Second Annual 26th Annual Comedy Festival shows layers of The Onion

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Courtesy of THE ONION

“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” star Ellie Kemper will be performing at the event.

As Chicago’s festival season kicks off with Pitchfork, Lollapalooza and Riot Fest, The Onion and A.V. Club are touting comedy in the Windy City with the Second Annual 26th Annual Comedy Festival.

The five-day multi-venue event runs May 26–30, building on last year’s lineup of stand-up acts. The festival takes place at several Chicago institutions, including Lincoln Hall, Thalia Hall, the Chicago Theatre, The Athenaeum Theatre, the Hideout and the Music Box Theatre. Although the current lineup includes well-known stand-ups John Mulaney and Kyle Kinane, the festival will also feature sketch and improv comedy, film screenings and a panel discussion featuring writers for The Onion and “The Simpsons,” said Sona Jones, director of consumer activation at The Onion.

“It’s not your standard comedy festival,” Jones said. “A lot of standard comedy festivals end up just being stand-up. We’re excited to be presenting a wider variety of comedic talent.”

Within the last few years, The Onion has expanded its satirical comedy brand through the new Buzzfeed-like satirical site ClickHole—introduced last year—and the 26th Annual Comedy Festival last summer. Jones said The Onion is actively expanding its brand into other aspects of comedy all the time. 

“The Onion, is still just awesome satire, but we’re absolutely trying to grow our voice in different comedic arenas,” Jones said. “ClickHole is a really great example of that and the Comedy [Festival] is as well.”

Lauren Pulte, public relations and communications manager for The Onion, said The Onion’s growth during the last several years has transformed the company from a satirical newspaper to a full-fledged media empire.

“We started out as a newspaper—obviously [we’re] based online now—but we’re growing much more into a media company,” Pulte said. “We have Onion Labs now, which is our advertising arm. We’re doing a lot, still all of it with our unique comedic voice, but we’re much more than just a paper now.”

Although Chicago plays host to a wide variety of festivals, Pulte is confident the Second Annual 26th Annual Comedy Festival will stand out in the crowd.

“What sets [the festival] apart is obviously most of the festivals this summer in Chicago are centered around music,” Pulte said. “But even on the comedy stage, we’re really trying to encompass every comedy touch point that exists in this city. [That’s] why we’re trying to move it from beyond stand-up and beyond sketch in order to incorporate all of these facets of comedy.”

Buck LePard, assistant general manager at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave.—which will host two screenings of the cult film “UHF” and a panel discussion with its star, Weird Al Yankovic, and director Jay Levey—said he was happy to help with the festival when approached by The Onion and The A.V. Club.

“These are guys that know comedy,” LePard said. “If you look at the lineup they have, they’ve definitely cultivated a wide berth of up-and-coming comics, as well as more established folks. Having Weird Al and John Mulaney and Dan Castellaneta from ‘The Simpsons’ and Vanessa Bayer involved—they know comedy and they’re bringing it to Chicago.”

One aspect of the festival that The Onion and A.V. Club looked to publicize is the booming Chicago comedy scene. “The Upperclassmen,” one of the shows in the festival, will showcase local comedians hand-selected by The Onion as the next big names in comedy, Jones said.

“One of the reasons The Onion is headquartered in Chicago is because it’s such a great home base for comedic writers,” Jones said. “We try to highlight that as much as possible. We’re featuring a lot of local talent—a lot of talent that was grown in Chicago, like Vanessa Bayer. We’re trying to support people that have come out of Chicago.”