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Comedy Fest a stand-up affair at Navy Pier

Tim Meadows Uncle’s Brother headline Four Star Comedy Fest Navy Pier.

Tim Meadows and Uncle’s Brother headline the Four Star Comedy Fest at Navy Pier.

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Four Star Comedy Fest at Navy Pier


♦ 6 p.m. Oct. 6

♦ Grand Ballroom at Navy Pier

♦ Tickets: $39-$99

♦ (800) 745-3000;

Chicago improvisational comedy will once again be in the spotlight this weekend with the inaugural Four Star Comedy Fest at Navy Pier.

“Saturday Night Live” alumni Tim Meadows will appear with his three-member improvisational comedy troupe Uncle’s Brother alongside some of the best and brightest Chicago-based comedians.

“I’ve been doing more stand-up comedy as of late and I’m really jonesing to do some improv,” says Meadows, who has the distinction of being one of the longest running cast members of “SNL.”

Uncle’s Brother performer Joe Canale, who now calls Los Angeles home, says he also can’t wait to be back in his Chicago stomping grounds.

“I’ve been doing more stand up in L.A. because you don’t get the crowds or the reactions when you do improv comedy in L.A.,” he says. “People seem more interested in seeing what other people think is funny, so everyone just sits there look at each other so they will then know what is funny. You never have that problem in Chicago.”

A few years ago when Meadows was in the process of moving back to Chicago, he happened to drop in for a few improvisational sets with Brad Morris and Canale.

“We always had funny scenes,” Meadows adds. “I hadn’t been doing a lot of improv and something just clicked between the three of us.”

The trio formed Uncle’s Brother, and started appearing on the occasional Monday night at iO (when Canale and Morris were off from Second City) and the group just took off.

“If you have any three similarly trained improvisers, within a couple of shows you are going to be able to perform pretty well together,” Canale says. “We are all Chicago trained, that’s what makes it easy. Chicago improvisational comedy is a lot like jazz. If have good players, you can make great.”

Canale says he and Morris are quick to give credit for the group’s success to Meadows, though.

“Brad and I aren’t dumb. Most of our bookings come through Tim,” he says. “It’s not like Brad and I are a known commodity outside of Chicago. People aren’t booking us and then saying ‘Oh, you might as well bring that guy from ‘SNL’ along, too.’”

A typical Uncle’s Brother set will feature Meadows warming up the audience with some stand-up. The trio may take suggestions from the audience or merely build sketches around things to come out of Meadows’ interaction with the audience.

“The only thing we plan is the pace,” Canale says. “We purposely keep the pace fast, because when you go fast, you as a performer don’t pre-judge. Things are just organically funny as a result.”

In addition to the paid event, several free activities will also be offered. From 1-4 p.m. member of Annoyance Theatre, ComedySportz and iO will offer free workshops for all ages (registration required). At 5 p.m., Chicago improvisation icon Charna Halpern will sit down with Improv Nerd podcast host Jimmy Carrane to discuss her career and the Chicago school of comedy for a taping of the popular improv-themed show. Tickets for the taping are also free.

Canale says shows and classes are essential to anyone trying to hone their comedic skills or simply understand the craft.

“People in the improv community like to throw out the number 10,000 as the number of hours you need to watch or perform before you really understand what you’re doing,” he says. “Anyone who has ever gotten good will tell you it’s true. You simply can’t become a master without putting in that time and that is what makes Chicago so great: people are willing to put in the hours to perfect their craft.”

As for Meadows, though his time at “SNL” is passed him, he says he still keeps up with the show.

“I’ll DVR and watch a couple of episodes in a row. I’m sort of friends with Jason Sudeikis and he’s usually pretty good about telling me when I really need to see something.”

As for the current crop of Chicago performers appearing on “SNL,” Meadows says he couldn’t feel any prouder that the city continues to develop and produce so many funny people.

“In the season opener, Tim Robinson did this commercial for Amish that was very funny,” Meadows says. “I caught him when he was doing the Second City show ‘Spoiler Alert: Everyone Dies’ and knew there was something there.”

Other scheduled performers at the Comedy Fest include: The Improvised Shakespeare Company, Cook County Social Club and Baby Wants Candy. Visit for more information.

Misha Davenport is a local free-lance writer.

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