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Once you’ve hit the highlights in a new city and visited all the top tourist attractions, it’s fun to look for local things to do to get a true sense of a place’s culture and overall vibe. One fun thing to look for when you travel is live comedy shows, which can come in the form of stand-up acts, improv shows, or famous headliners making their way through a tour.
You can often find local acts at theaters in small towns, and big cities throughout North America have lots to offer in terms of comedy. So lighten up, laugh a little, and start exploring like a local! These are some of America’s funniest cities to visit and find live comedy shows.
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Second City is the big name in comedy to know when you visit Chicago, and some of the biggest names in comedy have trained and performed here. Chicago has a reputation as being a comedy town, and there are lots of comedy clubs around town. It’s also considered to be the place where improv comedy was born and where sketch comedy gained popularity. In addition to Second City, also check out iO Theater for improv and classes, the Annoyance Theatre for bizarre performances, Laugh Factory for stand-up, and The Playground Theater, which is a unique nonprofit theater devoted to improv. Zanies also has a nice mix of big-name performers and up-and-coming comedians on the stage schedule.
New York is a huge hub for comedy, and you can find a show pretty much any night of the week in the five boroughs. While Chicago is the ultimate place to go for improv, New York City is the best place to see live stand-up. Here you can catch the biggest names in comedy on tour and also new stars who are popular in the city. Caroline’s in Times Square has been cranking out laughs since 1982 when it first opened up in Chelsea. This is a 300-seat venue that produces the New York Comedy Festival. Other clubs to check out in the city include Comedy Cellar, Gotham Comedy Club, and Dangerfield’s.
Considering that Los Angeles is the acting capital of the U.S., it should come as no surprise that there are lots of stages devoted to comedy in the city as well. Most of the big headliners add a stop or two in Los Angeles to their schedule, and this is the place to also catch soon-to-be-famous comedians on their way to epic stardom. Check out the Comedy & Magic Club for big names and a “drink minimum atmosphere,” Comedy Store for the occasional no-cover night, and the Ice House to see the oldest stand-up comedy club in the country. The Groundlings Theater and Hollywood Improv are great spots in West Hollywood.
The Mile-High City may be best known for outdoor adventure and its awesome craft beer scene, but it’s also a great place to catch a live comedy show. There are lots of local comics here that frequent the clubs and specialize in a type of humor that’s uniquely Denver. Some of the venues here host more than just comedy shows and mix it up with music and film screenings too. Definitely visit Comedy Works, which has been serving up laughs for over three decades, and The Bug Theatre, which has a classic cinema feel and great improv shows. Bovine Metropolis Theater is a sketch/improv spot that also offers classes you can take.
Austin is famous for being the place to come for live music, and some fun comedy shows take place around town too. Both local and national comics take the stage here and venues are just as quirky as the city’s residents. For example, the Carousel Lounge is a circus-themed bar that has comedy shows and live music. Esther’s Follies combines the best aspects of comedy and magic shows in the performances. The Hideout Theatre is a local favorite, and the Latino Comedy Project features cutting-edge social satire that’s outrageously funny.
There’s much more than cold and snow in Minnesota, and the comedians in Minneapolis have learned to laugh about it and help everyone else laugh a little more too. The Twin Cities Comedy Festival typically takes place in October and is the place to be for comedy lovers visiting the area. Acme Comedy Club in Minneapolis features national touring comedians. There’s a ComedySportz venue in Minneapolis too, and Brave New Workshop features satirically scripted topical comedy that examines, provokes, and entertains with pop culture humor.
The unique and artsy city of San Francisco is a hot spot for comedy in Northern California. Secret Improv Society is a great choice if you’re looking for chaotic hilarity, while venues like the Punch Line Comedy Club feature more rehearsed comedic acts that are equally funny. El Rio has a little bit of everything – comedy, salsa dancing, punk rock shows, and even Arabic music. Famous headliners can be seen at Cobb’s Comedy Club.
Some of the best comedy venues in the country are located in Atlanta, Georgia. The Laughing Skull has been consistently rated as the best place in town to see live stand-up, and this intimate 74-seat venue is in the back of the Vortex Bar & Grill in Midtown, which is a stellar place to grab a burger. The Punchline is the oldest comedy club in Atlanta and has been making southerners laugh since 1982. The Uptown Comedy Corner is famous for being the longest-running African American comedy club in town, and The Basement Theater is a low-key, low-budget venue that’s a refreshing change of pace from drink-minimum and high-priced venues.
Creative types flock to Portland for its quirky vibe and free-spirited nature. This makes the comedy scene in Portland fresh, exciting, and always unexpected. The hit TV show, Portlandia, set the stage for comedians to poke fun at Portland’s love affair with the wacky and weird. You’ll find famous comedians at Helium in the Central Eastside District. In true Portland fashion, Earthquake Hurricane is a comedy show in a bike shop with plenty of craft beer for patrons to enjoy. You can also find local comedy contests that have been known to launch great comedy careers.
So many top-notch comedians have emerged from Boston, and this is still a wonderful city to catch a live show. Dating back to the 1980s, Boston has been a top place to get noticed for doing stand-up comedy. Famous comics like Janeane Garofalo, Conan O’Brien, and Louis CK spent some of their most formative comedic years playing the stages of Boston. Since then, there’s been a big comedic revolution that’s shifted from national talent and regulars to pop-up shops next to food trucks. The Comedy Studio is a restaurant club where many comics have broken out, and Nick’s Comedy Stop is an all-ages venue that’s known for its stand-up acts. You’ll find Kowloon Komedy in the Kowloon Restaurant, which serves Chinese food, as well as sushi and Thai cuisine. For sketch comedy, head to the Improv Asylum in Boston’s North End and get a bucket of beers to share with your friends.
While not in the U.S., our neighbor to the North deserves an honorable mention. Visitors can also find lots of laughs in Toronto, and there’s a Second City theater and school of improvisation here too. The comedy scene here has grown tremendously in recent years, with touring headliners on prominent stages and young newcomers making their mark. Second City is a great place to see improv performances and more intimate stand-up acts. But there are plenty of other clubs worth checking out here too, such as Comedy Bar, Yuk Yuk’s, Bad Dog Theater, Social Capital Theatre, and Absolute Comedy.