In a city where everyone is constantly on the hustle to get ahead, it can be nice to loosen up the reigns and let someone else do the heavy lifting for a night. Such is the case at so many of the comedy clubs that grace Manhattan's streets, drawing in unassuming patrons and turning them into participating audience members by the end of an act.
At standbys like Carolines on Broadway or Comedy Cellar, visitors generally know what they're getting themselves into: it's rare to walk away from one of the greats with a frown on your face.
However, much of the real comedy magic for many New Yorkers lies in the unknown. In places like Laughing Buddha, where up-and-coming hopefuls take the stage to try out new material, or during shows like Never Sleep Alone at Joe's Pub, where one might find his or her tongue wrapped up with a stranger in a hilarious twist of fate.
No matter the occasion, there's always a reason to crack a grin when you plop down in your seat at one of these comedy cellars. Not sure where to start?
Below, we take a trip to the 10 best comedy clubs in New York.
Stand-Up New York Comedy Club
In between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue stands the red brick Stand-Up New York, one of the Upper West Side's premiere live comedy venues. Arranged like the quintessential comedy club, Stand-Up tends to get crowded as the weekend approaches, especially if the headliner is well known. The club's only drawbacks: the bathrooms are located rather inconveniently downstairs, and there is a two-drink minimum, but that's a small price to pay for an evening of hilarity. Our recommendation would be to scope out when one of your favorites is performing rather than dropping in unannounced. Though it's possible you might see the next Chris Rock on stage, that kind of luck is more likely to happen elsewhere. (212-595-0850)
New York Comedy Club
Locals say that the comedy at New York Comedy Club can be hit or miss, but when it's on, it's on fire. This snug club (read: no bad seats in the house) in Gramercy features top-flight comics, open mic nights and terrific sketch comedy each week. You'll find shows here every night of the week, so we'd recommend checking the calendar before you go to ensure the show is your cup of tea. Most week-day shows kick off at 8:30PM, and there's typically three shows at various times on Saturdays. Despite pulling most of the crowd in off the street, this joint can still bring the house down when they've got a true talent on stage. (212-696-5233)
Attached to the Public Theatre, Joe's Pub is an intimate venue that's highly regarded all over the city for its eclectic weekly lineups. On any given night, the featured performer may be a little-known jazz ensemble or a pop-culture icon like Elvis Costello, Liz Phair, Neko Case, David Byrne, Mos Def or Sandra Bernhard. In terms of comedy, there's one rotating act that you simply cannot miss. It's called Never Sleep Alone, and along with being perfectly raunchy and all together over the top, it's hilarious to watch audience members as they're forced to spontaneously interact with each other. We don't want to ruin anything, but here's some hefty advice: this one's probably better for the single folks, and we'd appreciate if you'd steer clear when you're nursing a cold sore. (212-539-8770, 212-967-7555)
An underground comedy club conjures up images of a dark comedic underbelly running rampant under the city, and delighting brave patrons who dare to step inside. Laughing Buddha on the Lower East Side is no exception, though its name does add a bit more levity to the hidden mystique. You won't find the big names here, but that's entirely the point. Instead, hear stand-up hopefuls test out their latest shticks and tricks. We'd recommend turning a night at the Buddha into a long-running bet with a couple of friends - which acts do you think are headed for the bright lights and bigger stages? (212-982-6363)
Named Best Comedy Club by New York Magazine, The Stand is part of a new wave of comedy clubs in the city. Not only do they feature top acts and rising stars, but their food and cocktail offerings are also on point. And unlike many other clubs in the city, this one plays into the early morning crowds with brunch themes like Pajamas and Pancakes, which feature drool-worthy eats like stacks of cookie dough hotcakes. Regulars say that the acts are always hilarious, and range from the big guys like Lewis CK and Tracy Morgan to lesser known names that still pack a hilarious punch. (212-677-2600)
Carolines on Broadway
Not for the timid, Carolines on Broadway presents well-known acts performing down and dirty comedy. A two-drink minimum is strictly enforced, but rest assured that you'll need more than two if you sit close to the stage - comedians regularly target unsuspecting audience members in their acts. Conveniently, Carolines also offers dinner-and-a-show packages, so you're able to score great seats early on, and then settle in for the performance later in the evening. Top names, including stars like The Wayans Brothers and Adam Carolla will often test new material at Carolines, so you'll get an inside glimpse into whatever they're working on before it hits the mainstream. (212-757-4100)
Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre
Chicago-style improv is alive and well in the Big Apple thanks to the efforts of this energetic group of comedians. Indeed, founders Matt Besser, Amy Poehler, Ian Roberts, and Matt Walsh all hail from the Windy City, and their unique brand of cutting-edge comedy has been raising eyebrows and breaking ribs since the late 90s. Don't be surprised if you show up to catch a show, only to encounter familiar faces gracing the stage. Their Sunday night show - Asssscat 3000 - is a local favorite, and guests line up for hours, rain or shine, to score tickets for the free 9:30PM show. Tickets are available for the 7:30PM showing, but the shows get more outrageous as the night wears on. (212-366-9176)
Chicago City Limits
Chicago City Limits boasts over 30 years of comedic entertainment on their website, which means they've been at this for a long, long time. That said, their tenure is far from the only reason you should go. This troupe consistently dazzles when it comes to improv comedy - you know, the one where a group of people get up in front of an audience completely unafraid to make total fools of themselves? At Chicago City Limits, the only fools are the ones who don't buy tickets. Seating is limited, so do yourself a favor and plan accordingly, or risk missing out. (212-888-5233)
If the Village has a funny bone, this is where it gets tickled thanks to a star-studded group of alumni that includes Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, Ray Romano, Jerry Seinfeld, and Damon Wayans. Arguably the most famous comedy club in Manhattan, the space is intimate (translation: seating is limited, so be sure to make reservations). If you're not into playing along, this might not be the spot for you, as many comedians incorporate audience members into their acts. If you visit during non-show hours, head upstairs to the pubby Olive Tree, which offers a full dinner menu and creative mixers like the white Russian shake. Two-drink minimum for shows. Shows are 18+ from Sunday to Thursday. (212-254-3480)
Gotham Comedy Club
A great place to catch stand-up acts any night of the week, Gotham has been on the scene since the mid-90s. The space's stylish red interior, designed by co-owner Chris Mazzilli, captures the magic of 20s-era New York, while the lobby walls are adorned with photos of history's greatest comedic talents. Comics do more than decorate the walls, though - they also take the stage, and Gotham crowds have been entertained by some of the industry's top stand-ups in recent years, including Dave Chapelle and Lewis Black. Aspiring comics can also try their hand at one of Gotham's many classes, which run the gamut from stand-up workshops to comedy writing boot camps. (212-367-9000)
About Andrea Duchon
Andrea Wien was bitten by the travel bug from an early age, and has lived in New York, Seattle, Cleveland and Sydney, Australia since 2007.
When she's not traveling or planning a trip, you'll likely find her eating tacos while throwing darts and watching the Cleveland Browns.
Read more about Andrea Duchon here.
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