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Chicago duo buys iO theater, plans to resume improv shows and classes

Real estate execs Scott Gendell and Larry Weiner take over the North Side company that trained Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Stephen Colbert.

New owners of the iO Theatre, 1501 N. Kingsbury St., intend to reopen it as a space for comedy.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Don’t turn the lights out on the iO theater just yet.

The North Side comedy house’s longtime owner, Charna Halpern, said Monday that she has sold the building and the iO brand to a pair of local real estate executives.

The buyers, Scott Gendell and Larry Weiner, intend to reopen the space at 1501 N. Kingsbury St. and resume offering improv shows and classes there, she said.

“I’m so relieved, I can’t tell you,” Halpern said.

In its 40 years in business, iO (formerly ImprovOlympic) built a reputation for nurturing creativity and helped shape future stars including Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Stephen Colbert, Chris Farley and Mike Myers. For many years it was the educational outlet for the volatile visionary Del Close, the late actor and director highly regarded for his eye for talent.

Gendell and Weiner were not available for comment, but in a statement issued through Halpern, the longtime friends said they planned to “continue the cultural gem that is this iconic theater.”

Halpern would not reveal the sale price for the business, which was listed last fall at $12.9 million.

She had closed iO in June 2020, citing the absence of revenue and the ongoing expenses of property taxes, utilities and two mortgages during the pandemic-related shutdowns of all live theater in the city.

The new owners hope to reassemble iO’s former management team, she said, and she’d be open to participating in some capacity. But, she said, “I don’t want to be a boss or anything like that.”

No date is set for a reopening, and it’s not likely to be imminent, as the buyers now must reinstate city licenses for its restaurant and bar operations and tackle a costly roof repair.

Meanwhile, Chicago’s other high-profile outlet for improv comedy, Second City, also is regaining its footing after a sale. ZMC, a New York firm run by private equity investor Strauss Zelnick, acquired the theater in February, and live performances resumed in May.