At The ComedySportz Theatre, audience suggestions keep an all-ages, family-friendly and fast-paced vortex of scenes, games, and songs spinning in competitive shows that pit two improv teams against each other. Inside the intimate, 149-seat theater, spontaneity rules as a referee moderates the all-ages-appropriate hilarity pitched between the Chicago Bosses and The Evanston Express. At the end of each comedic duel, the points and audience votes are tallied to determine the winning team, sentencing the losers to feed the doves that live inside the winners' top hats.
The ComedySportz Training Center's seasoned instructors also teach six-week courses in the art of improvised hilarity and the essential virtues of spontaneity, risk taking, and engagement with the moment. Through scene work, ComedySportz games, and short- and long-form improv, students learn to keep audiences roaring in order to jump-start a career or become a more affable bank robber.
Karma Bar & Grill feels more like a stylish friend's man-cave than a typical sports bar. Upstairs amid the tangy aroma of buffalo wings and the clink of beer glasses, clusters of friends gather around 72-inch TVs, eyes locked onto the game du jour. Downstairs, the Sutra Lounge eases post-victory comedowns with candlelight and sectional sofas, where visitors enjoy cocktails and almond-crusted duck tenders. Located on the site of the former John Ernst Café, Karma has restored the building's crafted stone and hand-carved woodwork, preserved the fireplace, and replaced the springs on the many, many trapdoors. Servers keep the atmosphere inviting as they deliver pitchers of beer, hefty burgers, and plates of six-cheese macaroni.
Behind the headlining comic, dots of light slowly change color, a hypnotic alternative to the brick wall of many other comedy clubs. Long tables stripe the dim room, giving guests plenty of space to savor a menu of burgers, salads, steaks, and other pub grub. But what makes the cabaret of Jokerz Comedy Club really stand out is its gallery of larger-than-life caricatures. Lushly rendered and outlined by shimmering gold frames, the portraits of some of the biz's most legendary names serve as muses for the up-and-comers taking the stage: Sam Kinison, Jerry Seinfeld, the Blues Brothers, and even Cheech and Chong's iconically smoky joyride are immortalized in the baroquely rubber-faced paintings.
For more than two decades, laughs have permeated the space within Comedy Cafe. On its stage, a rolling list of local and nationally acclaimed comedians—such as Tommy Chong and Bobcat Goldthwait—launch into schticks or go about repairing minor damage to brickwork. Audiences can work on their spit takes thanks to a menu of margaritas, martinis, and snacks such as popcorn.
The signature ComedySportz show (Thursday–Saturday at 7:30 p.m., typically $10–$12 per person) and ComedySportz Kidz show (Saturday at 3 p.m., typically $7.50 per person) squares off comedic squads against one another in a some-holds-barred refereed stage match that is surprisingly appropriate for all ages. In an effort to keep humor clean, referees and audience members can call for the brown-bag foul, which puts the offensive performer into a bagged timeout to think about both what they've done and what it feels like to be a grocery item. In between laughs, grab some fermented ales at the on-site full bar or snag an order of fresh eats from the Howie's Restaurant menu.
Tucked away inside Gurnee's Holiday Inn sits Juz Jokkin Comedy Club, a new venue with a respectable pedigree. Although young, the club has already attracted heavy hitters such as Dave Chapelle and Gabriel Iglesias to its Friday and Saturday night shows. Each of these performances is hosted by Sonya D, a native Chicagoan who's appeared on BET, Showtime at the Apollo, and on stage with Kanye West.