By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published Nov 05, 2001 at 6:17 AM

You've no doubt heard about ComedySportz, Milwaukee's homegrown improv comedy troupe. You've probably stumbled past them at Summerfest, where they've performed regularly for almost 13 years.

But when was the last time you took in a show? The group, founded in 1984 by Dick Chudnow, performs at their Third Ward location seven times each week. And according to nine-year veteran Al Oldham, ComedySportz is funnier than ever.

Oldham, who joined ComedySportz the day they moved to their current location at 126 N. Jefferson St., is one of about 35 regular comedians in the improv troupe. Chudnow, a veteran of the Kentucky Fried Theater with the legendary Zucker brothers, moved ComedySportz from its original location at the old Kalt's on Oakland Ave. in 1992.

In its 17-year history, ComedySportz has grown to include 26 theaters around the country, but Milwaukee remains the company's base and largest group. Oldham says Chudnow developed the concept from TheaterSportz, a similar style of comedic improv.

And though the basic format is the same as it was back in the '80s -- two teams compete in a sports setting, complete with a referee and "brown bag" and "waffling" fouls -- the pace of the comedy has picked up in recent years.

"It's faster," says Oldham. "The games have changed immensely. The wit and attitude has gotten sharper."

Oldham says the group does invent some of the games, but many are based on traditional improv exercises. Says Oldham, "We open our mind up and say, 'yes, and?'"

That's why you'll never see the same show twice, says Oldham. Certain audience suggestions come up again and again, and "there are only so many items you're going to get. And that's why you may have heard a joke before. But we don't touch jokes about Monica Lewinsky or O.J. Simpson."

ComedySportz, like every theater, has its marquee comedians like Brian Green, Eric Price, Dylan Bolin and Joe Cortese. But there's not much of a hierarchy at ComedySportz, and that ensures a good rotation of different comedians. "Everybody's pretty much equal," said Al.

A few of the comedians at ComedySportz are full-time employees, but most aren't actors, and most hold day jobs, says Oldham. A couple of veterans have found other acting work thanks to ComedySportz. Kurt Scholler is performing with Wayne Brady and his travelling road show. Several of the Los Angeles cast members have acted in commercials. But, adds Oldham, "Nobody's hit it big yet."

However, working at ComedySportz has sharpened Oldham's own comedic skills. During the day, he cuts hair at downtown salon, groom. "It's perfect to meet people and talk to people," he says. "Now I can strike up a conversation with anymore."

By many accounts, ComedySportz is more popular than ever.

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"The success of 'Who's Line Is It Anyway?' has helped tremendously," says Al. "But we were doing it first."

Oldham says the 208-capacity theater regularly sells out on for Friday and Saturday shows.

"It's very popular on the weekends, but it's tough in the summer with all the festivals."

As always, Summerfest is what ComedySportz is best known for. "That's what I hear repeatedly, 'I saw you guys at Summerfest.'"

ComedySportz is also available for off-site work. They do 450 private shows a year, including high school leagues and regular ongoing workshops. Oldham says the group is looking into space for a move sometime next year.

ComedySportz performs Thursdays through Sundays. 7:30 p.m. shows on Thurs.-Sat. are $10, 10 p.m. shows on Fri.-Sat. are $12 and 3 p.m. matinees on Sat.-Sun. are $7.50.

They have also recently unveiled an uncensored, adults-only midnight Saturday show. For more information, or to buy tickets, call (414) 272-8888 or visit them online at comedysportzmilwaukee.com.

Andy is the founder and co-owner of OnMilwaukee.com. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.

Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.

Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.