Taking Improv Classes in Chicago

So, you want to be on Saturday Night Live, right? Or maybe you want to learn some improv to round out your acting skills? Well, Chicago happens to be home to the finest improv schools in the world.

There are three main training centers, each offering a differing improv philosophy:

Second City

The list of famous alumni is ridiculously long, and probably one of the major reasons you’re looking into learning this particular performance art in the first place. The short list (very short list) includes: Chris Farley, Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey, Halle Berry, Steve Carell, Rachel Dratch, Stephnie Weir and Mike Myers. Second City teaches the use of improv primarily to create and refine scenes that will later be turned into sketches. Classes focus on scene “games” of varying degrees of difficulty.

Second City offers the widest variety of classes:

The Beginning Program.
A five level course, with each level consisting of eight classes. This course is recommended for those with little or no experience.

Improv for Actors.
Two levels, designed for those with previous acting experience.

The Conservatory Program.
What everyone strives for, one must audition to be considered for the conservatory. The conservatory is much more intense and focused, and can only be auditioned for after the completion of the beginning program or a similar amount of previous experience.

Second City also offers classes for youth and teens, writing, directing and music.


Formerly known as ImprovOlympic, but due to a legal battle with (believe it or not) the actual Olympic committee is now just known as iO. Home of the “Harold”, a particular performance style, iO classes focus on teaching group dynamics and long-form improv. Most important to the scene, iO acts as sort of a social gathering area for other improvisers. If you want to get yourself involved with others in the improv community, iO is the place to go.

iO offers a five level class structure, with a sixth level known as the Performance class. The Performance class allows students to use their learned skills to develop an original long-form show that then runs from 6-8 weeks in the Del Close Theater. As iO teaches it’s own unique form of improv, the classes are designed for those with all levels of experience.

iO also offers an ever changing group of elective classes that teach a wide variety of different comedy skills.


The redheaded step-child of improv, Annoyance teaches that the rules of improv are best left ignored. Classes focus on scenic improvisation, ignoring games and performance styles such as the “Harold”. Annoyance is known for it’s smaller class sizes and specific, individual feedback. The program holds the firm belief that the best way to provide support to partners and groups is to fully develop your own skills first.

Similar in class structure to the other schools, Annoyance offers a five level training program, the fifth level being taught by Mick Napier, the founder of annoyance and famous director of many Second City main stage shows.

So, tons to do and a good variety to choose from. Start with whichever sounds the most appealing to you. Most people in the community will eventually attend all three.

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