Zanies, the oldest stand-up comedy club in Chicago, is celebrating 35 years of laughter with a simple concept -- more laughs.
"We're making our anniversary a monthlong celebration -- that's what we do at Zanies. We have fun," said Bert Haas, executive vice president of Zanies Comedy Clubs Inc.
Throughout November, comic headliners will take to the stage for special anniversary performances at Zanies locations in Chicago, Rosemont and St. Charles.
Comedian Richard Lewis, who has been playing Zanies for 30 years, is one of them.
"No club was more important to me than Zanies," Lewis said, recalling his early years. "I don't care if you are a superstar, or just starting out, you have to be on your toes at Zanies."
A long list of comics have learned that either at the original 100-seat Chicago club, 1548 N. Wells St., or at Zanies' suburban locations.
The Chicago Zanies opened in November of 1978. A St. Charles location followed in 1989 at Pheasant Run Resort. A Vernon Hills venue was around for 20 years before closing in 2011, but Zanies took up residence a year later in Rosemont's bustling MB Financial Park.
Along with Lewis, many of today's comic superstars, including Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno and Tim Allen, worked Zanies in their early standup careers.
"Zanies helped me to become who I am, and I am eternally grateful," said Lewis, 66.
Lewis said he likes the close-knit feel of Zanies, where a performer and the audience are practically onstage together.
"It's almost like playing The Cavern (Club), where the Beatles started. Everyone is on top of you," Lewis said with a laugh. "Sometimes, people put their feet up on the stage. I can see the guy's (tooth) fillings in the back row!"
Haas said the intimate Zanies atmosphere offers a better place for laughter to flourish.
"When you have the big comedy rooms, the laughs roll back in waves," he said. "But the beauty of Zanies is that the room just explodes with laughter."
Haas tried to incorporate a bit of the club's history as he booked performers for the monthlong anniversary celebration.
He brought in big-name comedy veterans, new faces and Chicago-based comics, and is offering special promotions and price breaks to give back to the community.
A number of Zanies shows in November will offer free admission for those older than 35, for those younger than 35, for men, for women and for those who can provide proof they have attended a previous Zanies show. All shows are for ages 21 and older.
The "Funniest Females in Chicago" show on Monday, Nov. 18, at the Chicago club features local comedians Sally Edwards, Emily Galati, Denise Ramsden and Patti Vasquez. Admission is free for men.
"You will never again see these four women on the same stage," Haas said. "They all work in their own market. I don't think I could have gotten them onstage together except for being part of this 35th anniversary."
Actor/comedian Gilbert Gottfried is also back for the anniversary.
In a recent interview, Gottfried, 58, recalled his early years performing at Zanies at Pheasant Run Resort.
"I was there back when it had pheasants," Gottfried joked. "There were pheasants everywhere -- it was 'Jurassic Park!'"
He added, "When I first started at Zanies, they brought us to the club in a horse and carriage."
Gottfried, who will perform on Thursday, Nov. 21, in Chicago and on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 22-23, in Rosemont, has a warning for his Zanies audiences.
"I don't care what you think of my show -- you won't get your money back!"
All shows require a two-item food/beverage minimum per person. Guests must be age 21 or older.
Here is a sampling of some of the shows. For a full schedule, visit zanies.com.
Jimmy Pardo: 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 1, at Zanies in Chicago, $25; 7 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 2, at Zanies in Rosemont, $25
"Chicago Classics" show with Tim Walkoe, Dobie Maxwell and Larry Reeb: 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 5, at Zanies in Chicago. Free admission for women.
Richard Lewis: 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 14, at Zanies in Chicago, $35; 8 and 10:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15, in Rosemont, $35
Jake Johannsen: 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15, at Zanies in Chicago, $25; 7 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16, at Zanies in Rosemont, $25
Emo Philips: 7 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16, and 6 and 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 17, at Zanies in Chicago, $25
"Funniest Females in Chicago Show" with comics Emily Galati, Sally Edwards, Denise Ramsden and Patti Vasquez: 8:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 18, at Zanies in Chicago. $20, free admission for men.
Dobie Maxwell: 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, Nov. 20-21; 8 and 9:45 p.m. Friday, Nov. 22; and 7:30 and 9:45 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 23, at Zanies in St. Charles, $23
Gilbert Gottfried: 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 21, at Zanies in Chicago, $25; 8 and 10:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 22, and 7 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 23, at Zanies in Rosemont, $25
John Caponera: 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 27; 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 29; and 7, 9 and 11:15 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30, at Zanies in Chicago, $25