After 17 years and 6,000-plus performances of more than 25 different productions, Chicago City Limits has launched into cyberspace with its newest show, @ChicagoCityLimits.comedy at the Chicago City Limits Theater at 1105 First Avenue (at 61st Street). CCL, from its 1970s roots in Chicago out of the workshops of the Second City improv group to its years in New York Off Broadway, of course is famed for its improvisational comedy, performed "fresh with each performance." They perform real, interactive comedy, thanks to suggestions and topics thrown to the actors onstage by the audience. Paul Zuckerman, founder and artistic director of the five-man troupe, said that current topics ranges from politics -- "a staple with us" -- and Peruvian hostages, long distance phone wars, tobacco companies to everyday life in New York and pornography on the world-wide web.

"A lot of the show is created on the spot," explained Zuckerman, "with no preconceived concepts. The show constantly changes and evolves." At Second City in Chicago, groups were constantly breaking away from the formal troupe. "A few of the actors would go out on their own and perform," said Zuckerman. "They'd do a few shows, then disagree and fight, and break up. Two people who had the same vision would hang on together. We were one of those entities. We became Chicago City Limits on Labor Day, 1977. Then we toured and that took us to Las Vegas. "We got a nice break there. We went to see Joan Rivers. We were kids and we had the nerve to send her a note backstage. We were amazed when the next morning the phone rang. It was Joan saying she'd love to meet us and see us perform. We called the Improvisation and told them Joan wanted to see us and asked if we could do a set. She loved us and made a connection with the Improvisation in Los Angeles. I doubt if she even remembers, but we owe her a great deal of gratitude."

CCL has been in various New York locations since 1982 and now have several different wings. "We entertain," said Zuckerman, "and we're a business. Our primary energy goes into performing, seven shows as a company a week. But we're also a touring company, playing colleges and regional theaters. We also do sketch comedy for a lot of corporate events, such as company retreats to motivate employees. "And we also teach improve in workshops at our 190-seat theatre and upstairs studio." The fee for ten and twelve week sessions of two and three hours is $250. There are four levels, ranging from beginners to classes for comedians -- even writers and lawyers -- basically anyone who wants to think on their feet. There are also occasional children's classes. Often teenagers will join the regular workshops.

Because of CCL's interactive nature, Zuckerman and troupe began looking into the internet. "None of us are computer guys, but we started thinking of ways to get to the cyber world out there to come see our show or to have them participate somehow. It's a bold new era and arena for us. We have lofty plans to explore where we've never explored."

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Key Subjects: 
Chicago City Limits; improvisation
Writer: 
Ellis Nassour
Writer Bio: 
Ellis Nassour contributes entertainment features here and abroad. He is the author of "Rock Opera: the Creation of Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline," and an associate editor and a contributing writer (film, music, theater) to Oxford University Press' American National Biography (1999).
Date: 
1997