When we think of improvisational comedy, most of people will think first of The Second City, which is fine if you're a tourist and we're just visiting looking for a quick hit of some accessible humor.
But to those who live and breathe improv, to those who are studying comedy, writing, and performing, and promoting the concepts of the originators of the modern idea of improvisation as an art form, Chicago is just the epicenter -- it's collar communities are home to some of the strongest and most creative minds contributing to the art.
Okay, that may sound a little too serious. We're talking laughs here, first and foremost. One of the best places to see solid, funny, and light-hearted improvisation is The Comedy Shrine, run by Dave Sinker, himself a veteran of The Second City, and now in his fourth year of running a comedy club whose mainstay is an improv revue. We're talking all spot-improv, meaning no set sketches, no regular material, just a show based on the classic improvisational creative play and suggestions form the audience, The Comedy Shrine's main show, Thursday through Saturdays at his theater in downtown Naperville, every week.
The show lives and dies on the energy, focus, and improv abilities of the cast. A recent visit to the theatre, which is a remarkable creation in a suprising location, the corner of a highend strip mall on Chicago Avenue in the plain vanilla capital of DuPage County.
The cast rotates a few members in and out based on availability and the instincts of owner, manager, janitor and artistic director Dave Sinker. Dave cut his teeth on comedy as produced at The Second City, but brings his own sensibilities to the forefront in Naperville. An actor with the national touring company, the Associate Artistic Director for the Chicago Playwrights Center, and director of the Second City Children's Theater, Dave takes his comedy seriously.
A word about Dave: Dave apparently has some obsessive-compulsive desire to collect ANYthing related to comedy, and hang it on a wall. Preferably covered in some varnish ala decoupage. Dave collects comedy albums, statues, photographs, autographs, toys, lunchboxes, action figures, posters, and whatever else related to comedy, and finds a spot for it in his theatre. Don Knotts is cheek-to-jowl, literally, with Charlie Chaplin. Gilda Radner resides on the wall near The Marx Brothers. To visit the Comedy Shrine is to experience at sensory explosion in the lobby area that may temporarily make you forget you are here to see a show, and just want to browse the glass cabinets. Dave needs help. Perhaps getting this stuff out of the house and into his lobby is saving his home life, who knows?
Dave has an interesting, quirky set of improv actors who consistently deliver the real deal when it comes to on-the-spot improv, among the notables viewed recently:
Scott Levy, a Cincinnati native and working professional actor, who like many of the others has performed at various other venues in and around the city.
Randy G. Craig, who attended not only the Second City Training Center, but Jo Forsberg's Players Workshop, acknowledged as the first improvisational school in the country.
Melvin Kim, another graduate of the Second City Conservatory, also hones much of his comedic improv sensibilities at the famed Second City ETC, the subversive offshoot of the mainstage company.
The Comedy Shrine aims to be a full-service entertainment venue, check out it's offerings during other days of the week, including a family/children's show, and several educational opportunites -- you can learn this art form of improvisation, you can also learn comedy-writing from experts and successfull professional in the business as well.
There's no discount if you bring a Three Stooges lunchbox, but Dave will probably get you a good seat.