The Oak Park Zoning Board of Appeal’s most recent meeting felt more akin to a comedy open mic night than a hearing for a special use permit. The reason for the stitches? Comedy Plex, a new comedy club and training venue coming to downtown Oak Park, which won unanimous ZBA approval last Wednesday. 

Comedy Plex, a fully funded venture by three Oak Park men with comedy backgrounds, has requested a special use permit to operate a live performance venue at 1128 Lake St., a lower level space that has stood vacant for seven years. Commercial leasing agent David King, representing Comedy Plex, took center stage to discuss the merits of having a comedy club in space he originally thought no one in North America would want. 

The space is located in a basement with no windows and eight-foot ceilings with an entrance in an admittedly pretty alley but one 150 feet away from the street. These attributes, which King first considered drawbacks, make for a great comedy club.

“I scratched my head for many months, just wondering if these guys were crazy or not,” King told the ZBA.

The alley entrance gives a speakeasy vibe, and it is not unusual for comedy clubs to be located in basement spaces. One of, if not the nation’s most famous comedy club, the Comedy Cellar in New York City, is located in a basement off an alleyway. Eight-foot ceilings, he told the ZBA, make audiences feel comfortable and more likely to laugh.

Also, the existing infrastructure of the space meets today’s zoning code for a comedy club, according to King, as the property has oversized restrooms and an accessible lift due to its former use as a telephone call center. 

The comedy club can accommodate 170 people maximum, its proximity to the Holley Court Garage makes parking easy for clubgoers. The pedestrian entrance to the garage is not even 50 feet away from the space. 

With plenty of shopping and restaurants, not to mention the Lake Theatre, King believes the comedy club will help turn the downtown area into an entertainment district. Downtown Oak Park and the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation jointly submitted a letter in support of Comedy Plex. About 25 people showed up to the hearing in support of the club; many wore custom white baseball caps emblazoned with “Comedy Plex Oak Park.” No one spoke out against the application.

On top of being a place to take in a stand-up’s new set, Comedy Plex will also offer classes in stand-up comedy and improvisation for people wishing to try their hand at on-stage comedy and acting. These classes are not limited to adults either, as the trio behind Comedy Plex – Christopher Bell, Marz Timms and Sherman Edwards – want to inspire the next generation of comics and comedic actors by offering summer camps and after-school programs. 

These kids could use some help comedy-wise, according to Timms. He told the ZBA that he had been out walking his dog in Oak Park earlier that day and stopped to play a little hopscotch with some neighborhood kids. The kids had some jokes on the sidewalk with chalk.

“One of those jokes was: Why did the golfer have two pairs of pants? Because he had a hole in one,” Timms said. “Those are the people we are looking to nurture so that they can have some better jokes.”

The three Comedy Plex founders may be recognizable to the community for reasons beyond their status as Oak Park residents. Bell owns corporate entertainment company Mediatainment and spent half a decade performing as McDonald’s Mascot “Ronald McDonald” for on stage, television and public events, while Timms is a touring stand-up comedian and voice-over actor. Improviser and stand-up comedian Edwards was named “Chicago’s Best Stand-up Comic” of 2012 by the Chicago Reader. 

Comedy Plex is aiming for a soft opening in mid-summer with an official opening set for September, but before any dates can be set or headliners announced, the application must go through other village commissions, including the liquor commission. The applicants will then go before the village board for final approval. 

“You’re going to have to do your show again at the village board,” ZBA chair Jim Lencioni joked.  

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