It used to be, way back in the day, that a certain East Coast city was widely acknowledged as the national capital of comedy and every aspiring Seinfeld across the US would dream about crowded Greenwich Village cellars with two-drink-minimum.
Things, however, have changed. The comedy scene—like much of the arts and entertainment—has decided that the West is indeed the best and has found fertile ground and thriving institutions right here in the city of Angeles. (Which was secretly the case all along—where do you think Seinfeld was actually shot?)
These then are but a few of the places where you can see comedy in Los Angeles right now. Whether your funny bone is tickled by live comedy in one of the three main flavors—stand-up, improv or sketch—we think these joints are among the best.
The Big Three
If you’re a member of the legions of comedy fans who devoutly follow mainstream comedians—your Netflix comedy special headliners, your rising-stars boasting Kimmel and Fallon appearances, your Comedy Central roasters, your hopeful, current and once-and-future SNLers—chances are that you’ll catch them in one of the Big Three comedy clubs in town: The Comedy Store, The Laugh Factory and the Improv.
The Comedy Store (8433 Sunset Blvd.) and The Laugh Factory (8001 Sunset Blvd.) are not far from each other, on or around the fabled Sunset Strip. Both are career-making institutions for mainstream professional comedians and they often seem interchangeable to outsiders. On closer look, the Laugh Factory skews a little more bro-ish (the Factory has been known as the home base of Dane Cook, its website boasts of appearances by Tim Allen, Chris D’Elia and Bill Maher, and its stage has welcomed both sides of the Carlos Mencia-Joe Rogan feud). The Comedy Store is where most out-of-towners end up when they wanna check out marquee-level names in LA, encouraged by the well-known (and accurate) rumor that the biggest names in comedy make a habit of “dropping by” for surprise sets and to try out new material.
On the same league as the Store and the Factory, but a little over a mile south down Crescent Heights, The Improv (8162 Melrose Ave.) sometimes confuses comedy newbies because it’s actually a stand-up club and not a place to go see improv (that would be UCB, etc.—see below). The Improv books big names (like Norm Macdonald, Anthony Jeselnik or Nicole Byer), and it’s known for a slightly more curated, smarter lineup than the Sunset Strip clubs. They also run a great alternative space next door, The Lab, that features younger, more experimental comics, mixed with some well-known comedians (like Jen Kirkman or Maria Bamford) with similarly edgier sensibilities.
Even though many of the biggest names in comedy are known to drop by unannounced at the Big Three clubs, it’s not surprising that Los Angeles on offer, year-round, some of the hottest tickets in comedy at a number of the city’s most prestigious venues. Kevin Hart and Amy Schumer have played DTLA’s Orpheum Theatre, Jerry Seinfeld has played Hollywood’s Pantages, The Comedy Get Down (Cedric 'The Entertainer', Eddie Griffin, D.L. Hughley & George Lopez) have played LA Live, Dave Chappelle filmed his Netflix special at the Palladium—even (though, granted, they were exceptional events), Monty Python and Eddie Izzard played the 17,000-seat Hollywood Bowl! Always check the tour dates of specific big-name (and we mean huge) performers and the schedules of the city’s largest venues and splurge for a memorable night out watching legends do their thing.
(From 2013 to 2016, music comedy duo Tenacious D organized a yearly, epic Fall event called Festival Supreme, featuring big alt-comedy acts like the Mighty Boosh, Flight of the Concords, Tim & Eric, Fred Armisen, Dynasty Handbag, Eric Andre, etc., etc. Festival Supreme was supposed to return in 2018, but then it didn’t. By the time you read this it might be back. Don’t ever write off “the D.”)
The School of Laughs
If you know anyone under 40 in LA who is a comedian, a comedy actor, a comedy buff, a comedy writer, or (usually) all of the above, chances are that person has brought up “UCB.” As these comedy insiders will readily explain to you, UCB is short for “Upright Citizens Brigade,” but before you can interject “Wasn’t that a Comedy Central show like 20 years ago?” they will tell you “No! That was a sketch show! UCB is also the name of the show’s creators, the genius IMPROV comedy quartet made up of Matt Besser, Amy Poehler, Ian Roberts, and Matt Walsh, and it’s also the name of the comedy school they created, and of the two IMPROV theatres they run—to wit, UCB Franklin (5919 Franklin Ave.) and the newer UCB Sunset (5419 Sunset Blvd.), which also houses their training center!”
The joke around town is that UCB people can get pretty intense and that the improvisers trained there constitute something of a cult. The reality is that UCB has revolutionized the training of comedians in the US and the packed schedule of improv, sketch and stand-up shows they offer on both locations, for a cheap and often hard to get ticket, include some of the sharpest comedy talents anywhere.
The UCB theaters are where you can catch virtuosic performances by Zach Woods and Neil Casey, Rebecca Drysdale and Heahter Ann Campbell, Jason Mantzoukas, Tig Notaro, Kate Berlant, shows like Baby Wants Candy (a wholly improvised musical), Gravid Water and Asssscat!, and the ultra-competitive and selective Harold Teams, from which the next crop of American comedic actors and writers is usually plucked.
UCB’s dominance over the improv scene over the last few years couldn’t have happened if not for the decades of earlier work to establish professional improv training and performance venues in Los Angeles by the Groundlings, Second City and (recently shuttered) iO companies.
Groundlings (7307 Melrose Av.) has a special place of pride here because it’s the one company with roots in LA (Second City and iO originated in Chicago, as did UCB before relocating to New York and achieving its reputation). In business since the 1970s, the Groundlings has been one of the main feeding streams for SNL talent and counts among its alumni world-class heavy-hitters like Melissa McCarthy, Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig, Phil Hartman, Lisa Kudrow, Paul Reubens (Pee-Wee Herman), Cheryl Hines and Maya Rudolph. Their improv and sketch shows are more polished than UCB’s and their improvisers are also very often also experienced professional actors.
Second City’s Los Angeles location (6560 Hollywood Blvd.) is a subsidiary of the much more famous Chicago school and sketch troupe, and it’s located in the busiest part of Hollywood. An LA branch of iO used to present shows nearby until shutting down very recently.
The Class Acts
The historic building of the old Coronet theater (366 N La Cienega Blvd.), one block north of the Beverly Center mall, has been for years now the second home of the Largo venue. Curated by nightlife tastemaker Mark Flanagan and famous for being soundtrack composer Jon Brion’s personal clubhouse, Largo expanded its offerings from quirky, witty, NPR-ready musical acts to its comedy counterparts. It’s currently home to regular showcases by Sarah Silverman, Patton Oswald, Judd Apatow, Paul Scheer (his How Did This Get Made podcast with Jason Mantzoukas and June-Diane Raphael is often recorded in front of a live audience there), Paul F. Tompkins and many others.
Largo is also LA home to one of the best improv troupes in the world, the Improvised Shakespeare Company, which performs hour-long, entirely made-up-on-the-spot Shakeapearean-style plays to the amazement of audiences. The level of guests who sometimes join in on the improv fun unanounced can be pretty impressive too, like classically trained actor Sir Patrick Stewart.
Drawing from the same pool of urbane, brainy comedy as Largo, Dynasty Typewriter has taken over the old Hayworth theater (2511 Wilshire Blvd.) in a fairly unhip, DTLA-adjacent area of the city. Ride-share services have made it possible for people to avoid the iffy parking situation around the venue and Dynasty Typewriter has been slowly building a reputation as a kind of “Eastside Largo.” Tasmanian comic and Netflix sensation Hannah Gadsby (“Nanette”) is presenting her “Work in Progress” there during a February-March 2019 residency.
The Cool Kids
But these days not all must-see comedy occurs in comedy clubs. Few shows have had more buzz in the last few years than Hot Tub, the Monday night showcase at East Hollywood’s The Virgil bar (4519 Santa Monica Blvd., most recently seen as the drag bar in A Star is Born). The brainchild of hosts Kristen Schaal and Kurt Braunohler, Hot Tub features a rotating lineup of comics that represent a completely different approach from the mainstream, tour-comic and (yes) dude-heavy comedy of the Sunset Strip clubs. The Hot Tub lineup is more diverse and more “Eastside” by far—showcasing critically acclaimed comics like Aparna Nanchela, Drew Michael, Melissa Villaseñor, Eddie Pepitone, Emily Heller, Eugene Mirman, Reggie Watts and Beth Stelling.
Also on Monday night, and also on the Eastside of town—you might have to leave before Hot Tub is over to catch both shows—, The Business stand-up show (hosted by Megan Koester) takes place at a secret backroom inside legendary hipster bar Little Joy (1477 Sunset Blvd.). A looser, more political vibe than Hot Tub makes The Business the closest LA counterpart to the current Brooklyn comedy scene.
Other regular venues for “indie comedy” (aka, younger and less aggressively mainstream than the Store and the Factory, though same of the same comics play both circuits) are Bar Lubitsch (7702 Santa Monica Blvd.—Better Half on Thursdays and Jetpack Comedy on Fridays), The Satellite (1717 Silver Lake Blvd., home of “anti-comedy” performance artist Neil Hamburger) and The Lyric Hyperion (2106 Hyperion Ave.). The Hi-Hat, a large music venue in newly-happening Highland Park (5043 York Blvd.) has been getting some buzz recently for their comedy bookings, as is the nearby Lodge Room.
There used to be a regular showcase at Meltdown Comics on Melrose, hosted by veteran maverick comic and podcaster (Who Charted) Howard Kremer. Last year, after Meltdown was pushed out of their location, Kremer continued hosting his night, “squatting” in the parking lot of the abandoned comic bookstore. The free Wednesday Squat Melt shows became a cult phenomenon and they have recently moved to the grounds of the Steve Allen Theater in Los Feliz, though they might move around. Check Howard Kremer’s Twitter for updates.
A stone’s throw from the Steve Allen Theater, in a strip mall anchored by budget supermarket Jon’s, a few years back group of UCB improvisers set up an experimental theater called The Clubhouse (1607 N Vermont Ave.), a volunteer-run nonprofit that offers a hodgepodge of comedy from absolute beginners to veritable cult legends like Emo Philips or Maria Bamford.
Similarly eclectic is The Pack Theater (6470 Santa Monica Blvd.), started by renowned improv teacher Miles Stroth a few years back as a wilder, less college-y alternative to the increasingly competitive UCB.
No list of weird comedy venues in the city would be complete without mentioning the free Tuesday show in the patio of low-key Los Feliz restaurant Best Fish Taco on Ensenada (1650 Hillhurst Ave.—presented by Loud Village a couple of times a month, check social media). Only joint in town where you can enjoy the likes of Chelsea Peretti, Joe Mande, Eric Andre (doing an endless, manic improvised riff with nobody telling him to get off the “stage”), Brett Gelman or SNL’s Michael Che, for free, while munching on delicious Mexican seafood treats.
The hub of black (aka “urban”) comedy in Los Angeles has been for years The Comedy Union (5040 Pico Blvd.), near one of the locations of traditional African-American eatery Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles. This is the venue to see some of the performers from Def Comedy Jam and other black comedy showcases.
Out in Burbank, tucked in a suburban mall, Flappers (102 E Magnolia Blvd.) is still a reliable option to see the ground zero of mainstream comedy: hungry up-and-comers get their hours of practice under their belts, road comics with true-and-tried acts that work for most crowds across the country, and the occasional surprise. Meaning, a proper, no-frills, all-American comedy experience.