New York City is the comedy capital of the world. If you’re coming here, you don’t only need to prepare an answer to the question “Do you like comedy?”—trust us, you’d better have that on hand—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).
Here’s a quick breakdown of the City’s best clubs and what you’ll see where:
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.
Carolines on Broadway
This nationally renowned and swanky stand-up comedy club delivers laughs in Times Square with performances seven nights a week. Carolines also hosts the New York Comedy Festival, which brings all the biggest names in comedy together for one week each fall.
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.
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.
Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre
The premiere home of off-beat, creative improvisational and sketch comedy in New York City presents more than 25 shows a week, with ticket prices always under $10 and reasonably priced drinks to keep the good cheer flowing.
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 is way bigger than 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.
Part of the rapidly developing Gowanus nightlife renaissance, Littlefield is a 6,200 square-foot renovated warehouse-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.
On one hand, New York City is one big comedy festival that runs forever. Nonetheless, we also host a couple of major ones that bring a lot of headliners and excitement to venues around the city. Here's some info about those.