1. Bob, David and Friends
It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of the late-'90s sketch comedy Mr. Show with Bob and David, so this rare opportunity to see creators/stars Bob Odenkirk and David Cross reunite for a live show practically makes my head explode. No word yet on who the "friends" are, but so what? Cross and Odenkirk are reason enough to see this show. Even if you're not able to check out any other performance at the Just for Laughs Chicago Festival, you need to make it a point to see this one.
"Bob, David and Friends" performs June 19 & 20 at 8:30 p.m. at the Lakeshore Theater.
2. The Nasty Show
Of all the "packaged" comedy shows running at the Just for Laughs Chicago Festival, this one has the strongest lineup by far. Jim Jefferies, Patrice O'Neal and Nick Di Paolo are all funny guys capable of putting on their own shows (and Jefferies and O'Neal will during the festival), so seeing them packaged together gives you a lot for your money. The real draw here, though, is comedian Louis C.K., who is one of the three best stand-up comics currently working; I like the other three guys, but it's C.K. that will get me to this show. It won't be for everyone, but for me promises to be one of the absolute funniest of the entire festival. Trust me on this.
"The Nasty Show" performs June 18 & 19 at 9:30 p.m. at the Vic Theater.
3. The Unaired Bozo Circus Parody: The Original TV Funhouse Pilot
This late addition to the festival lineup, starring comedy hero Robert Smigel and former Mr. Show writer Dino Stamatopoulos (both of whom got their comedy start in Chicago), will feature a presentation of the rare, scrapped pilot for TV Funhouse and other clips from the two comedians' prolific and very impressive careers. Unlike most of the stand-up shows performing with the fest, this is one experience that will be hard to get anywhere else. Plus, anything Robert Smigel is attached to is worth checking out.
"The Unaired Bozo Circus Parody" performs June 17 & 18 at 8:30 p.m. at the Lakeshore Theater.
4. Comedy Blowout Hits Chi-Town
This show, being billed as a showcase for "urban comedy," features host Mike Epps and comedians Kevin Hart, Damon Wayans Jr., Marina Franklin and the great Earthquake. Not only is it one of only two "urban comedy" shows to play at the festival (the other is David Alan Grier's "Comedy You Can Believe In"), but features a pretty solid lineup of comics. Like all of the festival's "package" shows, there's one heavy-hitter that makes the whole evening worthwhile; in this case, it's Earthquake, a very, very funny comic and possible successor to the great Bernie Mac. Epps and Hart are good, but Earthquake is the reason to check out this show.
"Comedy Blowout Hits Chi-Town" performs June 18 at 8 p.m. at the Chicago Theater.
5. Martin Short Presents Let Freedom Hum
Another of the "packaged" festival shows, I'm recommending this Martin Short-hosted lineup primarily because it includes the hysterically funny Greg Giraldo. I'm not totally familiar with all of the comics on the bill (like Tom Papa and Jeremy Hotz), but Kathleen Madigan and, of course, Martin Short can be counted on for several laughs. Plus, there's Giraldo, who's still probably the funniest comic I've ever seen live. TBS will be taping "Let Freedom Hum" for broadcast on June 26; if you can't make this show in person, be sure to at least watch it on TV -- even though many of the funny parts (read: swear words!) will be edited out.
"Let Freedom Hum" performs June 18 at 7 p.m. at the Vic Theater.
6. Lisa Lampanelli
Self-proclaimed "Queen of Mean" Lisa Lampanelli hits the Just for Laughs Festival for a pair of shows at the Chicago Theater. One of the country's best insult comedians, Lampanelli's shows are about half-scripted, half improvised ripping apart of the audience -- making this one of the most interactive stand-up experiences of the festival. Her last special, Long Live the Queen, didn't exactly flip my lid, but I suspect seeing her live is a totally different experience. I just wouldn't recommend sitting in the first few rows.
Lisa Lampanelli performs June 20 at 7 & 9:30 p.m. at the Chicago Theater.
7. The Very Funny Show
Former SNL cast member Tim Meadows hosts this stand-up showcase, which is being filmed for a new stand-up show to debut on TBS this fall. There are five different shows, each with a different roster of comics, some of which are stronger than others. My favorites are the late shows on Friday (featuring Steve Byrne, Joe Matarese and the great John Mulaney, who should have his own show) and Saturday (featuring T.J. Miller and Whitney Cummings, who is going to be big very soon). I suspect several of the comedians performing are going to break out big in the near future, so this might be a good chance to catch them on the rise. Plus, maybe you'll end up on TV.
"The Very Funny Show" has five shows June 19 & 20 at Zanies Comedy Club.
This was originally slated as a joint performance by former members of The State Showalter and Michael Ian Black, but Black had to drop out due to scheduling. I haven't heard any of Michael Showalter's stand-up since his album Sandwiches and Cats a few years ago, but I'm a big enough fan of The State to see anything Showalter does. Plus, his album had its share of bright spots -- particularly some of the spontaneous stand-up bits. This is also one of the few shows performing the last day of the festival, making it a bit of a no-brainer -- that is, unless you've already got tickets to George Lopez's fourth show.
Michael Showalter performs June 21 at 7 p.m. at the Lakeshore Theater.
9. Bob Odenkirk's Best of Sketchfest
If you can't get in to see "Bob, David and Friends," this show is a great way to still catch a glimpse at the genius of Bob Odenkirk. He'll take the stage with SketchFest performers at the ImprovOlympic, reminiscent of when he got his start performing improv at Chicago's Second City. Improv comedy is often a mixed bag, but with someone like Odenkirk involved you know you're going to laugh. Plus, it's important to try and sample different forms of comedy during the Just for Laughs Festival, and some late-night improv should make for a nice change of pace from all the stand-up you'll be taking in.
"Bob Odenkirk's Best of Sketchfest" performs June 18 and 19 at 11:59 p.m. at ImprovOlympic.
10. Green Room with Paul Provenza
Not a comedy show, per se, but "Green Room" is one of those rare experiences that only a festival can really provide. Comedian and The Aristocrats co-director Paul Provenza hosts and moderates conversations with festival comics in a casual format and setting. No word on who the participating comics will be, but I'm not sure it matters; this isn't likely to be the funniest show of the fest, but for comedy fans it offers some insight into the art of stand-up. That alone makes this worth a recommendation. Hopefully, the late-night time slot contributes to the laid-back atmosphere, making this a nice way to cap off an evening at the festival.
"Green Room" will perform June 19 & 20 at 11:59 p.m. at the Annoyance Theater.