How Chicago's comedy roots help shape its tech industry

by James Risley
April 10, 2017

Chicago’s history as a tech hub goes back pretty far, but its reputation as a center for comedy is arguably stronger. The city has some of the best comedy clubs in the world and has been the starting place for world-famous comedians, including Jim Belushi, Bill Murray and Tina Fey.

But that comedy backbone has also shaped the tech scene in the city, with some of Chicago’s biggest names drawing from the ranks of the Windy City’s comedy scene.

“I think it can only help the comedy community,” said Chicago comedian Alan Linic. He and his wife, Claire, are both members of Chicago’s bustling comedy scene, where they perform, teach and write. “It’s a misconception that with creative endeavors, a well runs dry. I’m not an expert, but in my experience, the opposite is true — you’re keeping yourself creatively aware.”

Chicago companies like Groupon and Jellyvision have welcomed comedians with great success, but the Linics think many more companies are benefiting from Chicago’s comedy chops in indirect ways.

“I think the concepts of listening and yes-and and ensemble-based work are valuable.” Claire said. “People are finding that they’re easily applicable to group-related projects in general.”

But how are these big companies putting funny people to use? We looked at some of Chicago’s funniest companies to see how the tech and comedy scenes in Chicago are helping each other out.

 

 

Jellyvision is a pillar of the tech community, built on the laughs it fostered in early years. The company’s roots stretch back to computer trivia game You Don’t Know Jack. The hilarious party game quizzed players on various bits of trivia, but its claim to fame was the impeccable writing that kept winners and losers alike laughing. The company has since moved on to software that helps people make big life decisions, but it still keeps that tongue-in-cheek writing style near its heart.

 

 

 

To an outsider, the idea behind Groupon seemed destined for success. But one of the keys to its massive growth was the killer copy behind each deal. With hundreds of massages, wine tastings and other offers going up on the site, humor served as a great way to get people interested in each deal. That spirit helped it gain traction as a guide to great city spots that consumers may not try out except for Groupon’s deals.

 

 

 

You may think of Cards Against Humanity as a vulgar card game you don’t want to play in mixed crowds, but the Chicago-born game company has helped define corporate comedy for the last half-decade. In addition to its standard and expansion card packs, the group has gained traction for their apathetic holiday promotions (like “Eight Sensible Gifts for Hanukkah”), a bankrupting Super Bowl ad and an office fit for some of Chicago’s funniest people. And, of course, they have a card deck skewering the tech industry.

 

 

 

Satire has always been a staple of comedy, but the folks at The Onion have taken it to a new level. The founders started their satirical news journal while at the University of Wisconsin, printing physical copies that looked like the newspapers they were making fun of. And as the internet grew in popularity, The Onion adapted better than many traditional publications. That included spinning out their non-satirical culture vertical, The A.V. Club, as well as adding other satirical projects like Clickhole (parodying BuzzFeed and other new digital media sites). The company moved from New York City to the Windy City in 2012 to tap into a fresh talent pool — of comedians and techies alike.  

 

 

 

Of course, funny writing isn’t just hard satire. The Black Sheep hires coming-of-age funny people on campuses around the country to write engaging (and laugh-worthy) content that's tailor-made for the millennial set. Their digital and print publications are backed by a sales team that connects marketers to an audience of college students looking for a laugh.

 

 

 

With all the comedic genius in this city, it can be hard to land a perfect gig for your style. Satira connects comedians with open opportunities, from stage openings to writing gigs. By connecting funny people to open jobs, they’re aiming to spread Chicago’s comedic prowess around the world.

 

 

Images via listed companies, Shutterstock

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