San Francisco's Best Comedy Clubs to Make You Laugh 'Til You Hurt

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By Tom Molanphy, San Francisco Local Expert

When work proves trying and the world seems bleak, counter the dreariness with a visit to one of San Francisco's best comedy clubs. These entertainment havens provide evenings of laughter and escape, ensuring that patrons walk away with a cheerier outlook and a lighter spirit. Comedy clubs have developed past simple stand-up, so be sure to check the most recent listings for what's being offered.

For example, if you're interested in the chaotic and inventive hilarity of improv, the Secret Improv Society might be the best venue for you. If you like a more prepared, rehearsed comedy that still includes groups, the sketch comedy of the Punch Line Comedy Club might be your place. But if you believe in a night of staring at someone impudent enough to believe they can make a whole room of people laugh, then check out some of the stand-up acts at Cobb's Comedy Club

Rest assured, however you get your chuckles on, this town will use its best panhandle to tickle even the most finicky of funny bones. San Francisco has always promised gorgeous natural views, fantastic food and wonderfully romantic nights. But remember: if you're willing to look hard enough, there's always something funny going on in San Francisco.

And a major June 2017 event in San Francisco definitely put San Francisco on the global funny map: Colossal Clusterfest, with big-time headliners including Jerry Seinfeld, Kevin Hart and Sarah Silverman.

10. The Dark Room Theater
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Can you think of a better night than laughing until your belly hurts and then filling said belly full of tacos and beers? We thought not. If you need a break from the North Beach-centric comedy club scene, head to the heart ( and many would say, soul) of San Francisco, the Mission District. There you'll find The Dark Room Theatre. Instead of having to deal with the steep and rolling hills of North Beach, you'll have the flat and lively blocks of the Mission District at your feet. If you do need a break, the city's best Mexican food is at every corner.

9. EndGames Improv
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As this list reflects, improv dominates the comedy scene in San Francisco. EndGames is one of the latest on the scene, although their improv instructors have refined their skills at legendary improv clubs of Chicago, New York and LA. What makes this comedy club different is its approach to teaching improv, based on the belief that everyone can do improv. It creates an open, fun, experimental comedy scene unlike the more rigid and traditional comedy clubs in San Francisco. And the Friday Night shows starting at 10:30 are actually free - what's to lose? If you enjoy the inventive chaos that is the base of all improv, head to EndGames for your fair share of laughs.

8. Marrakech

Unlike most comedy clubs that have a revolving line of local or national comics, the Marrakech Theatre depends on one man: Peter Morrision. Since he's a seasoned vet who has put on 3000 shows over the last fifteen years, he's not a bad person to depend on. Unlike stand-up or improv, Peter's act uses magic and heavy audience participation to find your funny bone. It's an elegant, throwback kind of evening that should have you spellbound. And, after the event is over, centrally located Union Square isa great jumping off spot for more nighttime fun in North Beach or Chinatown.

7. BATS Improv
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Featuring the largest and longest-running improv troupe in San Francisco, this award-winning comedy club's Fort Mason location is a must-visit for anyone seeking a hysterical escape from the everyday. Make sure to bring a tissue, and ladies, break out the waterproof mascara, because once the superbly talented comedians hit the stage, you'll be crying with uncontrollable laughter. The sidesplitting, interactive shows are always 100% unique and include rapid-fire competitions, Shakespeare remixes and wacky murder mysteries. And the Fort Mason Center is a large and comfortable space, located right on the water with the nearby Marina neighborhood to cover all your restaurant, bar, and late-night needs.

6. Empire Plush Room
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Born in the '20s as an illicit speakeasy, Plush Room originally plied guests with well-mixed drinks and premiere entertainment. These days, performers are still top-notch, and the atmosphere remains convivial, but patrons imbibe freely without fear of reprisal. Romantic surroundings set the scene for a variety of entertainments, including vocal performances and comedy acts. The club also attracts many a dating couple, who love the intimate venue's attentive servers, great drinks and sublime talents. Like the Purple Onion, Empire Plush Room has faced its share of financial stress, so be sure to check when the club is open since it's running on a limited schedule.

5. Secret Improv Society
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With irreverent and inventive humor, cheap beer and free Oreos, there's much to love at this San Francisco comedy club's Saturday night improv extravaganza. In the cozy Shelton Theater, a phenomenally talented, good-natured cast performs highly interactive sketches with the aid of perfectly timed tunes from the witty house musician. The actors exude a contagious enthusiasm for improv and dare to think outside the box, providing unexpected hilarity that is well worth the $15 tickets. You might be able to find cheaper improv around the Bay Area, but it's hard to beat the dependability of this practiced group. And did we mention Oreos and beer?

4. Chicken Scratch

One of the most raved about comedy clubs in San Francisco, Chicken Scratch describes their mission as "Slaughtering the world's evil with laughter. Pizza. Beer. Sometimes inappropriately pathetic low-stakes poker." While audience members can't speak for the poker or pizza, the beer and laughter definitely do wonders for a rough day. Directed in part by audience suggestions, these top-notch humorists perform hilariously unpredictable improv games and even outlandish rap songs that keep visitors in stitches. As with any improv experience, be prepared for some flubs or awkward pauses as the comedy gets rolling. In fact, the mistakes or hiccups often make up the most hilarious parts of the show.

3. El Rio

This dance club generally entertains a packed house. Live bands perform on weekends, salsa's the rage on Sunday, a global dance party wins applause on Friday, rock 'n' roll takes the stage on Saturdays, and Wednesdays are punk and rock nights. You may also find Arabic music, world music, dancehall and hip-hop, outdoor film festivals and cabaret performances as well as benefits for local community organizations. If that's not enough, there are shuffleboard, ping-pong, pool and weekly BBQs. The popular outdoor patio, bedecked with lights, is often filled with a very diverse crowd. Besides all of this tremendous activity, yes, the stage is also used by some of the best improv and stand-up San francisco has to offer.

2. Cobb's Comedy Club
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If you're hoping to see the biggest names in funny business while in San Francisco, this comedy club's star-studded lineup has you covered. From Robin Williams and Ellen DeGeneres to Sarah Silverman and Dave Chapelle, the standup standouts who have taken Cobb's stage are the most hysterical A-listers out there. Superb sightlines from every seat enable audience members to catch the comic's every laugh-inducing expression while savoring selections from the full bar and dinner menu. If improv or group sketches by earnest but still learning comics is not your thing, stick by the tried and tested line-up at Cobb's Comedy Club.

1. Punch Line Comedy Club
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Among the most beloved comedy clubs in San Francisco, Punch Line is an intimate 200-seat theater that has showcased such star-quality headliners as Jay Leno, Wanda Sykes, Zach Galafianakis and Whoopi Goldberg. The venue is beautifully designed, the wait staff is prompt and the potent drinks and palate-pleasing dishes provide sustenance for hours-long laughing fits. Plus, every vantage point offers a clear view of the stage backed by a funky Cubist mural of San Francisco. If you want that traditional-style of stand-up comedy you see on HBO specials - or the kind the recently closed Purple Onion used to bring to San Francisco every night - check out the Punch Line Comedy Club.