Los Angeles has hands down the most diverse and dynamic comedy scene in the country. It has to be, thanks to The Industry that calls the city home. Every show is packed with headliners, TV stars, D list celebrity freak shows and a boatload of solid talent who don’t get their names in bold in Variety or Deadline. Add to that the sprawling decentralized car culture that means there’s no one city center for residents or tourists, and your show has to get creative to justify the gas, parking, drinks and potential DUI your audience members are ponying up, even to go to a free show. It’s great for audiences. They have their pick of style, theme and location every night of the week. Plus the not-uncommon free beers, photo booths, live music and food trucks most shows throw in to lure the tired, poor, huddled road-raged masses yearning to be onstage themselves instead of watching someone else living their dream.
The traditional center of LA comedy is the west side of Hollywood, with The Big Three – The Comedy Store, The Hollywood Improv, The Laugh Factory – all within a few square miles of each other and powerhouse NerdMelt Theater just down the street. While the Big Three are all traditional hundred-plus seater comedy clubs dating back to the 1970’s with strikingly similar lineups on any given week, they each have their own unique personality.
The oldest of the three, The Comedy Store, maintains a down-and-dirty old-school anything-goes rock vibe, fitting for the home of Sam Kinison and the purportedly most haunted building in LA. It’s not uncommon to walk out to the patio and see a TV star posing for a selfie with a homeless transsexual and a man dressed as Jesus. The Store runs nightly 4+ hour shows in the Original Room, featuring 16 comedians like Whitney Cummings, Steve Rannazzisi, Chris D’Elia, Andrew Santino, Brent Morin, Ari Shaffir, Norm MacDonald, David Spade and Joe Rogan back-to-back from 9 pm until 2 am, with additional shows in the 300+ seat Main Room theater on weekends. The smaller Belly Room upstairs plays host to more experimental fare, as this “artist colony” helps incubate and maintain definition-defying shows like The Ding Dong Show, #KillTony and Roast Battle.
The recently renovated Improv maintains a little more decorum and organization, with two standard 90 minutes shows most nights. This is the club you want to bring your family to when they visit, particularly to Wednesday night’s long-running Comedy Juice showcase, which regularly features recognizable faces like Dane Cook, David Spade, Jeffrey Ross and Judd Apatow onstage and celebrities like Bryan Cranston, Zac Efron and Mandy Moore in the crowd. Weekend headliner shows feature national big dogs like Jim Jefferies and Jim Norton and local favorites like Fahim Anwar, Baron Vaughn and Dave Ross.
And if you want a very Hollywood experience, go to the glitzy, well-lit Laugh Factory. The Factory is home to standard showcases, themed urban and latino nights, plus unique hybrid stand-up/talk shows like Breaking Balls with Dom Irerra and New Material Night with Kevin Nealon. The Laugh Factory is probably the best known of the three, thanks to infamous press feeding frenzies like Kramer’s racist outburst, Tosh’s rape joke and that on-staff psychologist they loudly remind everyone they have after every comedy community tragedy.
NerdMelt showroom is the “new kid” on Sunset, with high profile anchor show The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail now a Comedy Central series. The theater is also home to An Evening With… series, which features hour-long sets from folks like Ron Funches, Beth Stelling and Jerrod Carmichael. NerdMelt also mixes it up a bit, going beyond straight stand-up with storyteller show Risk! and the old school hip hop version of Mystery Science Theater, Can I Kick It? They also have all kinds of events like writers panels, Horrible Movie Night, classic Simpsons viewings and just about anything else tangentially related to comedy and/or nerdery.
Just a bit east Upright Citizen’s Brigade (UCB) has not one, but two theaters that are home to improv, sketch and stand-up shows seven nights a week. The original UCB Theater (now called UCB Franklin) is a small, cramped black box theater with no fancy amenities that draws a young crowd thanks to the cheap ticket prices and favorites like Doug Loves Movies and Put Your Hands Together. This historical hub of “alternative comedy” in LA was quickly overshadowed by NerdMelt’s arrival, but the UCB brand is striking back with a large new space called UCB Sunset that features food & drink options and houses a podcast studio. It remains to be seen if the pendulum will swing back UCB’s way or if they will just cannibalize themselves, spreading the same crowd thinly between two locations.
Over on the East Side (which is still west of downtown LA, because we can be as confusing with our street and neighborhood names as you folks back east!), there’s a thriving comedy scene in Los Feliz and Silverlake despite the fact that there’s no club or even a dedicated comedy venue in the area. Standout among them is The Virgil, a retro cocktail bar and live performance venue that hosts The Super Serious Show and Hot Tub, as well as other weekly and monthly stand-up showcases. Chinese restaurant The Comedy Palace hosts multiple comedy nights, including a weekly eponymous show on Thursdays featuring some heavy hitters and strong younger talent.
Best Fish Taco is home to an outstanding bi-monthly night of free outdoor comedy, produced by Loud Village, who have since expanded to produce shows at The Improv, rock venues and secret locations all around town. Then there’s Echoes Under Sunset, which is a bit of a comedy clubhouse, with frequent open mics and a number of shows favoring up-and-comers. Heading even further east, the Icehouse in Pasadena offers a good mix of headliners and showcases for those who don’t want to haul all the way to the other side of the 5. The gorgeous main showroom offers up more touring “road dogs” than the Big Three and the cozy Stage 2 is home to a Comedy Juice franchise and weekly Deathsquad live show.
Of course, because LA isn’t so much of a cohesive city as it is a dozen small cities all bunched together, even neighborhoods without a dedicated venue have some local laughter. Venice is served by the weekly Venice Underground at Townhouse. This former speakeasy serves up prohibition era cocktails to the rowdy locals who jam the place every Wednesday to watch beasts like Bret Ernst and Bill Burr share the stage with some of the strongest younger talent in the city. Culver City has its own monthly speakeasy show at Blind Barber, which still operates as an “only accessible to those in the know” venue, hidden in the back of a barbershop. They take the location theme and run with it, as only those on the RSVP list are allowed in the bar on show night.
Downtown LA has its own comedy landmarks, with weekly show Sleepaway Camp at the Downtown Independent movie theater and Uncabaret, a not-your-average variety show at First & Hope. And just south of all that Hollywood action The Lyric Theater has one of the newest shows in town that’s generating tons of buzz, The Goddam Comedy Jam. Part stand-up, part sketch, part music show, comedians like Bill Burr, Joe DeRosa and Fortune Feimster take the stage to do stand-up and then join house band Elemenopy – in character or as themselves – to show off their singing chops (or lack thereof).
LA is also home to a strong but often underrated urban comedy scene (sorry, I hate that word almost as much as “alternative”, but…) with longtime mainstay The Comedy Union smack in the geographic center of LA, hosting everything from open mic nights to emerging talent showcases to weekend headliners. For some real hot undiscovered talent, amazing home cooked chicken and an overall experience you won’t forget, The Family Room’s weekly comedy night gives Showtime at The Apollo a run for its money. Newbie Inside Jokes LA, a venue tucked away inside Hollywood’s Chinese theaters, brings the most flash, regularly featuring Russell Simmons’ All Def Comedy Jam, Russell Peters, Chris Spencer and Tony Rock. Plus, Laffmobb on Sunset, Mo Betta Mondays and Chocolate Sundays at The Big Three. And let’s not forget Crack ‘Em Up Thursdays, one of the longest running shows in The Comedy Store’s Belly Room and Chappelle’s favorite show to drop in on when he’s in town.
Thanks to this wide variety of options, there’s no one comprehensive resource to track down what’s going on on any given night. LA Weekly and The Comedy Bureau each maintain calendars that are as wide a net as you’re going to get. For last minute plans, you can follow @thatsfunny for a daily listing of the biggest shows and some small gems or @ComedyGroupie and @ComedyCake for a daily dose of curated favorite shows (and tweets).