iO, One of Chicago’s Many Comedy Theaters

One weekend, a friend came to visit and I took him ’round the sights in Chicago. I have so many visitors that I’ve developed this sort of basic itinerary that I’d run everyone through on their first visits. The highlights of Chicago, if you will. (Tell me if you want to know what it is!) Usually, people only stay for a day, which is exactly the length of the original itinerary. Other times, such as this weekend, they stay longer. Which means I had to do a little improv of my own in crafting this weekend. See what I did there?

Ultimately, it led me to Chicago’s comedy scene.

Chicago is quite well known for their comedy scene. Perhaps the most famous is Second City, whose alumni include celebrities like Jane Lynch, Mike Myers, Chris Farley, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey… to name a few. You get the idea. They have 5 theaters around the city and just opened a new film school dedicated specifically to comedy.

So of course, we didn’t go to that one.

Not for lack of trying, though! It’s just that his trip was spontaneous and everyone knows that you gotta book your tickets at least 3 weeks in advance! In other news, I learned something new this week.

So we went to iO (Improv Olympic) instead, which is almost as well known as Second City. They only have one building to Second City’s 5, but this one building has 4 stages. Some alumni you may recognize are: Amy Poehler, Stephen Colbert, Chris Farley, Seth Meyers, Vince Vaughn, etc.

You’ll note that some of these names appear on both alumni lists. That’s because they have no loyalties, those assholes.

The difference between the two theaters is that Second City’s more of a show in the most traditional sense; they have scripts, they have writers–it’s a whole production. iO, on the other hand, is completely made up on the spot. You know “Whose Line is it Anyway?” That’s exactly what it is in an art form. The most used form in iO is the “Harold”, which is this:

The group turns to the audience for a random word/idea which they then turn into a bigger picture in 3 different scenes with 3 different acts. So you get to revisit the same scene multiple times, depending on how they develop the story. The ultimate goal is to have it all woven into 1 cohesive idea by the end of the show–and get a few laughs on the way.

Can you tell I’ve been studying this a bit? Humor fascinates me (maybe because I’m so lacking).

I’ll get this out of the way immediately: when you come to Chicago, please go to a comedy show! I’m so glad that I was able to experience Chicago’s comedy scene for the first time that weekend and am planning on being a regular.

I’ve always been uncertain about paying money to go to a show that’s supposed to make you laugh because, well, I take that as a challenge. Try and make me laugh, if you’re capable! my mind always says. Not like I’m one of those people that laugh at everything, am I right? (I totally am, but if I had to pay my friends every time they say something funny, I would never laugh). But this–this!–took me out of that mindset and man, it was like I’d been saving a week’s worth of laughs to be unleashed at this show.

It was a little embarrassing to laugh so loud into someone’s face. Why was I laughing into someone’s face? Because they put us in the front row and to iO, “front row” is not a spacial description of where your row is, it means half your entity is spilling onto the stage. It’s really interactive.


Not only was it funny but it’s completely intellectually and imaginatively stimulating! They use no props and make up whole sets on the fly so you have to try to have your imagination keep up with theirs. It’s so interesting to see where they go next with a scene and, most of all, it’s such a great study to see how people can react in an entertaining way to other actors when they’re given a completely random line.

At the end of the show, the performers mentioned that they do offer classes and I’d be lying to you if I didn’t even consider it. Heck, I conquered public speaking this past summer. Who says I can’t public speak in a funny way?

Have you ever been to an improv show? Would you ever take a class?

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  • Anna | slightly astray

    I had no idea that so many famous funny actors/comedians are from Chicago! Those are some really big names. I used to love Who’s Line is it Anyway and I remember thinking it was so entertaining and funny. I went to an improv in LA when I was back there last fall, and it sounds pretty much like what this one was. It was funny and I laughed but it also wasn’t as funny as I thought it’d be. Maybe it’s just hard to make me think something is really really funny :P (but then again, I do laugh at stupid things all the time… hmmm).

    • Michelle @ Mishfish13

      Yes! I went through a phase where I ran through a few dozen episodes a night before going to bed. That may or may not be an exaggeration. You know they’re back with WLitA, right? I think it definitely is hard to nail the entire audience’s specific sense of humor. And the group has to be really in tune with each other for it to work!

      Maybe you’re like me and Kerri. When paying for laughs, our standards suddenly go up :P

  • Kerri

    I love comedy, but I’m a bit of a humour snob. And if I’m paying to be entertained, I’m with you, there’s no chuckles coming unless it’s really, really funny. I remember, many years ago, Kris took me to a Jimmy Carr show (it was when we were first together) and I didn’t laugh one bit. Granted, Jimmy Carr is not my type of comedian, but I was so into the mindset of this has to be worth my chuckle, that I sat through the whole thing and not even a twitch of a smile appeared on my face.

    I’m such a loser. and a snob.

    • Michelle @ Mishfish13

      Haha EXACTLY!! You gotta earn these chuckles, baby. And that’s not being a loser, that’s knowing the worth of your guffaw :p How did Kris take it when you didn’t even crack a smile?

      • Kerri

        Surprisingly well haha, we’re still together so… I don’t think he values humour in a relationship as much as I do. I can’t be friends with people who can’t make me chuckle!