Time was when comedy was stand-up and straight men, slapstick and fall down, mother-in-law jokes, pies-in-the-face, and "take my wife, please!" Today, comedy is rarely solo -- it usually comes in groups, irreverent, improvisational groups.

Chicago City Limits, which appeared last night at The Door, is one such ensemble. The five actors (accompanied by a lighting director and an all-purpose piano-playing sound-effects man) presented a series of biting, scratching and kicking routines that lunged at modern culture. Punk rockers, first ladies (the present one included) and sadistic nuns at Catholic schools were among the subjects that received their comedic due.

While some of the skits were rehearsed, most were improvisational. A wacky detective spoof took various (and spontaneous) leaps and turns; a game of charades was played with one of the actors trying to guess a rather ribald cliche' suggested by the audience and, at one point, the troupe lined up on stage and presented a routine that was made up one word at a time. It was hilarious, uproarious and not just a trifle amazing.

When it comes to Chicago City Limits, the material and the way it is brought off are thoroughly contemporary, but the laughs are as old as the chicken that tried to cross the road.