Beyond overlooking the two-drink minimum rule and being more design conscious than merely having brick as your background (hey, nothing wrong with brick, my dad was a contractor, just saying) what could make a live venue THE best comedy club in the United States?
For one, the best comedy club in the United States has to always be the one with the greatest and most adventurous reputation toward finding the funny. That doesn’t just mean established acts long on the road or comedians slumming between gigs on film and sitcoms and podcasts. The best comedy club in the United States pays attention to the fresh voices of new comedians and their diversity, all levels of diversity, be it racially, sexually and gender and genre-non-specifics.
The best comedy club in the United States looks to their open mic nights – and beyond crowds favoring their friends – and the creation of new opportunities for stand-ups and sketch comedians. The best comedy club in the United States often utilize YouTube, podcast, TikTok and other online entities and social media so to get the word out in smaller, sharper increments. Plus, they’re armed and ready to handle top tier stand-up comedians such as Aziz Ansari and Dave Chapelle who like to do pop-up drop-ins and those comics who enjoy performing lengthy, under-the-radar residencies. Call it star power, if you will, but the best comedy club in the United States knows the best comedians, how to get – and hold – the reservation in Seinfeld Speak.
The best comedy club in the United States loves to laugh.
On the other side of the ledger – beyond the jokes – the best comedy club in the United States doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to get into, or gauge its regular customer base (the financial soul of the best comedy club) when special featured big-name acts come to town. They serve cold booze and beer and have decent hot snacks that aren’t solely all greasy and fried. The best comedy club in the United States doesn’t suffer the fools of heckling, but also doesn’t create a violent scene the first time someone in the audience mouths off. Everyone gets at least one chance to be an asshole – that’s a life lesson, not just a rule for the best comedy club in the United States.
Here is a list of my best comedy club in the United States and why?
Largo at The Coronet, 366 N La Cienega Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90048
Without being tagged officially as a comedy club (for instance, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy is playing a residency there in January, and he’s not really that funny) Largo at The Coronet has become a haven for not only the hottest stand-up comedians, past, present and future, but for comic minds in cinema, television and podcasting and their friends. In fact, so many of Largo’s shows are billed as an “& Friends” celebration. Comedy’s long arm at Largo finds directors and writers such as Judd Apatow, actor and comedians Patton Oswalt, Marc Maron and Sarah Silverman and the name-above-the-title likes of Pete Holmes, Margaret Cho, Mae Martin, Melissa Villaseñor and Fred Armisen holding court. Sketch comedy master Paul Scheer hosts his regular Dinosaur Improv night at Largo with any number of recognizable television sketch friends as does Kyle Dunnigan and his regularly scheduled Experiments. Plus, the old school West Hollywood club and theater has arms-length history as a 20th Century home to staged avant-garde greats such as brilliant Bertolt Brecht’s “Galileo Galilei,” and a production of Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit.” What other best comedy club in the United States has existential ennui or Sartre cred?
Broadway Comedy Club, 318 W 53rd St, New York City, NY 10019-5741
The first part to loving the Broadway Comedy Club is its history as, back-in-the-day, this started off as the New York Improv when it opened in 1963. When its first iteration opened its doors, the likes of Bill Cosby, Robin Williams and Andy Kaufman and Robin Williams stepped through them. Upon closing for several years, new owners re-opened this Hell’s Kitchen basement joint just blocks from the original, and showcase character comic faces, regulars from the touring club circuit, and focused nights for LGBTQ+ comedians, Asian and South Asian comedians and stand-ups “Comedy en Español.”
Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club, MGM Grand Hotel & Casino, 3799 Las Vegas Boulevard South, Las Vegas, NV, 89109-4325
It should be no surprise that a comedian at a Vegas casino has one of the best booked, most opulently decorated best comedy club in the United States. Though best known as Ray Romano’s brother on the ten-year-running “Everybody Loves Raymond” sitcom, Garrett is an old school stand-up comedian who knows his way around a punchline. He also has an eye for dealing with the MGM heads and the creation of a large-sized comedy club. While the comics themselves are big names and Vegas regulars over 40-years-old, the crowds are millennial-plus, kids who watched Scorsese’s Casino looking for laughs. Plus, Brad Garrett makes regular appearances, even when you don’t want him to.
Helium Comedy Club, 2031 Sansom Street, Philadelphia PA 19103
When you talk to stand-ups and they recall the rough-but-readily funny crowds of Philadelphia, their endeavors always occurred at Helium. The Rittenhouse area comedy club along the old hippie stretch of Sansom Village used to be Philly’s Sunset Strip in the 1960s and 70s with some of downtown’s hippest (and first) coffee houses, live music venues, clothiers, theaters and LGBTQ+-focused spaces. What makes Helium Philadelphia great – and the Helium family has six other locations stretched across the United States, from the Great Northwest to the So-So Northeast who act similarly – is that it pays big attention and gives wide berth to locals in stand-up, sketch and podcasting who have built up great, devoted followings from the ground up. It is an intimate room that when packed never seems too tight for comfort. It drops last minute, big name showcases that announces their anonymous late arrival via text message (Louis CK has done more than one drop in during what Helium titles its “Top Secret Stand Up Confidential” showcase series), welcomes huge names and fantastic obscurities – past and present – on a weekly basis without fail, and honestly, has some of the best food a comedy club can offer.
Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, 5919 Franklin Avenue, Los Angeles, CA, 90028-5515
Comedians, writers and actors Amy Poehler, Ian Roberts, Matt Walsh and Matt Besser started the The Upright Citizens Brigade and its namesake Theatre space in 1999 in New York City with expansion leading to the more user-friendly school and comedy club not long after. There lies the earliest bones of improv, stand-up, and sketch comedy on television, at UCBT and Chicago’s Second City (see below) to say nothing of some of modern stand-up comedy’s most adventurous talkers and monologuists such as Gilli Nissim, Elefante, Zach Zucker, Carlos Santos and Francisco Ramos. Even old school stand-ups such as Rosie O’Donnell make appearances at the UCBT.
Club Cumming, 505 East 6th Street, New York City, New York
Actor and vocalist Alan Cumming and club doyen Daniel Nardicio took over the one-time Eastern Bloc East Village bar in 2017 and reimagined it as a space dedicated to the golden era of Downtown Manhattan cabaret, comedy and party life. And that means a world of alternative comedians and diverse voices – from oddball craft (yes, crafting) comics such as Brini Maxwell to its weekly comic Cabernet Cabaret to a wealth of RuPaul Drag Race comedians.
The Second City Chicago Mainstage, 1616 N Wells St, 2nd Floor, Chicago, IL 60614
Nearly all of Saturday Night Live’s writers, directors and comedians – to say nothing of Elaine May, the staff of National Lampoon and so many more – got their start at Chicago’s the Second City comedy stage bootcamp. The funny thing is, The Second City – which has additional outlets in Toronto and Los Angeles – in Chicago is no longer the small fetid classroom that Del Close started but rather a comedy campus with theaters, stand-up only club spaces, a cabaret, a lounge and several smaller black box stages that facilitate Comedy Sportz. WTF? All in all, Chicago is Second City’s comic oystery and anywhere you look, it’s salty and grainy.
Comedy Cellar, 117 Macdougal Street, New York City, NY 10012-1267
The original Greenwich Village comedy shop far below ground level is still probably the most popular stand-up hang in the city. If nothing else, it is because the Comedy Cellar gets packed by virtue of its size (it is a basement after all), along with its sterling reputation for housing the most foul-mouthed comedians in NYC, along with special guest drop-ins from the likes of Aziz Ansari, Dave Chappelle and Amy Schumer. More than unlikely unchanged since the Beat Generation, the Comedy Cellar is the literal home to underground stand-up comedy.
The Bell House, 149 7th Street, Brooklyn, NY
Joan Rivers, Mel Brooks, most of The Three Stooges and Jackie Gleason all came from Brooklyn. The deadpan avant-garde stand-up comedy of the early 21st Century got its start in Brooklyn. I get why so many Manhattanites leave the Big Apple for Brooklyn. There’s something in the water. Recently, Bob’s Burgers’ Eugene Mirman – the toast of that 21st Century deadpan – has made The Bell House his homebase for fellow absurdists and Pavement fans throughout the Fifth Borough.
The Comedy Store, 8433 West Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood, CA
From Bob Saget to Jim Carrey and every 70s through 90s comedian that ever made a hit sitcom and blockbuster film, Mitzi Shore’s legendary The Comedy Store still stands as a testament to stand-up comedy – the C.B.G.B.s of the raw, live comic form. The West Hollywood Sunset Strip club also had a history before its Comedy Store renown as celebrity hangouts such as Club Seville and Ciro’s. But while those spaces fade with memory and age, The Comedy Store is still open for business with regular drop-ins from The Chapelle Show’s Donnell Rawlings, Kenan Thompson and Maz Jobrani. Plus, The Comedy Store has a La Jolla factory outlet to crow about.