Local comedy group marks anniversary

By Colin Shively

Throughout the year and more so during summer, Chicago’s theater and comedy venues are known for producing popular mainstream comedians and shows. Last year, Chicago’s famous Second City comedy club turned 50. This summer a smaller group celebrated its fifth birthday.

Chicago Underground Comedy, 2100 W. Belmont Ave., turned 5 on June 1, and celebrated its anniversary with local comics Tony Sam, Mike Holmes, Jeff Hansen, Ricky Carmoa and other original performers. Over the past five years, Chicago Underground Comedy has evolved to suit its community by constantly renewing the type of standup it offers to match what audiences want

“The 5th anniversary was absolutely amazing,” said Sam, a producer and co-creator of Chicago Underground Comedy. “The acts were hilarious, the crowd was tremendous. I honestly don’t think I could have asked for a better turnout on our anniversary here.”

Sam estimated that the show, which continues every Tuesday night starting at 9:30 p.m. with a $5 cover fee, had more than 150 audience members that night.

Founded on May 31, 2005, Chicago Underground Comedy became a place where the area’s comedic talent could perform and show the crowd their skills. Sam said the comedians are not the average “So how about that airplane food?” type, Chicago Underground Comedy looks for acts that have a strong creative, witty and even political voice and personality, according to Sam.

“The comedians that have performed at Chicago Underground Comedy have gone on to do amazing things,” Sam said. “Some are on Comedy Central, ‘Chelsea Lately’ and other popular shows.”

Times were sometimes rough because of drastic changes with Chicago Underground Comedy, said Elizabeth McQuern, a producer and the marketing and promotion director. When first organized, the comedy group would perform at a local pizza parlor until the business was bought out. After searching, the club moved to its current location, the Beat Kitchen.

“Sometimes when a performing group moves venues, it is the death of them,” Sam said. “We were a bit worried that we wouldn’t get the audience members back, but it ended up quite the opposite.”

Creating a new comedy group in a city that already has an established comedy scene is never easy, McQuern said. Chicago Underground Comedy had to find fresh, new talent and always keep each week innovative or else they would lose their audience members.

“It was slow in the beginning because we were not established. We were the newbies,” Sam said. “But after we got some great comedian acts going, everything started to pick up. It was just what the city and that area needed. A cheap comedy group anyone can come and enjoy.”

Chicago Underground Comedy has developed a following with numerous audience members who have become regulars every Tuesday.

The future of Chicago Underground Comedy is still uncertain. Yet the producers hope that the troupe will continue to grow and one day become one of the leading comedy groups in Chicago, Sam said.  Both McQuern and Sam said most of the comedians who have performed at the comedy club have gone on to bigger and better events.

“The individual performers, as well as the show in general, have just gotten stronger and stronger,” McQuern said. “As an example, our original castmember, Kumail Nanjiani, has just moved to LA after doing comedy in New York for about three years, because he was cast in a pilot for CBS. He also has a development deal with NBC and racked up a lot of tv credits while in New York— Colbert Report, etc. He was also on Jimmy Fallon.”

According to Sam, even with their low ticket price, the turnouts were sometimes smaller during the summer months, which caused some concern among the producers. However, their love and passion for the group made them work even harder to make sure Chicago Underground Comedy stayed afloat.

“This is our life and we are all so passionate about it,” Sam said. “I think anyone here would do anything to make sure nothing bad ever happens to it.”