged 4 to 12, at 1 PM; Underage Sugar Addicts at 2 PM; Police-Teen Link, an ensemble of young performers and local cops, at 3 PM; and Jerk Alert Productions' audience-participation show Hogwash--an Improvised Tall Tale for Small Children, at 4 PM. a Chicago Cultural Center, Claudia Cassidy Theater. Free.
R The Anchorman Cast With Bill Kurtis and The Saturday Night Live Writers
Anchorman screenwriter Adam McKay, an alumnus of Second City and ImprovOlympic, teams up with Mike Coleman, Pat Finn, Neil Flynn, Pete Hulne, Dave Koechner, Jerry Minor, and Ian Roberts to perform a classic improv form, the Armando. The evening's guest monologuist is TV personality and Anchorman narrator Bill Kurtis. See listing for Fri 4/22 for The Saturday Night Live Writers. a 7:30 PM, Athenaeum Theatre main stage. $25.
CIF/Implosion College Showcase
This evening of college improv groups includes the Lilting Banshees from Wake Forest, Dead Parrots Society from Western Washington University, 45 Kings from Loyola, the Idle Erics from the University of Minnesota, and NYU's Dangerbox. a 7:30 PM, Theatre Building Chicago. $5-$10.
R Baby Wants Candy and ComedySportz All-Stars
Baby Wants Candy, resident team at Chicago's ImprovOlympic, which specializes in creating musicals and rock opera, has become the very model of smart, physical, quick-thinking, and just plain silly long-form improvisers. (JHe) They're joined by Gary W. Tallent from The E Street Band. ComedySportz features short improv games played for laughs by two competing teams. With its emphasis on improv for entertainment's sake, this isn't for everyone. Still, the formula is a winning one, and these seasoned performers play off one another's strengths exceptionally well. (NG) a 10 PM, Athenaeum Theatre main stage. $20.
CIF/Implosion College Showcase
This performance features The Beatbox Vol. II, the troupe I Eat Pandas, and a "college improv jam." a 10 PM, Theatre Building Chicago. $5-$10.
Bevy headlines a late-night show. a Midnight, Theatre Building Chicago. $10.
The 4 Horsemen and Shortall and Kelly's Show of Mystery
Joe Bill, Ed Furman, Mick Napier, and Mark Sutton portray War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death in the apocalyptic parody The 4 Horsemen. Brian Shortall and Joe Kelly open with a show that is "set inside the world of the unknown." a 7:30 PM, Theatre Building Chicago. $10.
The Big Yellow Bus is an improvisation by members of Playground Theater resident teams. It's presented as part of a series of lunchtime performances cosponsored by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs. a 12:15 PM, Chicago Cultural Center, Randolph Cafe. Free.
The Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs cosponsors a showcase of improvised dance, music, performance art, spoken word, poetry, and theater. The program includes dancer Julia Rae Antonick; composer and sound designer Eric Leonardson; monologuist Jill Bernard; and poet Mike Green, selected by the Poetry Center. a 7 PM, Chicago Cultural Center, Claudia Cassidy Theater. Free.
Second City's Outreach and Diversity Ensemble, BrownCo, composed of African-American and Latino performers, shares a bill with the all-Asian-American troupe Stir-Friday Night! a 8 PM, Theatre Building Chicago. $10.
Chicago's Jazz Hands Across America presents an improvised musical as part of a series of lunchtime performances cosponsored by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs. a 12:15 PM, Chicago Cultural Center, Randolph Cafe. Free.
CIF Super Cage Match Championships
This comedy competition features the current champion team Dual Exhaust and regional champions from Chicago (the Awesomes), Seattle (the Dead Parrots Society), New York (Mother), and Florida (SPF 7). a 7-10 PM, ImprovOlympic. $5; "stay as long as you care."
CC Georgia Pacific and The Reckoning
8 PM, Theatre Building Chicago. $10.
The Mike & Duane Show features "comedic mini-rock operas" by Mike Ferbrache and Duane Freeman. a 12:15 PM, Chicago Cultural Center, Randolph Cafe. Free.
One World on One Stage
This showcase features performers from various countries, including Ken Nordine & His Five-Piece Band, Jill Bernard, Baard Braende, Jen Ellison, Matt Elwell, Roni Geva, Paul Imboden, Nick Johne, Ed Reggi, Jerry Schaefer, and Marianne Steinsrud. a 7 PM, Chicago Cultural Center, Randolph Cafe. Free.
Mo vs. Mo: A One Woman Show and Sirens
Mo Collins of MADtv performs a solo show on a double bill with the all-female troupe Sirens. a 8 PM, Theatre Building Chicago. $10; 18+.
R Alternative Comedy Night: Schadenfreude and Funny Ha-Ha
The local comedy group Schadenfreude headlines a variety-style program featuring guest star Aaron Freeman. He'll perform his classic "Council Wars" routines, which satirized the brutal political battles the late mayor Harold Washington fought with white reactionaries on the Chicago City Council in the mid-1980s. Also on the bill: Funny Ha-Ha, a showcase of emerging and established writers and artists. a 9 PM, Double Door (773-489-3160). $8.
Norway's Oslo Improvisasjonsteater offers "an improvised visual trip through the Scandinavian folktale traditions" as part of a series of lunchtime performances cosponsored by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs. a 12:15 PM, Chicago Cultural Center, Randolph Cafe. Free.
Homecoming Night With Cog and Clark & Belmont
Cog, a resident ensemble of IO West in California, headlines this bill; the opening act, Clark & Belmont, is a group of former Chicagoans now working in LA with IO West. Emo Philips emcees. a 7:30 PM, Theatre Building Chicago. $10.
Time to mingle with the improvisers. a 10:30 PM, Lincoln Tap Room. Free.