If it's the second week of June, it's time once again for Chicago's most adored new tradition this side of Stanley Cup hockey, "the Bean," and the downtown water taxi: the Just For Laughs Chicago comedy festival. The cavalcade of hilarity plays tomorrow through Sunday at venues around the city.
Since 2009, when the Montreal-based Just For Laughs comic empire teamed with the "very funny"-rebranded TBS cable network to present live comedy festivals in several American cities, JFL Chicago has quickly grown into the largest annual comedy festival in the United States, and easily one of the best.
Last year's go-round, for example, featured Aziz Ansari, Louis C.K., Jeff Ross, Megan Mullally and husband Nick Offerman, Patton Oswalt, The Office creator Stephen Merchant, Vince Vaughn, Kevin Smith, Amy Schumer, and a week of Conan O'Brien tapings at the historic Chicago Theatre.
This year it's another rock star lineup headlined by Bob Newhart, Bill Maher, Seth Meyers and Russell Brand, with ample support from standups Todd Barry, Nick Swardson, Kumail Nanjiani, Al Madrigal, Hannibal Buress and more. Variety acts include the popular Whitest Kids U' Know sketch ensemble and the Bear Down (as in Chicago Bears) Podcast.
Conveniently, most of this year's club shows will play in the newly renovated Stage 773, a four-theater complex on Belmont Avenue in Lakeview. Four stages under one roof mean shorter commute times for populace, performers, producers and press alike.
As usual, the intelligently curated smaller shows are highly anticipated. Of particular note is a connoisseur's dream at iO Theater late Sunday evening. First it's expert improv from an all-star team of Second City alumni: T.J. Jagodowski (TJ and Dave), Kevin Dorff (Late Night with Conan O'Brien), Jon Glaser (Delocated), Scott Adsit (30 Rock), plus a famous friend or two. Topping the bill is a buzzed-about one-man show by another Second City veteran, Saturday Night Live writer Michael Patrick O'Brien.
Another can't-miss is Karl Walzein (@dadboner), the fictitious tweeter whose Michigan working-class bravado, "finger guns" and love for "cold ones, you guys" has amassed 143,000 Twitter followers. Creator Mike Burns will have solid shtick up his blue-collar sleeve at Stage 773 on Wednesday and Thursday.
I'll once again be covering the festival this year so watch this space (plus Facebook and Twitter) for updates. The full festival lineup is available at justforlaughschicago.com.
It's the funniest week of the year. Get out there and catch something (ideally a show)!