World Comedy Expo piling on the laughs for inaugural event in Chicago

The expo, running March 25-27, will bring together more than 170 stand-up comics and sketch/improv groups from Chicago, across the country and across the globe for 27 comedy showcases.

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The 1ZS improv quartet, which is among the lineup for the World Comedy Expo, features Stephanie Courtney (Groundlings alum/ and “Flo” from the Progressive TV commercials); Second City, iO alum Susan Messing; Jaime Moyer (“Modern Family,” “Parks and Recreation” and Second City alum); and Second City alum Celeste Pechous.

The 1ZS improv quartet, part of the lineup for the World Comedy Expo, features (clockwise from top left) Stephanie Courtney (Groundlings alum and “Flo” from Progressive TV commercials); Jaime Moyer (“Modern Family,” “Parks and Recreation,” Second City); Susan Messing (Second City, iO), and Celeste Pechous (Second City, “Work in Progress”).

Courtesy World Comedy Expo

It’s been said laughter is the best medicine, and organizers of the World Comedy Expo are hoping the four-day event, slated for Chicago this spring, will help all of us find something to laugh about amid all the stress, hardship and sadness of a pandemic world.

The expo, running March 25-27, will bring together more than 170 stand-up comics and sketch/improv troupes from Chicago, across the country and across the globe for 27 comedy showcases. The shows will take place at Laugh Factory, The Annoyance Theatre, Den Theatre and two Second City venues: Up Comedy Club and Donny’s Skybox.

“I came to Chicago from Japan as a young stand-up because the city is known as the comedy capital of the world,” said festival co-founder and artistic director Saku Yanagawa, via statement, about the festival’s Chicago locale.

“Saku and I met several years ago in our Chicago comedy world and he was very excited about doing an international comedy festival that would launch in Chicago,” festival co-founder and organizer Kerry Sheehan said in an interview. “He is a huge fan of Chicago and the Chicago comedy scene. He’s performed at comedy festivals all over the world and he thought it was time for Chicago to host its own international fest.”

“I’ve always been intrigued by what makes people laugh and how that differs from city to city and country to country,” says Kerry Sheehan, the co-founder of the World Comedy Expo.

“I’ve always been intrigued by what makes people laugh and how that differs from city to city and country to country,” says Kerry Sheehan, the co-founder of the World Comedy Expo.

Courtesy World Comedy Expo

Sheehan’s programming expertise includes 11 years spent as the president of the Second City Training Center. She said reaction from the industry after the call went out for expo participants was extraordinary; more than 300 applications were received.

“Having been a part of the city’s comedy community for many, many years I knew Chicago had and continues to have a fair amount of comedy festivals,” Sheehan said. “You think about the Chicago Improv Festival, Sketch Fest, Just for Laughs, the Women’s Funny Festival. They had their specific niche. And sadly some are no longer happening. With our expo, we really feel we’re filling a void, creating a festival that’s never been done here [on this scale].”

The expo will include more than 90 stand-up comics and 25 ensembles — artists from 18 countries and five continents.

Individual tickets are $20, per showcase. Each stand-up showcase will feature eight to 10 comics doing 10-minute sets, while sketch and improv showcases are double-billed for an hourlong show. Showtimes are staggered, with performances at 7, 9 and 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 7 and 9 p.m. Sunday.

Various workshops/panels run throughout the day for industry insiders (the public is also invited but must pre-register as space/tickets are limited). One such panel featuring Kelly Leonard, Anne Libera, Raymond Lambert, Rick Kogan, Jennifer Estlin and Mick Napier will explore the history of Chicago comedy. “Improv for Stand Up” will feature Rachael Mason and Susan Messing.

While there are no “headliners” at the festival, Sheehan said that was a deliberate choice for the inaugural edition of the festival, which they hope to bring to Chicago for many years to come with an even bigger emphasis on “international.”

Comedian Saku Yanagawa is the co-founder of the World Comedy Expo coming to Chicago in March. He also is among the lineup of comedians scheduled to perform.

Comedian Saku Yanagawa is the co-founder of the World Comedy Expo coming to Chicago in March. He also is among the lineup of comedians scheduled to perform.

Courtesy World Comedy Expo

“The nature of sketch comedy and improv is that it’s not about a single person,” Sheehan said. “It’s about the troupe; it’s a team effort. And [while they may not all be household names] all of the stand-up comedians in the festival are working comedians, people who spend a lot of time at clubs and festivals all over the world. ... I’ve always been intrigued by what makes people laugh and how that differs from city to city and country to country. And while the shows at this year’s festival are all in English, ultimately we want to grow the fest to where comics will perform in their native tongue.”

Tickets and the complete lineup/schedule are available at www.worldcomedyexpo.com

All festival attendees, including artists and staff, will be required to show proof of full vaccination or negative PCR test result within 72 hours of show date, and masks are required at all times (except if actively drinking or eating).

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