New York City is the comedy capital of the world. If you’re coming here, you don’t only need an answer to the question “Do you like comedy?”—although, trust us, you’d better have that on hand if you're walking through Times Square—you also need to think about what kind of comedy you like. Because comedy here is more than one thing: there’s stand-up (comics telling jokes or stories alone onstage), improv (making up scenes on the spot) and sketch (performing rehearsed scenes). The action takes place in thriving clubs and alternative spaces like bars and, for example, the occassional laundromat.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the City’s best places to see comedy, and what to expect there:
Comedy Clubs with Headliners
These clubs usually host nights revolving around one well-known comic whom you’ve probably seen on TV, plus an opener. They also sometimes host showcases (see below). In general, it’ll set you back a cover charge and a two-drink minimum.
Gotham Comedy Club
This famous nightspot features top headliners and up-and-coming comics.
Comedy Clubs with a Showcase Format
These clubs typically feature shorter sets by a number of comics. There’s a chance a really big name (sometimes on the order of Chris Rock) will drop in out of nowhere for a surprise set, especially at the Comedy Cellar. The price usually includes a cover and a food or drink minimum.
You never know who's going to pop up on stage at this subterranean comedy mecca: Ray Romano, Colin Quinn, Chris Rock, Jon Lovitz.
Stand Up NY Comedy Club
This handsomely appointed venue offers top-notch stand-up from comedy's brightest stars seven nights a week; with the ability to accommodate just over 125 guests, there’s not a bad seat in the house.
These theaters revolve around long-form improvisation, in which performers weave together a complex scene from a single suggestion. You can also see sketch comedy and stand-up at these venues from time to time, and you’re liable to get celebrity drop-ins (especially at the popular ASSSCAT 3000 show at the Upright Citizens Brigade in Hell's Kitchen). There’s no drink minimum at improv theaters, and the cover is generally very low—often less than $10 and sometimes free.
Alternative Comedy Spaces
Some of the City’s best comedy shows take place at bars and performance spaces that are not exclusively comedy clubs. They’re usually pretty cheap, and often attract talent whose drawing power far exceeds the capacity of these cozy rooms. The Knitting Factory’s Sunday show, for example, regularly draws talent you've seen on television.
Union Hall is a bar that leads a double life: upstairs, a large, lively bar holds two full bocce courts and lots of booth seating; downstairs, a live venue hosts comedy, live music and dance parties every night of the week.
The Bell House
Gowanus might seem like an odd destination for a night on the town, but it's shaping up to be the next hip Brooklyn 'hood thanks, in part, to The Bell House.
Part of the rapidly developing Gowanus nightlife renaissance, Littlefield is a renovated printing plant-turned-music, art, comedy and film venue, spruced up with environmentally sustainable touches like sound walls formed from rubber tires and a bar made of salvaged bowling alley lanes—as well as an inviting interior courtyard landscaped with reclaimed materials.
Previous incarnations of this iconic music venue existed on East Houston Street at the edge of NoLIta and on Leonard Street in TriBeCa.