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South Side's 1st Sketch Comedy Club in 50 Years Opens Where Improv Was Born

By Sam Cholke | January 5, 2016 5:30am

John Stoops is bringing sketch comedy back to the South Side with the grand opening of the Revival this week. [DNAinfo/Sam Cholke]

HYDE PARK — When a new comedy club opens on Wednesday, Hyde Park’s reputation for seriousness might lose a little weight.

The Revival comedy club has been quietly testing out what South Side sketch comedy would look like at 1160 E. 55th St. since Nov. 20 and is now ready to open its doors.

Improv comedy was invented on this corner in 1955 by a group called the Compass Players,” said John Stoops, owner of the new club. “I’m interested in doing something that taps the history and this newfound energy in Hyde Park and doing something that is of interest to the broader South Side.”

It’s been a long time since sketch comedy has had a permanent home on the South Side. Probably since the Compass Players, the paterfamilias of improv in Chicago, left in 1959 to start the Second City Theater. So it’s not really clear what South Side sketch comedy would look or sound like when it's South Siders talking to other South Siders on the South Side.

“You’re hearing people talk about issues in this place in this time,” Stoops said of the trial nights at the club with standup showcases and improv shows. “We’re now getting native South Siders who live on the North Side that are coming back to perform.”

Stoops is himself a former North Sider who’s come to the South Side. He moved with his wife and daughter to Hyde Park more than a year ago.

The University of Chicago student-run troupe, Off Off Campus, has already moved its Thursday night performances to the club.

But Stoops said he’s pushing for the club to be more than University of Chicago people or Hyde Parkers, both known for a sort of self-effacing and heady theatricality that goes on display for the annual Latke Hamantash Debate and the Revels.

“We really want Hyde Park and the broader South Side to merge their communities,” Stoops said.

So rule No. 1, according to Stoops, is the theater will not have themed showcases that tend to sequester all the black comedians to just one performance, for example.

“We want all things, all the time, to reflect our diversity,” Stoops said.

He said he hasn’t gotten much of a chance yet to see what South Side sketch will look like.

The first-time club owner said he’s so often making sure there’s enough ice or the kegs are full that he doesn’t get much of a chance to enjoy what he’s building with any amount of the attention of the 225 people in the audience.

He said he was lucky to get a moment to appreciate what was happening on stage at the first show with Brian McCann, a former writer on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.”

“I thought, ‘This is pretty cool,’ but that lasted about 90 seconds,” Stoops said, until he realized the bar was low on ice.

Improv classes start at the club in January, and a full schedule ramps up Wednesday with a 7:30 p.m. standup showcase presented by the Lincoln Lodge for $10.

The full schedule is available online at the-revival.com.

The Revival has brought in the Off Off Campus improv group and is starting its own ensembles and showcases for the 225-seat theater. [Courtesy of The Revival]

The Revival opens this week on the same corner where improv comedy started in Chicago with the Compass Players. [DNAinfo/Sam Cholke]

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