More than 30 years ago, Bert Haas walked into the nightclub Zanies. He was looking for a second job as he saved money to head back to college. He never did return to school, and some three decades later, he heads up the venerable stand up comedy institution he first started at waiting tables at.
He’s seen a lot over that time in the funny business -- the ebbs and flows of the popularity of stand up, and the clubs and comedians that have come and gone along the way.
Stand up in the city appears to be bigger than it’s been in quite some time. The last big stand up boom was in the early-to-mid 1980s, and Zanies has been there all the while. Zanies maintains three venues in the area, and in the past year the city’s improv mecca Second City opened its own self-described hybrid venue, UP Comedy Club, which includes a healthy dose of stand up in the mix. Add to that the California-based venue The Laugh Factory, which has infiltrated Chicago in the space formerly occupied by the Lakeshore Theater (which closed in 2010), and it’s nearly enough to give one the sense that the stand-up scene might be experiencing a bit of a renaissance.
And the growth is hardly limited to the larger, traditional comedy venues. There has long been stand up showcases at traditional and non-traditional settings around the city and suburbs, and the number of outlets for one-night-a-week showcases has only grown recent years. And, let’s not forget to mention one-off comedy events that pop up at music venues in the area. A newer body in the new generation of comedy in Chicago (on the behind-the-scenes side) is James Allen Kamp. He’s the former video producer and house manager at the now defunct Lakeshore Theater, and runs the robust and regularly updated comedy blog, Comedy of Chicago.
Bert Haas and James Allen Kamp join us for separate conversations about stand up in Chicago, then and now.