Dozens of guests roared with laughter last week as comedians were slapped, kicked and ridiculed at the Chicago premier of BATSU!, a live Japanese game show-style performance featuring outrageous acts of improv comedy.
BATSU!, meaning “punishment” in Japanese, is dinner theater like you’ve never seen it before. Four “warriors” from Face Off Unlimited, a New York-based comedy troupe, braved the stage at Old Town’s Kamehachi restaurant (1531 N. Wells) to play a variety of improv games at the risk of embarrassing, ridiculous or even painful punishments. On Thursday, these included being pelted with paintballs, shocked by an electric collar and egged by a man in a chicken costume, all while the audience enthusiastically chanted “BATSU! BATSU!” at the encouragement of Brian Walters, the evening’s energetic host.
Bolder members of the audience can also don a white BATSU! headband and participate in the show — if they sign a waiver form beforehand.
“This is what I want to do when I go out,” said audience member Gus White, 36, who signed the form but was not ultimately chosen to participate. “It’s fun, it’s interactive, it’s original. The crowd has a great energy.”
BATSU! premiered in New York’s East Village in 2010 and was included in the CBS “Best Things to Do in NYC” list as well as Thrillist’s “20 Fresh Date Ideas.” Face Off Unlimited’s artistic director Jay Painter, 39, seemed confident in the troupe’s ability to recruit and train local talent to perform the show in its second location.
“We are consciously throwing our hats into this arena,” Painter said after the show, noting Chicago’s infamously popular comedy scene. “We hope this city likes our version of comedy.”
Another punishment for the warriors who hesitated, fumbled, or lost the evening’s contests involved wearing a rubber band around their stomach and having it pulled and snapped against them, leaving a blazing red mark across their abdomen that they sheepishly showed the audience. Eric Robinson, a 36-year-old member of Face Off Unlimited who performed in the opening night Chicago show, said this was the worst punishment to endure.
“It’s hard to gather your wittiness when you’re reeling in pain,” Robinson said, laughing. “It is all difficult.”
Robinson’s brother, Matthew, lives in the Logan Square neighborhood and encouraged Eric and the rest of the troupe to bring BATSU! to Chicago after its success in the Big Apple.
“My wife and I were adamant that it could do well here,” said Matthew, who lost in a beer chugging contest in last Thursday’s show and was forced to don a pink tutu and perform ballet choreography as punishment.
Shots of sake for the winning team members punctuated the evening, while sushi rolls and custom cocktails whizzed by for audience members. A full bar is available throughout the show, and food menu items range from $3 to $35, with sushi averaging between $10 and $15.
By the cheers, laughs and empty plates, audience members enjoyed the evening.
“I’ll be back,” said White, who works at Chicago’s Headquarters Beercade. “I want to bring the guys I work with, too.”
BATSU! performances start at 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday evenings at Kamehachi (1531 N. Wells). Tickets are $25.50 and can be purchased at 347-985-0358 or batsuchicago.com. Food not included.
NOTE: In honor of International Joke Day July 1, BASTSU! is offering 25% off tickets. To take advantage of the offer, you need to “Like” the BATSU! Facebook page and post a joke on the page on July 1 using #BATSUJOKES. A code will then be sent, via private message, to get discount offer code.