Laugh Your Ass Off with Sketch Comedy Winner ‘LIGHTS’ at The Annoyance Theatre and Bar in Chicago

One aspect of being a theater critic is getting to see big-budget Broadway shows when they come to town. These shows feature household names showing off the work of award-winning directors and choreographers in front of million-dollar set pieces.  

I love these types of shows. I love seeing the stars. I love seeing production numbers that make the audience gasp. I love basking in the total overload of the senses.

However, sometimes the opposite end of the theatrical spectrum is just as entertaining and even more rewarding. Sometimes it’s the little shows in out-of-the-way places that are the ones that make me want to shout my support the loudest.

When it comes to eating out, I appreciate the splendor of a fine dining establishment. But my favorite places usually turn out to be the hole-in-the-wall restaurants that eek by on a shoestring budget but churn out the most amazing food you’ve ever tried. The same can be true in the world of entertainment.


The Annoyance Theatre and Bar in Lakeview district of Chicago is an oasis of comedic irreverence nestled in an inviting atmosphere where people go knowing they are guaranteed a good time.

The theater began life in 1987 when a group of friends sitting around an Italian restaurant dinner table theorized putting on a show that parodied horror slasher films. That production ended up being a piece known as Splatter Theater. And audiences loved it and wanted more.

Over the years, The Annoyance Theatre has become the Chicago institution for hilarity. Much of the humor stems from the embrace of the absurd – as is often the case with parody, improv, and sketch comedy.

Flagship productions that helped put The Annoyance on the map include The Real Live Brady Bunch, Manson: The Musical, and Co-Ed Prison Sluts. The latter thrilled audiences for 11 years making it Chicago’s longest-running musical.

Over the years, The Annoyance has produced over 250 shows including improvisation, sketch comedy, full-length plays, cabaret, and full-length musicals. Alumni include Jane Lynch, Amy Sedaris, Aidy Bryant, and Jason Sudeikis.

Currently, The Annoyance can be found at 851 W. Belmont Avenue in Chicago. It features a mainstage venue, as well as a more intimate small theater. It also has a bar with super friendly staff and a kitchen that is known for its French fries.

The Annoyance offers a rotating array of shows in its two 2nd floor theater spaces. You will find something to entertain you seven days a week.  The company is known for being the first improvisational theater to devote itself to creating full-length plays and musicals from improv.


On a recent trip to The Annoyance, I got the chance to enjoy the delightful sketch comedy show LIGHTS. It had me in stitches. I’ll probably still be laughing this time next week.

Written by, directed by, and starring Annoyance House Ensemble members Anna Weatherwax and Traer Schon, LIGHTS is a satire of improv comedy in general, and the sense of self-importance some improv artists get trapped in. And, damn it is funny!

To a packed house of enthusiastic theatergoers and bar patrons, Weatherwax and Schon entertain with comic stylings that lampoon improv performers. Their characters, Claire and Ryan, are graduates of Level 2 training in improv classes taught by an actress so noted, she once appeared as an extra on Blue Bloods. If that doesn’t scream working professional actor, what does?

Although you don’t have to have taken an improv class to understand the hilarity of Ryan and Claire’s experience, those who have will be in a special place in Comedy Heaven. You see, the two players have all the wisdom and talent that two weeks of classes in an after-school improv training program can provide.

To our fictional improv heroes Claire and Ryan, it doesn’t even matter that they were the only two adults in the class. The clerical error that put two adults in a children’s after-school program never registers to the duo as out of the ordinary. But to the audience, it is comedy gold. 

Claire and Ryan inhabit many of the hilarious character traits people in the entertainment industry can sometimes be guilty of. We’ve all seen the types.

Claire, for instance, thinks William Shakespeare is fully incompetent when it comes to writing comedy. She has no problem dissing Shakespeare’s understanding of comedy while painting her and her partner Ryan as true artists with an unmatched understanding of the rules of entertaining audiences.

Ryan may not have an issue with the Bard, but he is every bit as pretentious and clueless as Claire. Schon has a lot of fun playing up Ryan’s lack of awareness of how blatant his sexual orientation is. Even funnier is his dedication to the age-old actor stereotype that he had a rougher childhood than anyone else could ever imagine. In Ryan’s case, it was growing up with the burdens of coming from money and living in luxury hotels.

The title of the show, LIGHTS, comes from the production’s heavy reliance on blackouts to separate a rapid-fire run of short comedy routines. These little gems are often brilliant.

It should also be noted that LIGHTS wouldn’t be nearly as funny and impactful if it didn’t have someone at the helm running the actual sound and lights with absolute precision. Stage manager Lauren Peltier is an exquisite talent.


As funny as the sketches and witty dialogue are, the highlight of the hour-long show is an extended interpretive dance sequence. The choreography and execution are absolutely divine – we’re talking comedy gold. Every move is deliberate and rehearsed, delivered with absolute precision. The dance routine in LIGHTS may well be the funniest thing The Annoyance has produced since Co-Ed Prison Sluts.

In addition to offering a slew of entertainment options each week, The Annoyance also has a full Training Center based on artistic director Mick Napier’s book Improvise. Scene from the Inside Out.

The Annoyance offers classes in improv, musical improv, and even movement and clowning. There are also workshops and intensives. It’s a great place to start learning and to develop new skills in a fun and friendly atmosphere.

The Annoyance is conveniently located near the Belmont CTA Stop. Paid street parking is available as well.

LIGHTS runs every Thursday in July at 8 PM at The Annoyance (851 W. Belmont). Tickets are only $12 and the full-service bar is a fun place to hang out before and after the show. The talented stars are very approachable and the entire Annoyance staff is top-notch in customer service.

For ticket information visit:  You can reach the theater by phone at (773) 697-9693.

Peace. Love. Trust.

Rikki Lee Travolta

For more reviews visit: Theatre in Chicago – your source for What’s on Stage in the Chicago Area


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